A Black Country furnace-making firm that has made a global success out of successful skills partnerships with universities has been named as the Birmingham Post Enterprise Award winners for this month.
Mechatherm, based in Kingswinford, is run by chairman Andrew Riley and managing director Chris Emes, who had barely even met when they were brought in by their fathers, who had started the company together in the early 1970s.
But now they have turned the company into a global success story worth more than £20 million and expecting another record year in 2009 despite the economic downturn.
Mr Riley said: “It’s a tremendous coincidence that our dads got together, but we have been a very good team. We are both pragmatists, we both want to do well and we both want to be the best.”
The pair first started at the company at the tail-end of the 1970s, a tough time to be in the industrial sector. But they said the current financial conditions were the worst they had ever seen.
Mr Riley said: “I personally believe this time it’s going to be worse and last longer, in the metals industry at least.
“It’s much worse now because in the past there was always some part of the world which had a positive outlook you could sell to, but now I don’t think there’s anywhere.
“Luckily for us there are projects that were started that are continuing in the Middle East and India.”
But despite the problems, the company is actually expecting a record year of sales in 2009, with a projected turnover of about £22 million.
The company recently set another record, when it built the biggest aluminium furnaces in the world – holding up to 130 tonnes of molten metal at a time – for a client in Abu Dhabi. The feat even got them in the Guinness book of records, Mr Riley said.
Mechatherm, with a staff of 60 makes about 80 per cent of its furnaces for export, primarily the Middle East and Africa. It has increased in size more than tenfold since the younger Mr Riley and Emes took over. Aluminium products made thanks to Mechatherm include the wings for the new Airbus A380 – the largest passenger aircraft in the world.
They caught the Enterprise Awards judges’ eyes when they were nominated for a Lord Stafford award for the ground-breaking Knowledge Transfer Partnership they set up with Birmingham City University.
The scheme let them improve product quality and reduce their overheads. It also led to them employing the BCU graduate who had worked with them on the project. Peter Sandhu – who graduated with a Masters degree in engineering design – worked on computer software to check the electric heating of furnaces which helped the development of new designs and increased environmental expertise.
Mr Sandhu said: “The KTP with Birmingham City University has been such a great way of filling the skills gap, which may otherwise be lost to the upheaval in manufacturing.”
The knowledge transfer scheme was such a success they are now planning to carry out two more KTPs with the university.
The company is also planning to move back into cast aluminium products, which the owners said would give them a completely new product line.
The main sponsors of Birmingham Post Enterprise Awards are Intercity Mobile Communications and Churchill Vintners in association with Laurent Perrier.
Flybe and Aston Business School provide further support and Aston Villa Football Club will be providing a corporate package.
Regional development agency Advantage West Midlands co-sponsors the annual awards presentation event. The award was presented at the AWM headquarters at Aston Science Park, Birmingham.