In case you missed it: A look back at some of our most popular posts from 2021

  • Sync NI’s Leaders & Innovators - Cormac Diamond

    Sync NI chats with Cormac Diamond, the Managing Director of The Bloc Group, the Magherafelt-based organisation that has recently invested £600,000 in the launch of a new spinout company – Bloc Labs – to design, test, and develop consumer technology products and experiences for global markets.

    Cormac’s original business, Bloc Blinds was also recognised with an Innovator’s Award last year from Belfast’s Catalyst, for pivoting from manufacturing blinds to the design and production of face shields during the Covid-19 pandemic, a move that enabled it to bring all of its workforce back from furlough and employ a further 200 local staff.

    Having worked at Bloc Blinds for nearly 16 years can you tell us a little about your journey and how much the business has grown and evolved during this period?

    I’ve always tried to think outside the box, or at very least to see things from a different angle. Whilst I trained as a mechanical engineer, I’ve always positioned myself as an innovator, coming up with new ways of solving simple problems. 

    The Bloc Out Blind is a great example. We all need a good night’s sleep so we developed a system which effectively blocks the light, is safe and stylish, and ultimately enhances our lifestyle. 

    When we established Bloc Blinds in 2008 we employed a handful of people in my father-in-law’s shed. Today we operate from our purpose-built factory employing over 250 with headquarters in Mid Ulster and divisions in Belfast and the Netherlands. 

    And the journey continues, with Bloc Labs and our other spin-out businesses – each fuelled by innovation and ingenuity.

    How much do you think having an engineering background has contributed to this growth in terms of scaling the business? 

    Engineering is often misinterpreted or misunderstood, with some even describing it is dull! At its heart engineering is a mindset which I prefer to think of as ‘can do’ because it’s all about evolution and progress. It has enabled me to be curious about everything and ask myself ‘how could we do this better?’ It’s about identifying the problem, categorising the risk, trying, failing, tweaking, trying again…and eventually bringing the idea to life. 

    That’s incredibly fulfilling, and, if you can run a business offering employment and opportunity to others along the way, then it’s also very rewarding. 

    Can you tell us about how the Covid pandemic impacted your business from a manufacturing point of view as well as from a sales and logistics standpoint, and how quickly were you able to adapt? 

    It forced us to think quickly, innovate and collaborate with other likeminded companies, resulting in the re-purposing of our workspace to support the production of PPE for healthcare workers. The journey in 2020 was taken at speed, yet you could view it as part of Bloc’s natural evolution as we are constantly re-evaluating our processes and our purpose. The launch of spinout Bloc Labs is a great example but it’s only the start There’s so much more to come. 

    Engineers are often considered some of the best CEOs, given they are trained to assess and mitigate risks perhaps better than other disciplines – would you agree with that stereotype and how much influence do you think your background has when it comes to diversifying into new product lines such as PPE? 

    No person is an island. It all about bringing together the best people and creating teams of innovators, designers, problem solvers and marketeers. Bloc is successful because our teams are fluid thinkers, agile and are never afraid to give it a go. This combination of quick thinking and team expertise was what helped us be the first to respond in the pandemic and it will continue to drive us forward as a business.

    You must have received many industry accolades over the years, but how proud were you when you won a Red Dot Award this year for quality and outstanding design? 

    I’m beyond proud of Red Dot as it validates our mission to foster world-class design and firmly positions Bloc Blinds on the global platform. It’s a fantastic accolade for all our team who have worked tirelessly to achieve this most sought-after seal of quality design.

    Despite all your success, if you could go back and start again, what advice would you give to the 16-year-old you? 

    I was still at school at 16, and desperately wishing I could escape to work on my uncle’s farm. I would tell my 16 year old self to be aspirational in his thinking, to always look forward, and to never accept the norm. 

    Bloc Blinds is constantly innovating and evolving for the future - can you tell us a little about your future plans and global ambitions?

    We will continue to push boundaries in everything we do. We were first to respond to the USA’s legislation changes in child-safe window coverings and that continues to be a key market for our blinds’ operations. 

    Going forward our focus will be on designing products that meet the ever-changing needs of the consumer who ultimately wants to feel safe and do the best they can for themselves and their family. Bloc will continue to design products and services to meet those needs on a global basis. 

    What do you think are the most important attributes of a successful team and what characteristics do you look for when hiring? 

    Talent in all its forms. Fresh thinking. Curious minds. Enthusiastic about possibility. If you tick these boxes then Bloc is the place for you.  

    What advice would you give to an ambitious start-up who wishes to scale in today’s environment? 

    Try and try again. Don’t be afraid to fail. The best lessons are learnt from failure. Northern Ireland is an excellent platform for start-ups, what with our expertise in tech, design and manufacturing. Focus on the potential and stay resilient.

    This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 edition of the Sync NI magazine. You can download your FREE copy and sign up to receive future digital editions here.

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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