North East firms rewarded for innovation

THE impact of North East companies abroad has been reflected in this year’s batch of Queen’s Award winners.

Andrew Hodgson, chief executive of SMD
Andrew Hodgson, chief executive of SMD

THE impact of North East companies abroad has been reflected in this year’s batch of Queen’s Award winners.

Of the 12 firms to receive the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2012, 11 were recognised for their success in international trade.

Winners this year include Nissan’s Washington plant, compressed air filter manufacturer Walker Filtration, subsea equipment manufacturer Soil Machine Dynamics and diagnostic kit maker Immunodiagnostic Systems.

In addition, Pearson Engineering was the sole winner of an innovation award from the region, while the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion was given to retired former Project North East chief executive Sandy Ogilvie and Durham University professor Brian Tanner.

A total of 209 awards were given out this year, with 151 rewarding success in international trade, 50 for innovation and eight for sustainable development.

The enterprise promotion award was given to 11 individuals for their role in encouraging entrepreneurship in the UK.

Winners receive a visit from a royal representative, a crystal bowl and an invitation to a special reception at Buckingham Palace. And there are further benefits for the winners.

A recent survey of previous award-winners revealed that 83% said it brought extra prestige to the business, while 48% said it boosted their profile overseas. It is also anecdotally said to improve staff morale, and generated extra press coverage for 63% of winners.

Business and enterprise minister Mark Prisk said: “The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise are the highest accolade a business can receive. The standard of this year’s winners highlights the great work taking place by businesses of all sizes to help boost the growth of the UK economy. I hope that it will inspire more entrepreneurs to start or grow their business as we look to make 2012 the year of enterprise.”

Many of the winners are no strangers to these awards. It’s the fifth time Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK’s Sunderland plant has scooped a Queen’s Award – this time reflecting its “outstanding achievement in export sales”. The plant was established in 1986 and exports around 80% of its products around the world.

It has seen export growth of 38%, with sales increasing from £3,006m to £4,307m, and announced earlier this month that it was adding another 225 jobs as part of a multi-million pound investment that should bring the workforce up to a record 6,225.

The company was praised by the Queen’s Award team for a “considered strategy implementation” which meant it was “maintaining its market position within an increasingly competitive automotive market”.

Gateshead’s Union Electric Steel UK won its third Queen’s Award, recognising growth in markets such as Mexico and the UK which has brought in another £9m in orders.

The firm – which was formerly known as the Davy Roll Company – makes cast rolling mill rolls for the steel and aluminium industries, and exports more than 85% of its products to 40 countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

The UK subsidiary of Pittsburgh’s Union Electric Steel Corporation employs 275 people in Gateshead.

Managing director Steve Bell said the award was “a magnificent recognition of the dedication and hard work of all our employees in Gateshead and our excellent relationship with our customers around the world”.

It’s a fourth win for Walker Filtration, the Washington firm which designs and makes compressed air and vacuum pump filtration and drying products for medical and industrial customers.

Lianne Walker MBE, of Walker Filtration
Lianne Walker MBE, of Walker Filtration

Overseas sales have grown by more than 100% in the last six years, and exports now represent 88% of its total sales. The family-owned business is now exporting to 65 countries, and plans annual sales growth of 20% in the next four years.

It currently boasts turnover of £22.3m and has boosted its workforce from 114 in 2006 to more than 200 this year.

Managing director Lianne Walker said: “Exporting will continue to remain central to Walker Filtration’s growth. There is potential to exploit existing channels further, develop new products for existing markets and target new territories, especially the Far East and South America.”

Washington hearing aid battery maker Rayovac has won an award for a second time, following an increase in demand for its products over the last six years. It scooped a Queen’s Award for Innovation last year for producing a mercury-free hearing aid battery range.

Rayovac is a subsidiary of American Spectrum Brands Group and exports across Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia Pacific.

Divisional vice-president Vince Armitage said: “This is another feather in the cap for Rayovac and our team at Washington. To win the Queen’s Award once is a major achievement, but to win two years in a row is a superb accolade.

“Demand for our products has been extremely positive and we’re looking forward to continuing our success.”

Billingham’s engineering information management specialist Pearson-Harper has doubled its workforce over the last two years to keep up with demand. Around 36 new staff have been brought into its North East headquarters, with another three joining in Australia.

It generates 75% of its turnover from exports to markets such as Australia, Singapore, Angola and Kazakhstan, as a result of a review of its operations over the last three years.

Pearson-Harper executive chairman Steve Pearson said: “This business is unique and, at present, we are just scratching the surface. The scope for growth is vast.

“Our export strategy built on a major shift at many multinationals as they intensified their scrutiny of their cost base.”

Fellow award-winner Seaward Group has reported an increase in sales for its Rigel range of electromedical testers, which are used in hospitals and health centres to test equipment such as defibrillators, ECG monitors and ventilators.

It has a manufacturing centre in Peterlee as well as a US subsidiary in Tampa and technical support offices in Europe.

Managing director Rod Taylor said: “Export sales are increasingly important to our business and the constant challenge is to maintain a competitive edge against much larger multi-skilled groups and the lower production costs of overseas-based manufacturing operations. We believe in putting the international customer at the centre of everything we do.

“This has involved investing in multi-lingual customer support services, overseas technical support centres and working very closely with our global distribution network.”

Soil Machine Dynamics won the Queen’s Award for Innovation last year for its work on Work-Class Remotely Operated Vehicles. The Wallsend subsea equipment manufacturer is recognised this year for its growing presence in markets such as Brazil, China, Japan and Singapore.

It recently expanded its manufacturing facilities in the North East and is set to open a fourth production facility later this month at the Oceana Business Park in Wallsend.

Andrew Hodgson, chief executive of SMD, said: “Our innovative approach, which was honoured by the Queen’s Awards in 2011, has enabled SMD to become a world-leader and further expand our operations.

“The last 12 months have been particularly exciting as we’ve dramatically increased the size of our facilities in North East England, which has enabled workforce expansion and the range of products and services we can offer to UK and international customers.”

Another Wallsend company celebrating award success is Integrated Display Systems. The company produces handbrake setting and belt tensioning equipment largely used in car production lines and has seen overseas earnings rise by 271% over the six-year period. The company has recently stepped up its export drive into the growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Boldon’s Immunodiagnostic Systems makes diagnostic tests for hospital laboratories and has won its third Queen’s Award. The company recently stated it expected to beat analysts’ expectations with full-year sales of around £53.4m. In the last six years, it has doubled its workforce, grown export earnings by 702%, boosted profits by 1,300% and pushed turnover up by 500%.

The company has local representatives which work closely with customers, looking to fill gaps left by its multi-national competitors.

Cake and food decoration company Culpitt won its first award this year after demonstrating improving export sales and strong commercial success. Based in Ashington, the firm is now owned by American company Decopac, but was originally incorporated in 1931. It has been successful in developing new markets for its products in the USA and Australia.

Peel Jones Copper Products makes high-conductivity copper castings for the iron and steel industry and is extremely active in export markets. The Cleveland company has been an exporter for over 40 years and 96% of its turnover is now export-based.

Romania is a big market for Peel Jones, representing 12% of overseas sales, while it has also added India, France, China and Turkey in the last three years.

The North East’s sole innovation award-winner this year was Newcastle’s Pearson Engineering, which has received attention for its counter-mine and counter-IED equipment. The Spark 1 and 2 equipment is designed to be mounted on the front of wheeled vehicles and trigger Improvised Explosive Devices before they can damage the vehicle.

The award organisers said: “The rollers have been used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan by international forces and, having triggered hundreds of IEDs that would otherwise have detonated under the vehicle, they have undoubtedly saved many soldiers’ lives.”

The North East’s two enterprise promotion awards have gone to Brian Tanner and Sandy Ogilvie. Tanner is a professor of physics and a dean of knowledge transfer at Durham University and has been promoting enterprise for more than 30 years.

He is the co-founder of Sedgefield scanning technology firm Kromek, which is now valued at around £70m and employs more than 50 staff.

Tanner was the first director of the North East Centre for Science Enterprise and was one of the developers of the Blueprint competition, which is designed to recognise enterprise at the region’s five universities.

He remains influential in the development of the NETPark technology park in Sedgefield, which is run by the County Durham Development Company.

Tanner said: “We have developed a culture at Durham University which encompasses enterprise.

It has led to successful spin-out companies, licensing and major strategic partnerships with industry. Commercialisation of research results is seen as a proper part of academic work. I’m very proud of this for many reasons, not least in the creation of new jobs founded on the university’s knowledge base.

“I am also proud to be associated with the Blueprint competition and student entrepreneurs. Graduates are increasingly seeing self-employment as a realistic option and we have household names amongst our successful alumni entrepreneurs.”

Sandy Ogilvie retired as PNE Group CEO in April last year after more than a decade in the job.

During his time with the organisation, PNE enabled more than 4,500 people to start or expand businesses, lending over £4.2m to more than 1,100 firms, thus helping to create over 10,000 jobs. It also converted 125,000 square feet of buildings into offices for 117 small businesses employing 600 people.

Ogilvie joined PNE in 1991, starting as UK director of young entrepreneur social investment programme Shell LiveWIRE. He became PNE Group CEO in 2000 and also directed Shell LiveWIRE International. The programme expanded into more than 20 countries, allowing nine million people to investigate the possibility of starting their own businesses.

Even after his retirement, he continues to volunteer as a trustee of Team Wearside and act as a non-executive director of Belfast’s Advantage NI.

He said: “I’m greatly honoured to have received this prestigious award, and it’s testament to the great professionalism and commitment of the PNE team, without whom none of this would have been possible.”

Queen’s Award for international trade (North East winners):

Culpitt Limited, Ashington

Immunodiagnostic Systems, Boldon

Integrated Display Systems, Wallsend

Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK, Sunderland plant

Pearson-Harper, Billingham

Peel Jones Copper Products, Saltburn-by-Sea

Rayovac Micropower, Washington

Seaward Electronic, Peterlee

Soil Machine Dynamics, Wallsend

Union Electric Steel UK, Gateshead

Walker Filtration, Washington

Queen’s Award for international trade (North East winner):

Pearson Engineering, Newcastle

Queen’s Award for enterprise promotion (North East winners):

Professor Brian Tanner, professor of physics and dean of knowledge transfer, Durham University

Sandy Ogilvie, retired CEO, Project North East

The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise are the highest accolade a business can receive

 

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer