The man who has overseen rapid growth at manufacturing firm Nifco UK last night triumphed as the Journal’s business executive of the year.
Mike Matthews, European operations officer and managing director at the Eaglescliffe-based business, took the top honour at the North East Business Executive of the Year awards, sponsored by Brewin Dolphin, after a year which has seen the firm expand so extensively that, having already spent £8.5m relocating to a larger site, it is now investing a further £12.8m in further expansion.
The Japanese-owned company, which makes plastic components from door handles to bumper brackets for customers including Nissan, Ford, Toyota and Honda, has had much to celebrate since Matthews took the helm in 2008.
That year, the company turned over £28.5m and growth has continued on an upward trajectory ever since, with latest revenues standing at £48m.
As well as impressive accounts, the business is introducing research and development as business grows year on year, only Nifco’s second R&D operation outside Japan after South Korea, and the 370-strong business will soon welcome another 170 as part of the expansion plans.
Much of the success of the UK operation stems from Matthews’ drive and ambition, as the only non-Japanese member of Nifco’s international board, having worked his way up from the shopfloor. London’s loss was the region’s gain when Matthews turned down a technical apprenticeship with the RAF in London, choosing instead to stay close to home with a civilian apprenticeship at tubemakers Phoenix Tubemans.
Later joining Nifco as a toolmaker, it was his passion for craftsmanship and pride in the products he and his colleagues were making that steered him towards a career change, in the sales department as a technical sales representative – the perfect fit for his people skills.
And since switching Matthews has never looked back, pushing the business forward as the key architect in its impressive, multi-award-winning growth.
Matthews, a time-served toolmaker from Darlington, also won the Teesside heat and took the overall title ahead of housing firm Gentoo’s chief executive Peter Walls, the Durham & Wearside executive of the Year, and John Dickson, owner and chairman of the Owen Pugh Group, who won the Tyneside and Northumberland heat.
Lord Ian Wrigglesworth whose many business roles included chairman of the Northern Region CBI, chairman of the NewcastleGateshead Initiative and Port of Tyne chairman, was given the lifetime achievement award. Margaret Fay was presented with the non-executive director of the year award and a special recognition award was given to Charles Clinkard of the Teesside footwear retailer.