“I always knew I wanted to create a global brand, and I’ve always known I wanted to do medical research,” says Fitzgerald, whose academic background is in bio-chemistry.
“But it was while I was working as part of a research scholarship at Queen’s University in Belfast that I realised how underrated the whole field of diagnostics is in medicine.”
Fitzgerald built a small laboratory at the back of his house, where he spent evenings and weekends developing fresh diagnostic products that he had evaluated in local hospitals. “They all seemed to work, so I bought a freeze-dryer and started manufacturing them.”
Fitzgerald invested £10,000 in setting up Randox, which was incorporated in 1982. “I owned 98 per cent of the shares in the company and mum and dad each owned one per cent – and that’s the way it still is!”
Shortly after, Fitzgerald began selling his diagnostic kits to hospitals in Ireland and around the UK. “I used the profits from those sales to re-invest in developing more products and employing staff.”
However, he soon realised that the only way to grow the company was to build a network of distributors throughout the world. “It was hard work signing distributor deals at the beginning because, understandably, the market is very conservative.
"A lot of people wouldn’t take Randox seriously because they presumed that such hi-tech products would have to be made in America or Germany – they didn’t expect them to be made in the wilds of County Antrim!”
In addition to using the DTI, consulates and embassies for advice, Fitzgerald also sourced the best distributors by attending industry exhibitions abroad. He also made appointments with key labs in target markets to ask them who they’d recommend.
“We first started exporting our kits to the Netherlands and Germany in 1983, and we now distribute in 106 countries,” says Fitzgerald. “A lot of our distributor deals go back 15 or 20 years so it was worth properly researching who we wanted to work with.”
Randox opened its first office in Portugal in 1992 and has since gone on to open 25 more offices across the world – ranging from Canada to Kurdistan. “We tend to use distributors in countries with lower sales as this simplifies import and allows sales staff to concentrate on their national regulations,” explains Fitzgerald. “Meanwhile, our offices are staffed by 200 local employees.”
Randox also employs 40 people to regularly travel to different markets and visit the customers directly to find out their particular needs. “Consequently, we do a lot of bespoke tailoring of our products to individual markets,” says Fitzgerald, who now spends 20 to 25 per cent of his time on the road.
Today, the company employs 720 people and is looking to expand into 15 new countries this year. Randox now ranks as the 23rd largest diagnostics company in the world, and its turnover recently hit £52m.
“We now manufacture seven per cent in volume of all clinical chemistry tests carried out in the world, so we’ve got about three per cent of the value of the market.”
Randox received its fifth Queen’s Award for International Trade last year, as well as scooping the International Company of the Year award at the Growing Business Awards last November.
“I’m proud of our achievements. There aren’t many British diagnostic companies that are really known internationally,” says Fitzgerald.
And there are no plans to retire any time soon: “I feel we’re early days yet. There’s still so much I want to do to improve the field of diagnostics. I have no plans to sell anytime soon.”
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