A pharmaceutical business built on growth and respect

Taking the decision to concentrate on Europe was only the start of Chanelle Pharma’s international success, writes Elaine O’Regan

3rd March, 2019
Michael Burke, managing director of Chanelle Pharma at the Loughrea facility in Co Galway Picture: Michael Dillon

From its picturesque base in Loughrea, Co Galway, Chanelle Pharma has grown over three decades to become the largest indigenous manufacturer of generic pharmaceuticals in Ireland.

Established in 1985 by veterinary surgeon Michael Burke, Chanelle exports to 94 countries worldwide, with key markets in the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa and the Middle East.

The company has more than 2,000 animal health licences registered in the EU and an additional 500 outside the EU. It holds 2,000 product licences for human health products worldwide.

Burke’s first foray into business was in 1978, when he set up a retail outlet selling animal medicines and veterinary products to local farmers in Loughrea.

Five years later, he acquired a seven-acre site where he set up a manufacturing base for animal medicines, before moving into human medicines in 1995.

Just two years after Chanelle Group started trading, the company had started exporting, focusing initially on the Middle East and South and Central America.

But it was its subsequent agility, and Burke’s willingness to chase opportunity in new markets, that would set Chanelle Group on the path to sustainable growth in the years that followed.

“One of the most important strategic decisions we made as a company came about in 1996,” Burke told The Sunday Business Post.

“At that stage, we decided to move away from the South American market and to concentrate on the EU.

“It was that decision that really made the company. We had difficulty with the registration process initially in the EU, but that sorted itself out by the early 2000s.

“And it turned out to be very important for the company, because growth in the EU far outstripped that of South America.

“We registered products right across Europe and then in various other countries, including Japan, Australia and New Zealand.”

The decision to pull out of South America proved timely and fortuitous for Chanelle for another reason.

“In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the South American market had been very good, because of the dollar,” said Burke.

“But a few years later, the dollar collapsed. We were lucky that we pulled out at the right time. It turned out to have been a very fortunate call for us.”

The EU now accounts for about 80 per cent of Chanelle Group’s sales. The company also has a strong presence in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and the APAC region.

“The number one asset we have - the one that has helped us more than anything else to build a sustainable business - has been our people,” said Burke. “We have fantastic people at Chanelle, and they really are the backbone of our business.”

This year marks a first for Chanelle Group. The company has been named as one of the new winners in this year’s Deloitte Best Managed Companies awards programme.

It is a welcome accolade for Burke, who continues to advocate a culture of innovation, ambition and - above all - respect at Chanelle Group.

“We put €9 million a year into R&D. Investing in products really gives us a very good return on investment,” he said.

“We have 70 people employed in R&D roles, which is unusual for a company of our size, and the key for us now is our five-year strategy, which has set out a plan to double turnover,” he said.

“That strategic plan is visible to all the staff, so that they all know exactly where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.

“We are very strong on respect internally. We have a respect board, and we have two or three respect winners every month leading up to an annual award.

“Our staff members are nominated on a board each month by their colleagues. That’s really a tremendous asset in and of itself, because success is all about people and our people are a huge asset to our company.”

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