The Royal Belfast Academical Institution

Commerce Week 2023

Commerce Week, the successful and much anticipated programme of events, ran during the last week of term. It has become a highlight of the AS year for a number of Year 13 pupils to benefit from the experiences of a diverse group of alumni representing a cross-section of industries throughout the province.
Commerce Week 2023

Commerce Week, the successful and much anticipated programme of events, ran during the last week of term. It has become a highlight of the AS year for a number of Year 13 pupils to benefit from the experiences of a diverse group of alumni representing a cross-section of industries throughout the province. Thank you as always to Mr Colin Johnston for organising the event unique to RBAI, and to all those from Agnew and Almac Groups, Artemis Technologies, Blk Box, Camlin Group, Carson McDowell, Creative Composites, Danske Bank, Eastside Partnership, Enzai, Giant Kelp, Grant Thornton, Hastings Hotels, Incisiv, Invest NI, McDonald’s Sprucefield, Osborne King and The Ormeau Baths who gave of their time and prepared so many insightful activities for the boys to enjoy.

In the spirit of continuing the annual tradition, this year’s group, like those before them, recorded their highlights of the week. Read on to vicariously share the boys’ daily experiences!

Day 1: Charlie Smyth 13L

We started the week early meeting Mr Colin Johnston and Mr David Croft at the front of school before we set out for Invest NI. There, we were introduced to Executive Director Mr Jeremy Fitch, who shared his insight on the Northern Irish economy, explaining how revenue is generated. We looked at the income and expenditure of Northern Ireland and discussed ways to grow the economy, included existing client company growth, entrepreneurship and inward investment. Jeremy also provided us with an inspirational talk on how to achieve our goals. It was so beneficial to hear from a successful individual within the investment industry; we appreciated Jeremy taking time out of his day to familiarise us with the opportunities and challenges at Invest NI.

After a very enjoyable first session, we walked the short distance to professional services firm, Grant Thornton. Here, we were greeted by Managing Partner, Mr Richard Gillan, who welcomed us with drinks and food; these were very much appreciated by us all! At Grant Thornton we learned about the audit and assurance, tax and consultancy services provided by the company, the qualification process an accountant must undertake and even the enrichment events Grant Thornton offer their staff. We then had fun taking a personality test which showed each of us what type of person we are. The personality test was spot on for everyone! Thank you to Richard and his team for a lovely end to the morning.

Day 1 Continued: James Clark 13S

In our next session at 1 o’clock we were introduced to the EastSide Partnership and its aim to regenerate east Belfast by Chief Executive Michele Bryans. Key takeaways from the business overview were the social objectives and achievements to which Michele and her team had contributed. Examples of these were how the partnership dealt with inequality in education in east Belfast and partnered the council to facilitate another way to get people active, improving the health and wellbeing of the east Belfast community through the Green Way.

We explored the partnership’s focus on providing affordable property through funding schemes to ensure the community’s housing needs were met. As a previous member of the Templemore Swimming Club, visiting and seeing the improvements was fantastic. The gym and the pool areas were transformed, and the spotless environment from which all age groups can benefit was great to see. There was a clear sense of prioritising the social goals in the charity to achieve a healthier and more close-knit community, and I was very thankful to experience this and share my questions and thoughts during the visit.

We then headed over to a brand and business familiar to me: Blx Box. Blk Box is a leading manufacturer of strength and conditioning gym equipment in the UK and Europe. We began with a tour of the factory; it was eye-opening to see the excessive stages required to produce the gym equipment and the hard work required on the factory floor. Founder and CEO Greg Bradley took us through the production stages, giving details such as how the company’s revenue is distributed over the manufacturing of their own squat racks and stock imported from China, such as dumbbells. I was astonished when I heard that 60% of their revenue was from imports rather than their in-house 8ft squat racks which towered over us.

Greg also took us through his business career, where he started with the idea and the name, and how he built his business from the ground up. He gave us thorough understanding of how he adapted the business though failures, giving us relatable examples and whetting our appetites for business. He emphasised that getting that 1 percent better every day is critical to succeed, and for him this one percent improvement may have been closing a deal with one of the many clients he has such as Nike, Adidas and Man Utd. Overall, the collective learning for us all was that we should give life a little bit extra every single day, whether in our studies or our working environments.

Day 2: Loughlin Sweeney 13D

Day 2 of Commerce Week also started at the front of school where we met Mr Colin Johnston and Mr Peter Shields, who joined us for the day ahead. Our first stop was commercial estate agents Osborne King at Imperial House, where we were met by Associate Director, Mr Chris Sweeney. We got the morning started with a brief outline of who Osborne King were and what they do. Following that, we were split into two groups of seven and given a challenging scenario that involved advising a wealthy client on property to invest in within Northern Ireland. Each group came up with a pitch and a solution to present to Mr Colin Johnston and another director at the firm, Mr Harry Crosby. Unfortunately, my group didn’t come out on top! Thank you to Mr Chris Sweeney and Mr Harry Crosby for taking time out of their busy schedules and giving us an insight into what their everyday work entails.

After Osborne King, we took a very brief walk to Ormeau Baths. We were warmly greeted by Barclays Ecosystem Manager Lisa Baillie, who led us to a studio area where we heard from three different companies: Incisiv, Giant Kelp and Enzai. Directors from each company explained how their business had joined forces with Ormeau Baths; for each this has hugely benefited all parties involved. After a short Q&A session, we were given a tour of the building during which the tour guide emphasised the uniqueness and diversity of Ormeau Baths as a workplace. Again, thank you very much to the Ormeau Baths team and their associated companies who gave us a great understanding of the processes within their businesses.

Day 2 Continued: Aaron Turkington 13D

Next, we made our way to the Grand Central Hotel and were greeted with a delicious feast. After we made short work of that, we had some fun by preparing ‘mocktails’ in the tallest bar in Ireland! Then we got down to business, and learned about the reality of the Hospitality industry, and the variety of ways in which we could enter it hospitality. To finish our time at the Grand Central, Mr Howard Hastings give us an insight into his role as Managing Director of Hastings Hotels. He explained how he deals with such responsibility and problems we may face if we enter the business world. As a group we were all thankful for such an experience.

To finish off the day we travelled to Artemis Technologies, a company which specialises in the decarbonisation of maritime engineering, where we learned of the company’s motives and objectives. Their main motive is to reduce pollution in the air caused by maritime vessels, which is key to halting climate change. We were given a tour of the factory and got to see the different roles within the production of the boats. We also learned that jobs within Artemis Technologies are achievable through many different pathways.

Finally, we got to see one of the Artemis boats in the water and witness the difference between it and traditional vessels for ourselves. We thoroughly enjoyed this experience which provided extremely useful learning opportunities for us all.

Day 3: Tom McGale

Day 3 of Commerce Week began with a short walk to the Northern Ireland Headquarters of Dankse Bank UK situated in Donegal Square West. We embarked on a tour of the flagship branch where we had exclusive access to the vault room, personal deposits room and watched some presentations and activities during our 3 hour stay. These included exercises in assessment of lending, risk mitigation and the current macro-economic headwinds.

We departed Danske Bank and made our way over to Carson McDowell, one of the largest commercial law firms in Ireland with over 100 lawyers. We began with lunch and were swiftly thrown into a mock trial, whereby we were split into two groups, each group representing a defendant and plaintiff. It was a thoroughly interactive and engaging process which helped showcase our negotiation skills; we kept the same groups from Osborne King and can confidently say the scoreboards are now levelled as we head into Day 4 of Commerce Week!

Day 3 Continued: Piers Stafford 13D

This afternoon opened with a trip to McDonald’s, Sprucefield. Many of us were most excited for this trip on account of the promise of a Big Mac! We were led through the kitchen and storage facilities of the fast-food chain by Gareth, who explained that in an average 15 minutes 70 customers would be served.

As we tucked into our meals we heard from John McCollum who introduced us to the ever-evolving landscape of fast-food retail. Our trip to McDonald’s, whilst not the healthiest, proved very informative and rewarding.

From Sprucefield we travelled to Portadown, arriving at Almac, a world-leading pharmaceutical firm based in Northern Ireland. We heard from representatives of the promising medical discoveries occurring on a daily basis at Almac, as well as intriguing employment opportunities both in pharmaceutical and business management professions. A tour of the processing plant highlighted to many the intricate care taken in the packaging of pharmaceutical products, one of the reasons we were sporting the flattering PPE attire!

Today’s visits, as with the rest of Commerce Week, provided key insight into various businesses and professional careers we otherwise would not have experienced. We would all like to extend our gratitude to Mr Colin Johnston for organising such an insightful and informative experience.

Day 4: Callum Burns

On Thursday morning we arrived at the Agnew Group's, Mercedes Benz showroom on Boucher Crescent. We were met by Darren Cochrane and Nigel Gilbert. Darren is the HR manager and he began by talking to us about his career and his current role in the company. Then Nigel told us about the apprenticeships Agnews offer and the career pathways at Mercedes Benz. Following this, we walked over to the garage floor and saw how the cars were fixed. To finish the visit, toured the showroom, surveying the cars on offer. We also got to sit in a G wagon which was amazing.

We then got the bus to Lisburn to Creative Composites and met Stevie Hewitt and Richard Ennis. They are a Northern Ireland-based company which makes composites and markets them globally. Composites are two or more different materials that, combined together, have properties superior to the individual material’s alone. They have been in the industry for forty years and have a staff of about two-hundred people. They produce many materials for cars, making panels for the likes of Aston Martin, JCB and Lotus. Creative Composites also work with Artemis Technologies, who we visited earlier in the week. After a presentation we had an in-depth tour of the factory floor; it was fascinating to see all the huge machinery and processes.

The boys felt Thursday’s visits were a thoroughly enjoyable way to end Commerce Week and are very grateful to everyone who gave their time to give us such rewarding experiences this week.

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