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Business News The Griffin Report


Martin McDonagh is the enigmatic boss of tableware manufacturer Heritage Collection, whose 50 years in business include trading in the desert with Colonel Gaddafi and supplying luxury goods to the QE2 and the Orient Express. Chamberlink’s award-winning columnist Jon Griffin spoke to him about half a century of heartache and triumph in the tableware sector.


goods to the Sultan of Brunei’s Dorchester Hotel, the Ritz, the QE2 and the Orient Express– not to mention the ‘butcher down the road.’ But former Longbridge


H


apprentice Martin McDonagh still shuns the limelight after a remarkable career spanning around 50 years in the tableware industry. This son of Irish immigrants, who grew up in a Nissen hut in Stratford without water and electricity, remains an enigmatic character at heart. “I am shy, I am not one of those


people who can comfortably sit in very opulent places, I find that very difficult. I was uncomfortable with publicity, I don’t want to be on a pedestal – it’s a failing, it is something I have found very difficult.” But failure is hardly a word you


would associate with this driven septuagenarian, who at 72 is still at his desk as chairman of Small Heath-based tableware manufacturer Heritage Collection at 6am.


Martin has seen it all across half


a century of heartache and triumph in the tableware sector – and today remains at the helm of this friendly £2.5 million turnover Birmingham firm with a 35-strong workforce just a stone’s throw from Birmingham City’s ground. Ably assisted by his son


Anthony, daughter Nathalie and French-born accountant wife Mireille - “I doubt if I would ever have been able to do what I have without her” - Martin can reflect on a lifetime of achievement, often against the odds. Not that he enjoys doing so. “It is not about me. We are


nothing without our people – I have only ever sacked one person in my life. I can count with one hand people who have left here.” In an era of constant white noise


and 24-7 cyberspace self- promotion, the team at Heritage Collection allow their many considerable achievements to speak for themselves. Their track


16 CHAMBERLINK April 2020


e’s traded deals in the desert with Colonel Gaddafi, supplied luxury


Enigmatic: Martin McDonagh


‘We are not into market share, we are not into volume per se. We are into achieving great partnerships with the very top hospitality venues’


record in the tableware sector is testament to decades of innovation, investment and relentless hard work. Founded in 1976 as Heritage


Silverware, this family business today covers tableware across the board, from cutlery to afternoon tea service, porcelain, glassware, stoneware, trolleys, fine bone china,


glass, cast iron and more, supplying a range of luxury hotels and restaurants down to butcher’s shops and garden centres. Martin may argue to the contrary


that he’s just part of such an enduring success story, but any salesman who has travelled for four hours by road to Colonel Gadaffi’s desert lair to strike a deal with the


former Libyan dictator for 30,000 items of cutlery and china, is hardly a shrinking violet. Working for London-based


Chinacraft at the time, Martin’s firm had been contacted out of the blue by Gaddafi’s henchmen for an order for top quality cutlery. “He wanted to equip all the


major parts of the army with sets of cutlery and china. I got on a plane to Libya and was put in a Jeep for a four-hour drive to the desert. I was frightened out of my wits and was taken to another part of the campsite.” There Martin was admitted to the


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