Harris Group: Driving into the future

Major management restructure looks set to bring Harris Group into a new era of growth

Denise Harris, Chairperson and CEO and Brian Patterson, Group Managing Director, Harris Group

A customer-centric approach and an agile approach to business are central to success at Harris Group, Ireland’s largest privately owned commercial vehicle distributor. Now, with ambitious growth targets over the next few years, the company has announced a strategic restructuring including the appointment of a new senior management team, to bring the Group into a new era of growth under the leadership of Chairperson and CEO Denise Harris.

Located on the Naas Road in Dublin, Harris Group is already Ireland’s largest retail sales centre for the commercial vehicle sector with brands including Isuzu, MAXUS and Higer Bus & Coach. The Group enjoyed significant sales growth for 2023, despite industry-wide global challenges relating to supply chain and changes in regulatory requirements. With more than 120 independent dealerships across all its brands and territories, Harris confirmed that her team expects to grow the group’s dealership network by 15% in 2024.

Harris has been leading the Group since her husband Pino passed away in 2017, a decision made without hesitation thanks to the family-style ethos within the company. “It is because of our team’s dedication and their commitment to the company that I decided to step in and build on the strong foundations laid down by my late husband,” Harris said. “We have managed to grow the business since then, and most recently we have assembled a new management team to take Harris into the next era of growth.”

This management team is an impressive line-up of some of the most experienced people in the industry. Brian Patterson has joined the business as Group Managing Director with responsibility for developing and driving the group’s strategy and ambitious growth targets. Patterson had previously spent 13 years with Ballyvesey Holdings Ltd in roles including Service Manager, Regional General Manager and Group Aftersales Director. He is joined by Mark Barrett, Managing Director of Group Franchises; John Keogh, Managing Director of Retail Operations; and Barry McGrane, Chief Financial Officer. Harris also confirmed that industry expert Nigel Birkmyre has joined the Harris Group board.

Part of Harris Group's success is down to the emphasis it places on the customer, in every aspect of the business

Patterson commented: “It’s a simple but strong structure. We have a great team in place, we all work together to do the best for the business, our customers and our colleagues.”

This new management team is building on the already well-established reputation and the significant success of the company, and its commercial vehicle portfolio. The MAXUS range of light commercial vehicles grew by a significant 46% in 2023. Further growth in the region of 60% is anticipated for 2024, partly driven by the launch of new commercial and passenger vehicles. In addition, bus and coach sales grew by 19% in 2023 and is forecasted to grow even further this year. And, the Group’s parts business is growing by approximately 30% year on year.

Part of Harris Group's success is down to the emphasis it places on the customer, in every aspect of the business.

“We keep the customer central in all our plans; sales are important, but the after-sales service is paramount to our sector,” said Patterson. “Any vehicle can break down, but how we deal with the breakdown is what customers remember us for. Our aim is to get them back on the road as quickly and as efficiently as possible.” To further this, the company plans to optimise its already comprehensive sales and after-sales services and enhance the customer experience through additional on-the-ground support and enhanced use of technology.

Careful planning is key to success, which is why Harris has successfully navigated its way through recent global challenges, including Brexit. “We had multiple plans in place ahead of Brexit, so we were well prepared,” explained Harris.

“A significant percentage of our vehicles go into the UK to support our growing presence in that market . In fact our Headquarters, based in Dublin, with the strength of its Irish based management team, grew the business so much through its dealer network in the UK, that it had to move to a larger depot linked to parts supply to support that UK growing network .

“The Dublin headquarters has now in place in Liverpool a growing parts depot alongside the Maxus proprietary technical training academy all of which is managed and directed in terms of excellence from Dublin".

“Backed by incredible people and a significant investment in cutting edge technology, we’re growing in every direction,” said Harris. “In Ireland we also have a training school for technicians that provides EV [electric vehicle] training. We’ve trained hundreds of technicians, some of whom travel from the UK for our specialist training.”

Ireland’s response to climate change and creating a more sustainable future for the next generation is a passion for Harris. “We need to see an acceleration of Ireland’s transition to EVs. Unfortunately some of the essential tools are not available such as adequate charging infrastructure. It's a personal passion of mine to see the rapid decarbonisation of the transport sector so that we can meet our net zero ambitions.”

Notwithstanding, many of Harris Group’s larger fleet customers have made the change, with great success. “State-owned organisations, delivery and pharma companies have invested significantly in our light commercial vehicle range and leading technology companies are successfully running many of our electric buses. We’re playing our part, but it is crucial that we create the right environment to enable the widespread deployment of EVs among the bus and coach sector. Critical to this will be the expansion of the Alternatively Fuelled Heavy Duty Vehicle Grant Purchase Scheme, which we see as a key enabler.”

Greener motoring is the future and it's clear that Harris Group is leading the charge in the commercial EV market.