Growing a business – whether you’re a start-up or a Top 100 company – requires vision, determination, and leadership.

These skills aren’t just needed by the CEO, or senior leadership team. They should run right through a business. Why?

Because a company’s success requires everyone in the business to see the opportunities, have a willingness to make tough decisions and the leadership skills to motivate and inspire those around them.

There are many businesses in this year’s Belfast Telegraph Top 100 in association with Grant Thornton that have worked with Invest NI at some stage in their growth, whether that’s been to support a capital investment, carry out research and development, grow in new markets or create new jobs.

Northern Ireland has developed real sector strengths in key technologies and clusters. The companies on this Top 100 list represent that, and deliver good jobs, productivity, regional balance and contribute to Northern Ireland’s sustainability goals, the pillars of the Economy Minister’s vision.

What these businesses have undoubtedly also had to do to ensure their continued success is embrace change. There is a truism in business that ‘what got you here, won’t get you there’,

It sounds such an obvious and simple statement, but recognising the need to change, and the commitment to see it through, can be hard.

This is where Invest NI finds itself right now. The Independent Review of Invest NI made for hard reading. The agency has an excellent track record, delivering against Executive policy for 20 years, with established programmes and processes that supported the focus on creating new jobs, growing exports and supporting innovation.

What businesses and our local economy need from Invest NI now, and in the future, is not what was needed 20 years ago, or even five years ago. Northern Ireland has changed. Our economy has changed. The world in which businesses are operating and trading has changed. Invest NI must also change.

There is an action plan, co-designed with the Department for the Economy, that is Invest NI’s public commitment to that change.

It sets out clear actions we are taking to address the profound change called for in the Independent Review, and by when these actions will be implemented.

I am often asked at meetings and events about what progress is being made on the action plan. That tells me that there is more that needs to be done to share progress on work we are doing to reshape Invest NI for the future and communicate better with our stakeholders the change that is being delivered.

Since stepping into the role of chair I have been very clear that ensuring the successful delivery of this action plan is my number one priority.

The board and I get regular updates and we see first-hand the work that is going on right across the business to deliver the outcomes for business that the Independent Review demands.

Last month we held a dedicated action plan workshop with the board, action owners and implementation leads which gave the board and me the opportunity to get into the detail on the progress being made on each action, and what hurdles we need to overcome to ensure successful delivery.

We all know that change is difficult, and it would be wrong to suggest that implementing all the changes is smooth sailing. In some cases, progress is slower that I would like, but we are definitely going in the right direction.

We have worked with the Department for the Economy on a new strategic approach to deliver regional balance in Northern Ireland’s economy.

The strategy, due for publication this autumn, will have regional economic targets and set out how we can use our support, such as the provision of industrial land and buildings to address bespoke regional challenges.

Stronger and better partnership with our stakeholders in each area is another commitment we have made. We have already put this into action with a new partnership agreement now in place between us and the Department for the Economy to improve the relationship between policy development and operational delivery.

We have also increased engagement with the local councils, stakeholders and companies through more frequent meetings and events attended by our CEO, board and me.

We will communicate more detail on some of the other actions that business is most interested in – such as leadership, programmes and customer model – by the end of summer/early autumn. Our forthcoming three-year business strategy and 2024/25 business plan will also provide more detail and firm targets and actions to support the action plan commitments.

In conclusion, I want to assure everyone that we have heard what they have said, that we understand what is expected of us, and that we are committed to becoming the agency businesses and our economy needs us to be.

This way, we will be able to ensure that we are able to support more businesses here to grow, scale and become future Top 100 companies.

John Healy was appointed chairman of Invest NI in March 2024