A new state-of-the-art headquarters, new business and new recruits are all signs of Aker Kvaerner Engineering Services’ current success. But here Karen McLauchlan looks back at the firm’s long-standing Stockton roots, which stretch back more than 100 years.
AKER Kvaerner Engineering Services has a history inextricably linked with the North East. Despite several name changes, the business has operated out of Stockton for more than 100 years. And the move to new, state-of-the-art premises – still in Stockton – is the latest chapter in its long history. The company announced in 2006 it was leaving its base at Ashmore House in Stockton’s Richardson Road for a new HQ at the Surtees Business Park on Bowesfield Lane, providing space for about 400 staff.
Staff are currently in the process of moving into their new home, Phoenix House, which also houses other Aker Kvaerner operations, such as its offshore oil and gas business.
The Richardson Road site, work on which started in the late 1970s, is set to become home to a new community, having been purchased by Miller Homes.
Dave Ley, president and managing director of Aker Kvaerner Engineering Services, said: "This significant new investment in modern, purpose-built premises underlines Aker Kvaerner’s intent to remain in the area in the long term. It’s important for us to create a modern, efficient workspace – and this new site does that for us."
With such a long history in the town, Mr Ley says remaining in Stockton was an important factor.
"We did look at other locations in a 10-15 mile radius of our current home, but it’s great to remain in Stockton."
Aker Kvaerner has a long association with Stockton and the Tees Valley.
Its roots are in some of the region’s engineering giants including Head Wrightson, the Davy Group and one of the UK’s biggest conglomerates, Trafalgar House.
In 1996, Kvaerner’s £904m takeover of a weakened Trafalgar marked yet another chapter in its complex history. It was the start of turbulent times, which saw job cuts for many of Kvaerner’s businesses, including Cleveland Bridge and Redpath, as it struggled with massive losses.
In 2001, having slumped into financial crisis, Kvaerner was saved by Norwegian firm Aker Maritime.
A management buyout of Kvaerner in 2005 saw it change its name to TH Global.
But the buyout did not include Aker Kvaerner Engineering Services, which remained in the ownership of Aker Kvaerner.
Over the years there has been huge change in the way business is done on a daily basis.
Departments once key to operations no longer exist due to technological advances.
A design office packed with rows of drawing boards, a ten-strong model making department, a typing team and even a company aeroplane, are now just memories.
In the last 12 month the company has seen a growth in contracts and staff numbers.
New orders secured in 2007 led to a 40% increase in turnover and the creation of 100 jobs.
The business now operates in five key sectors – nuclear, water, energy, metals and process.
In 2007 it landed a £26m project to build a combined heat and power plant for SembCorp Utilities UK at the Wilton International site.
Further wins included a £28m contract with Northumbrian Water for a major green power-from-waste project at the Bran Sands treatment works. Mr Ley added: "The business is underpinned by a strong order book and we expect the positive trends to continue into 2008. I am very optimistic that we will achieve further growth and job creation."
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The story so far
:: 1859: Stockton became involved with the iron and steel trade with William Whitwell and Company establishing its Thornaby Iron Works in South Stockton using ores imported from Spain to improve iron quality.
:: 1873: Family business Ashmore and While was set up by William Ashmore and Samuel While who created the Hope Street Iron Works in Stockton.
:: 1885: The firm was taken over by members of the Pease family creating Ashmore, Benson, Pease & Co.
:: 1901: The most significant event in the growth of the company came from its change to a corporation by the Power Gas Corporation. The Corporation was formed due to the success of Dr Ludwig Mond who developed a method of recovering ammonia as a by-product of gas. The two companies amalgamated, but kept their separate identities.
:: The war years: These were busy times for the company. During the Second World War, Ashmore, Benson Pease created Bailey Bridges, Mulberry Harbour Floating Bridges – a key part in the Normanby landings – and mortar bombs. Power Gas Corporation was responsible for gas generators for munitions factories.
:: 1960: The company was transformed into Davy Ashmore after a joining of the Davy Company which in 1968 sold off its manufacturing facilities at Stockton and became the fundamental base of what the company is today.
:: 1976: The now-named Davy International merged with Head Wrightson, a long established group of companies.
:: 1991: Davy International was acquired by Trafalgar House.
:: 1996: The operation was then acquired by Kvaerner, founded in Oslo, Norway in 1853.
:: 2001: Having slumped into financial crisis, Kvaerner was saved by Norwegian firm Aker Maritime.
:: 2005: A management buyout of Kvaerner in 2005 saw it change its name to TH Global. The buyout did not include Aker Kvaerner Engineering Services, which remained in the ownership of Aker Kvaerner.