One of Northern Ireland’s leading business figures has been awarded a knighthood in the New Year Honours list.
Wrightbus chairman William Wright has steered the Co Antrim company to international success and it now employs more than 1,500 people – with factories or assembly lines in China, Singapore, India and Abu Dhabi.
The company has produced hundreds of the iconic red London Routemaster buses, at a cost of almost £350,000 each, to boost the capital’s public transport services.
Mr Wright, 89, is a long-standing member of the Orange Order and in 2015 signed the Westminster election nomination papers of the DUP’s Ian Paisley.
The company chairman provoked controversy in March last year when he spoke out strongly in favour of Brexit.
He said at the time: “I am totally in favour of getting out. It is time to take back control of our own affairs.”
In the same interview with the Ballymena Guardian, he added: “The bureaucracy of Europe is not conducive to the UK’s business interests. I am firmly in the ‘leave’ camp.”
The origins of Wrightbus can be traced back to when William’s father, Robert Wright, set up a Ballymena joinery business in the 1930s and was contracted to build a van for the local Co-op.
Robert Wright Coachworks was established in 1946 and son William subsequently took over the reins.
Mr Wright was honoured with the Orange Order’s ‘Grand Master’s Award’ in January 2015 in recognition of his business acumen and contribution to the economic life of Co Antrim.
On receiving his award at a ceremony in Lisburn, Mr Wright said: “I am truly humbled by the award which I see not only as recognition of my role in business, but also for my lodge.
“Given my long association with the Orange Order, I would like to dedicate this prize to all the members of Gracehill LOL 772 in Ahoghill.”
The entrepreneur has been recognised with a number of other awards in recent years, including been named ‘2014 Innovation Founder’ – an award celebrating the achievements of some of Northern Ireland’s most successful business figures.
In response, he said he was proud that the company name was “synonymous with innovation”.
He added: “We have most recently been particularly active in developing low emission bus technology – an area of public transport that I believe is now coming to fruition.”