APT recieve Queen’s Excellence Award for Enterprise

APT announced winners of excellence award for exporting achievement

‘This may be the third time Belfast-based digital audio specialists APT have received the Queen’s Award for export but it couldn’t mean more to Noel McKenna and Jonny McClintock.

That’s because it signals a striking return to form for the firm that on the award twice in the mid-90s before a change in fortunes and ownership. The firm is now run by McKenna and McClintock as chief executive and commercial director respectively since they launched a management buyout in 2004 using venture capital.

Since then the pair have rejuvenated the firm increasing staffing levels and turnover to new heights but as, McClintock predicted yesterday the most exciting years are still ahead.

With 40 distributors worldwide the firm is poised to capitalize on major changes in the broadcast industry and also the ever developing world of consumer electronics.

“It started off life in Queens founded by a gentleman called Stephen Smith. “It went live in 1989 took product to market in 1991 and ramped up to a significant market value in the 1990s and then lost its way.

“We were doing about £3.5m and had actually won the Queen’s Award for export in 1994 and 1995. Then came a few fallow years where there was very little effort made to reinvent ourselves or continue with product development.

“Things went badly until by 1999, 2000 we’d scaled back massively to 13 from 30 and turnover was poor. Noel was made managing director in 2001 and I was made commercial director at the same time. Then began the process of reinvigorating the firm but, even then, the pair faced external forces working against them. “We were owned by another firm called Solid State Logic SSL and by the mid-2000s SSL was in financial distress. “They were basically asset stripping APT so even though we were profitable by that stage, we were always massively hampered.” In 2004 SSL went into administration and with assistance from Crescent Capital and Trinity Venture Capital the partners brought APT back into local ownership.

Since then the pair have revived the firms fortunes. With larger premises staff levels are now in the 40s and turnover last year topped £5m. It’s been a rewarding journey for the pair but only the start for an ambitious firm.

“The firm was always about developing innovative products, correctly designed and manufactured and well-priced and with a little thought about bringing those products to market. Last year was particularly fulfilling for Noel and myself. We were junior people when the company peaked in the mid-90s. Now we’ve blown away that turnover, we’ve massively increased the headcount and this is a very prestigious award that means a lot.”

Text courtesy of Business Today Newsletter published Tuesday, April 22, 2008