EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist Ted Wright talks about taking Mullingar business Writech on an expansion journey driven by people and technology.
This year 24 Irish finalists have been named for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards which take place later this month. Currently in its 26th year in Ireland, the programme works to recognise, promote, and build a supportive community around Ireland’s high-growth entrepreneurs and is considered one of the strongest programmes globally.
Since its inception, the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Ireland community has grown to a tight-knit network of more than 600 alumni who harness each other’s wealth of experience, with three quarters (75%) conducting business with one another. Together, the EOY alumni community generates revenues of €25bn, and employs more than 250,000 people across the island of Ireland.
“We will be the go-to business for anyone that wants fire protection and detection in Europe. And I want us to be that business that people would say: ‘I’d love to work for them’”
Among the finalists is Ted Wright, chief executive of Writech Industrial Services, which designs, manufactures, installs and maintains water-based fire protection and detection systems, from low-pressure fire sprinkler systems to ultra-high-pressure mist and gaseous systems.
During his tenure, the business has grown from annual revenues of €850,000 in 2001 to €124m this year. In 2020 Ted partnered with investment firm Waterland PE and this partnership is propelling the company’s growth to an anticipated €250m annual turnover by 2025.
WTech Fire, part of Writech, has announced three acquisitions, including Dublin-based Ideal Fire, for a total sum understood to be in the tens of millions.
Pump it up
Wright has been on the acquisition trail since 2021, when Dutch private equity firm Waterland secured a controlling stake in the business, fuelling a flurry of deals.
Along with Ideal Fire, Writech said it has acquired Wicklow-based Wilec Fire and Security, and UK fire, industrial and electrical pump specialist Jem Pumps since the start of the year.
The group, which has now bought five companies since partnering with Waterland and employs 580 people, said the deals mark a “significant milestone”, adding fresh growth opportunities and driving group revenues to more than €124m this year. The expansion follows the acquisitions of Ce Sprinkler, a Swedish fire protection business, and Compco Fire Systems, a UK provider of automatic fire suppression systems in recent years.
Writech was established by Ted’s parents Thomas and Mary in 1981 and he remembers distinctly the conversations around the kitchen table coming up with a name. “My dad began by servicing pumps for fire sprinkler systems North and South as a subcontractor and appointed his first full-time employee in 1992.”
Ted and his brother Alan as children went everywhere with their dad and were well acquainted with the work. You could say they grew up in the business.
It was a real family business from the start as Ted’s mother managed the accounts and ensured the business stayed on a path to profitability from the start. She also ensured that Writech was one of the first businesses in Ireland to secure ISO 9001 accreditation.
A breakthrough deal for the business in the early days was landing a contract to remove mercury tilt switches from old fire sprinkler systems all over Ireland as they posed a security threat during The Troubles.
In those early days he remembers constantly being covered in sealant paint as he and his dad and brother traversed the land on various jobs.
After university Wright worked as a programmer in the banking world and he applied the skills he learned to create a database system that modernised how Writech functioned and eradicated the need for paper. It was digital transformation long before the term was understood.
“It meant what used to take a week for my mother to do we could accomplish in an hour. Today everything is done in the cloud. We developed our first iPad apps back in 2010. I’d say today a lot of the success of the business has been through our embrace of technology.”
The same system manages everything from finances and customer relationships to manufacturing and stock control and Wright attributes it to why Writech is winning in the market over its competition.
Wright and his brother Alan bought into the family business in 2008, bringing the business on a growth trajectory that only accelerated after the major investment by Waterland in 2021.
Wright says that many people outside of family businesses don’t often understand how it works. “When family works together and if the business is the family, then it is hard to have time for family time. So the family time gets smaller and the business gets bigger and then relationships strain. So it’s important to make social time for the family.”
He says that being part of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year alumni has been a massive honour. “People who don’t own a business struggle to understand how difficult it can be, so I’m proud to be a part of an alumni that has opened up my eyes. I’ve met some amazing people and it really makes me want to push forward.
In 2021 equity fund Waterland acquired a majority stake in Writech, enabling the business to develop a world class design and innovation centre in Mullingar but also setting in train the acquisitive path the business has embarked on. In that time total sales have accelerated from €20m in 2020 to €124m this year.
Wright explained that much of his time now is spent on the acquisitions trail, identifying new businesses but also ensuring a smooth integration of businesses acquired in Ireland, the UK and Sweden.
“The most important thing we look for is people with a similar mindset and a willingness to integrate the technology that we run the business on.”
The strategy has worked and Writech’s customer base has evolved to include high-rise buildings as well as manufacturing plants and data centres. Customers include businesses from PepsiCo to AWS, Google and Microsoft.
In just two decades under Wright’s leadership, Writech has evolved to become a pan-European business. His ambition is to grow the business in terms of reach and reputation.
“We will be the go-to business for anyone that wants fire protection and detection in Europe. And I want us to be that business that people would say, ‘I’d love to work for them.’”