Bantry’s Rowa Pharmaceuticals Ltd, based at Newtown, is celebrating 60 years in business in the town this year.
The company takes its name from the initials of its founder, Roland Wagner, who moved to the town from Germany in 1959. He arrived in Ireland with Hans Liebherr, who went on to establish the Liebherr engineering factory in nearby Killarney.
Today Rowa in Bantry employs over 100 staff and exports pharmaceutical products to 80 countries worldwide, including Central and South America, the middle and Far East, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
The success of the Bantry firm wouldn’t be possible without the hard-working staff behind it, owner Brigitte Wagner-Halswick told a breakfast audience gathered in the Maritime Hotel in Bantry recently, to celebrate the firm’s six decades in the town.
‘I would like to thank my successful team, which are very dedicated, honest, loyal and fantastic,’ she said, speaking to Graham Norton who hosted the event. She added that her husband had a ‘vision for Europe, and I have followed his steps.’
When Mr Wagner died in 1979, the company had about 12 or 15 staff, and Brigitte took over the running of it. ‘I had already been involved in the company,’ she said, ‘and I was determined that it would be successful’.
It was a tough year for Bantry, as the Whiddy disaster had happened that January too.
She recalled encountering a lot of problems at the start and she had not yet made friends in Bantry and almost all businesses were male-dominated then.
She travelled alone to many foreign markets, establishing the firm, and noted that if you made friend’s with the bosses’ wives, you made a good friend of the firm! ‘I travelled to Saudi Arabia alone and, in those days, going there as a woman on your own, was something else.’
She made good friends with the Brennan brothers in the Park Hotel in Kenmare and she based herself there for a while.
Bit by bit, the company grew, and now has a very strong presence on the generic drugs market. She created a 50/50 joint venture with Novartis in 1993, and today the Bantry company is a major player in the generic drugs world.
The company also has a good art collection, based in Germany, and Brigitte, who celebrates her 75th birthday this year, is intent on ensuring the firm always has a strong Bantry presence.
‘I wouldn’t like to see somebody coming to buy the company, because the company is successful now, and then move it to Dublin or even Cork, and then the people of Bantry would lose their jobs. It is my ambition to keep the future of Rowa alive,’ she said at the event.
The company is also a big contributor to local causes and Brigitte is on the board of the Bantry Hospice project. Rowa covers all the administration costs of the charity and it has also created a €3,000 education scholarship to fund one student each year going to college, from the locality.