ENSURING that their products get easily through the UK and on to the 80 international markets they serve will be the biggest post-Brexit problem facing Bantry firm Rowa, their managing director Brigitte Wagner-Halswick said this week.
Speaking at a special business breakfast in Bantry, celebrating the company’s 60 years in the town, Mrs Wagner-Halswick said she was still optimistic that Brexit might not go ahead.
‘I am still hoping that it might not happen, but it probably will,’ she told BBC presenter Graham Norton, who interviewed her in front of several hundred invited guests in the Maritime Hotel on Tuesday morning.
‘Brexit will be very difficult for Ireland, and for Europe,’ she said, pointing out that the firm, which produces generic drugs, now employs over 100 people in the town. The major pharma sends containers through the UK on to the markets it serves in Europe and further afield – in the Middle and Far East. ‘France is not prepared and we will have problems because, at the moment, everything works very well. It is a pity that this is going to happen,’ Mrs Wagner-Halswick added.
She also recalled the obstacles she encountered when she took over the Newtown firm after her husband died suddenly, in 1979. She had few friends in the town at that point, and travelling abroad alone as a female head of a drugs firm, was a challenge, especially given one of their markets was Saudi Arabia.
But she persisted and soon began to grow the company. ‘The union was very strong and I had no support, but I said “I am going to stay and show them that I can do this”, and I did,’ she said.
Today the firm has a very strong presence in West Cork, contributing to a number of charities and events, and Mrs Wagner-Halswick is a commanding presence on the board of the Bantry Hospice.
She recalled how a local fundraising group collected €30,000 in Bantry for Marymount in Cork city, and when she brought the cheque up to €40,000, and presented it in Cork, she told them: ‘This is the last cheque you are getting from Bantry ... because we are going to have our own hospice.’
She followed through on that promise but it took a lot of very difficult meetings, she admitted.
‘We had meetings where I just walked out of the hospital and said “if you don’t want this hospice here, we will do it somewhere else” because you have to be frank. And I am very determined.’