The Managing Director of one of Northern Ireland’s oldest and best-known companies has been honoured at the annual Institute of Directors Northern Ireland (IoD NI) Director of the Year Awards.

William Barnett, who represents the fourth generation of his family to lead W&R Barnett, was presented with the Chairman’s Award for Excellence in Director and Board Practice at the awards, which are sponsored by First Trust Bank.

It is the first personal business award ever to be presented to William who was among 11 business leaders to be honoured at a ceremony in the Merchant Hotel, Belfast.

Such is the scale of W&R Barnett, which was founded in Belfast as a grain merchant in 1896, William holds 60 directorships across the globe, covering operations in countries as far afield as Trinidad and Tobago and the Philippines.

In 2017, the business, which includes enterprises covering dry bulk commodities, derivatives, molasses, oils, feed mills, corrugated packaging, laboratory testing, and storage eclipsed £1 billion in turnover – one of few firms from Northern Ireland to reach this mark.

Other award winners included Nick Whelan of Dale Farm who was named the Large Business Director of the Year award while Jackie Henry of Deloitte was awarded Director of the Year in the Inclusivity category.

Meanwhile, Jill Minne received the Public Sector Director of the Year Award and MJM Group’s Naoimh McAteer was named the Young Director of the Year.

This year’s winners were:

Chairman’s Award for Excellence in Director and Board Practice, sponsored by First Trust Bank – William Barnett, W&R Barnett

Director of the Year – Non-Executive, sponsored by Deloitte – Mark Ennis, Chairman, SSE Airtricity

Director of the Year – Innovation, sponsored by KPMG – Alan Lowry, Environmental Street Furniture

Director of the Year – Young, sponsored by Carson McDowell – Naoimh McAteer, MJM Group

Director of the Year – Public Sector, sponsored by Capita Managed IT Solutions – Jill Minne, Northern Ireland Civil Service 

Director of the Year – Third Sector, sponsored by Capita Managed IT Solutions – Carol Fitzsimons, Young Enterprise NI

Director of the Year – Family Business, sponsored by BDO Northern Ireland – Angela Bennett, Diamond Systems

Director of the Year – International, sponsored by Invest Northern Ireland – Lisa McLaughlin, Herbert Smith Freehills

Director of the Year – Small to Medium Business, sponsored by Ulster University Business School – Angela Bennett, Diamond Systems

Director of the Year – Inclusivity, sponsored by Abacus – Jackie Henry, Deloitte

Director of the Year – Start-Up, sponsored by Amplifi Solutions – Robert McConnell, Pinnacle Professional

Director of the Year – Large Business, sponsored by Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council – Nick Whelan, Dale Farm

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Gordon Milligan, IoD NI Chairman, said:

“Employing more than 1,500 people and with operations across the world, W&R Barnett is one of Northern Ireland’s most successful and outward focused companies.

“It was particularly pleasing therefore to present the Chairman’s Award for Excellence in Director and Board Practice to William Barnett in recognition of the huge contribution his firm has made to the local economy, not just recently, but across more than 120 years.

“Congratulations go to all this year’s winners that prove once again that the Northern Ireland economy benefits from leaders across the private and public sector, performing to the very highest standards.”

Adrian Moynihan, Head of First Trust Bank, added:

“It is vital that we continue to nurture, reward and grow the leadership traits that strengthen our business community and on behalf of First Trust Bank, I would like to congratulate all the winners on their well-deserved accolades.

“The IoD Director of the Year Awards programme is a fantastic way for us to highlight the importance of leadership within the business community and given the uncertain times we live in, we must ensure that our business leaders voices are heard loud and clear. Each of the finalists demonstrated exceptional leadership skills, innovation and visionary thinking – truly inspiring qualities which help drive Northern Ireland’s growing business community.”

Category winners will now progress to be considered for the national IoD Director of the Year Awards taking place in London later this year.