To have created a name that is recognised throughout Ireland makes me proud,” states Jimmy Byrne, Director of Modern Tyre Service.

Watching his father work in the tyre business in Dublin meant Jimmy “had carbon in his blood from the age of 14.” He was working for a Dublin-based tyre company in the early 1960s, when they asked him to move to Belfast to operate a factory there. Within 18 months, Mr. Byrne decided to go out on his own.

It was an economic decision that took him to Fermanagh in 1962, where he rented the old tweed factory in Lisbellaw from Adrian Henderson for £8 per week. “I couldn’t get anything like that anywhere else. It was cheap and it worked out well,” he says.

“I did intend to go back to Dublin but the kids liked it here, so we stayed,” the Dubliner recalls. He now lives in Drumclay, Enniskillen and his five children live close by. In 1965, he opened his first retail/wholesale tyre depot in the Old Railway Yard in Enniskillen. “We had difficulty in getting planning permission for another re-moulding plant in 1972 so we focused on retail from then on,” he explained.

As his children grew, so too did their interest in tyres and working in the depot. “Even when they were at school, they loved coming in and working on tyres at Christmas, Easter and summer holidays,” Mr. Byrne adds.

In addition to the Enniskillen depot, Modern Tyres opened in Newry (overseen by son Rory), Ballyclare (overseen by Niall), Newtownards, and Omagh (overseen by Shane). Mr. Byrne and his son Conor stayed in Enniskillen, with daughter Siobhan also joining the Enniskillen team.

As he enters his 52nd year at the helm, Mr. Byrne has 40 depots across Ireland. This includes a network of fast-fit centres, an alloy wheel wholesale company and a tyre wholesale company.

In the last decade, the company made three major acquisitions. In 2002, it bought 12 depots from Goodyear tyre company, which was selling out its interest in Northern Ireland. In 2012, it bought over Michelin’s interests in Northern Ireland (i.e. ATS on Boucher Road, Belfast; Castlereagh Road, Belfast; and Moira Road, Lisburn). In 2013, Modern Tyres received an investment of £1 million with the support of First Trust Bank, allowing it to acquire 11 outlets from the Republic of Ireland based Hanover Group which was in administration. This saved 30 jobs and the company now employs almost 250 people. “It all just fell into place,” he reflects.

Moving into the Republic of Ireland was always on Mr. Byrne’s agenda. The fact that he has had a wholesale business, D26, operating out of Monaghan town since 1975 meant he was familiar with business and legislation in the Republic. “Cross-Border operations are always difficult,” he notes. His secret to keeping on top of changing legislation and trends is: “Hiring the right staff!” For businesses considering export or expansion, he says: “You need to have the right people in the right positions, particularly accountancy.” Modern Tyre Service’s success is “undoubtedly” down to the fact it is family-run, he believes. “The four boys are a great help; they are brilliant at the job. You’ll find Niall out there under a car at the minute. They are passionate and hands on,” Mr. Byrne states. He doesn’t look to other family run businesses as a template; stating: “It’s just hit and miss and seeing what works for you.” He continues: “First Trust bank has been very good to us and we are very good to them.” However, Modern Tyres faces similar problems to other businesses in that “access to finance is always a difficulty unless you can give them a cast-iron case.” The most recent economic downturn was nothing compared to the 1980s, according to the experienced business man. “During the 80s the economic downturn it was horrific,” he states. “We were paying 17-18 per cent interest. We were ducking and diving and hoping that you had the wages every Friday; it was terrible time. It certainly was much worse than the most recent downturn because interest rates were enormous.” Socially, he has noticed changes too. “We now operate a breakdown service and do more MOT servicing; this was needed to meet customer demand.” Cars have changed too. “I never thought that there would be tubeless tyres. Puncture-less tyres are virtually here,” he reflects.

The Troubles also brought challenges; with hi-jackings, shootings and fires affecting business; mostly in Newry, Derry and Strabane. “We had 11 vans hi-jacked in one night in Newry. We were burned out twice in Lisbellaw and twice in Newry,” he recalls. “The Troubles were difficult to live through.” Working with a commodity such as tyres means “we are virtually recession proof.” Mr. Byrne elaborates: “People don’t waken up on a Monday morning and say: ‘I want to buy four new tyres this week.’ It’s a crisis purchase – you have to buy them.” This is reflected in the statistics, with Modern Tyres selling over £30 million in tyres annually. The company is also contracted to service security vehicles, ambulances and local authority vehicles across the province.

Tyres are imported from Korea, China and Holland, with Modern Tyres the sole distributor of Kumho tyres in Ireland. On the Tempo Road site, thousands of tyres are stored, ready for next day delivery across Ireland. Old tyres are sent to Drogheda for recycling at a cost to the business ranging from £1 per car tyre to £5 per tractor tyre.

2014 will bring more growth to the company as Mr. Byrne plans to expand in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

Asked what are the main lessons he has learned, Mr. Byrne replies: “It’s a simple business; it’s buying and selling. And if you have the right staff and treat your customers well and you have the stock and facilities, it works. It’s a highly competitive business; even in this town there are four or five of us at it.” On the local economy, he comments: “We tend to think more globally. In the north of Ireland there’s a positive feel to business. We felt positivity in 2012 and it got stronger in 2013. We had a good year last year and all the signs are that that’s going to continue.” In his spare time, Mr. Byrne enjoys hill walking in Culcaigh and Benaughlin Mountains. A former body-builder (winning the ‘Mr. Leinster’ title in 1986), he enjoyed running marathons and completed the 1983 New York Marathon in three hours and six minutes. He also enjoys bridge.