A West Midland automotive support group under a severe funding threat has helped to safeguard hundreds of jobs and identify new markets, according to experts.
Development of new technologies are also among some of the impressive results to emerge from the first dedicated mentoring programme offered by Accelerate and the EEF.
The mentoring initiative, funded by Advantage West Midlands, was set up to provide automotive suppliers in the region with senior level, one-on-one support on strategic projects, business diversification and process improvements to help them emerge from the recession and win new business.
Advantage West Midlands said last week that Accelerate, which has been supporting automotive suppliers and component firms in the West Midlands for 14 years, may not be able to continue after April.
The regional development agency said it would aim to keep Accelerate afloat, but budgets were under strain due to the recession and a potential tightening in Government funding.
But the value of the supply chain initiative was underlined as seven senior business leaders, including Barrie Williams and Tony Belisario, spent more than 500 hours delivering expert assistance to local companies, such as Frank Dudley Limited, JJ Churchill, B2 Automotive and Widney Manufacturing.
Rachel Eade, programme manager for Accelerate, said she was delighted with its impact. “The ongoing recession in the car industry has been one of the worst ever and we have had to look at different ways of supporting our businesses through the downturn.
“There was already a lot of lighter touch support through workshops and seminars, but a lot of our suppliers needed direct action, which accessed experienced leaders, with the necessary strategic skills,” she said.
Working with EEF business mentors, Accelerate identified seven companies that would benefit most from the programme, involving anything from reducing costs and moving into new markets to renegotiating bank arrangements, looking at strategic acquisitions and developing greener technologies.
Aston-based Widney Manufacturing was one of the first companies to benefit, with its mentor Tony Belisario helping the management team with a strategic review of its markets and products, and the possibility of taking on sub-contracting work to in order to utilise spare capacity.
The company, which serves a host of blue chip customers such as Caterpillar, JCB and Volvo Construction, has used external support to make significant inroads and commercial contacts into the rail, aerospace and defence sectors as well as new markets in the US.
Utilising Mr Belisario’s experience as managing director at both Dowty Defence and Air Systems Division and GEC Aerospace, it has made new contacts with key distributors for its products and this will help to safeguard more than 100 jobs at its Plume Street base.
Jason Brookes, technical director of Widney, said: “Hoping our traditional markets will improve was clearly not a strategy for recovery.
“We needed to explore new market opportunities fast and Tony brought with him considerable experience that enabled us to focus 100 per cent on the task ahead.”