Interview: Steve Morris, MD at Morgan Motor Company
PUBLISHED: 15:11 10 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:11 10 January 2018
© Thousand Word Media
Driving a Great British future with the heritage of the past is what the Morgan Motor Company is all about. Frank Tennyson meets its MD Steve Morris
I arrive at Morgan Motor Company’s HQ on a cold, crisp, wintry Worcestershire afternoon expecting a comfy and welcoming experience, reflecting very much on the past.
After all this is a firm that has become an icon of British car manufacturing.
In operation since 1909 - 103 years in its Pickersleigh Road premises in Malvern - it is renowned for celebrating retro-style vehicles, delivered with old-fashioned care and attention.
But within seconds of arriving in its showroom, you can see that this is a company with a different agenda. On one of the walls hangs a lovely black and white photograph of the Morgan Three-Wheeler, the most successful lightweight car of the early days of motoring and the creation on which the firm’s success is built.
Yet just a few feet away, sits a gleaming car that can only be described as a work of art. Yes, it also a three-wheeler, but the beautiful EV3 is an all-electric car, all set for the challenges of the future.
This dichotomy between new and old is something Morgan’s MD Steve Morris is keen to embrace.
“We have a company with an incredible heritage which we are hugely proud of,” says Steve. “But the job here is about ensuring we secure the business going forward. Our cars are a really strong marriage of craft and technology. You’ve got this retro-style looking car but underpinned with the very latest materials, modern adhesives, the very latest technology.
“And that approach flushes right through the entire company. We are an old business but right at the cutting edge and always with an eye to the future.”
Steve himself is well-placed to chart the development of Morgan. Recently celebrating 35 years at the company, he started as a 16 year-old sheet metal apprentice. Working his way up through the ranks, he stepped up from operations director to become MD in 2013.
“Morgan is in my DNA,” says Steve. “It’s fantastic to grow up with the brand, see the changes, know the people, understand the processes and appreciate our great history and products. But at the same time, whilst we enjoy that great heritage, it’s vital that we always have an eye to the future.
“The biggest challenge for me when I took over is to appreciate that you are a steward of a great old company. You’re running this 108 year-old organisation and there is a lot riding on it for a lot of stakeholders. Therefore you must do the right things, invest in the right technologies and ensure we have a vibrant future in the industry.
“The history is the history but to keep that legacy going in the future will take a lot of hard work.”
The word “future” is something that Steve uses time and again during our interview. He constantly references where Morgan can successfully move forward, building on the foundations of an iconic British brand but never resting on its laurels.
A huge part of securing the company’s future, was re-acquiring the Pickersleigh Road site earlier this year. The land was sold in 2006 to fund product development in a sell and lease-back arrangement. Steve was front and centre in making this deal happen.
He explains: “It was an 11-year battle to get this done. And it was quite an emotional moment when we did so. It’s given us an opportunity to start investing back in the premises and already we are putting up new buildings and resurfacing various areas.
“It makes such a difference for the staff to see how we are progressing and putting in money into their surroundings. I think everyone here is excited about what we are going to achieve.”
Employees at Morgan do indeed to appear to be happy in their work. A mixture of young and old go about their business in a cheerful manner. There is a relaxed attitude but as Steve says, it’s a by-product of people showing endeavour in a common goal.
“There’s a definite culture here where we want people to work hard but at the same time enjoy being here. There is very low staff turnover and I think coupled to the fact we have a brand they are proud of, means we create a good environment. There’s a great family atmosphere but in a very serious business. I like to think we have the right balance.”
He adds: “Although we enjoy low staff turnover, we are very, very passionate about sustainable training programmes and our academies for new starters. Many people have been here for a long time but there is a real drive to ensure we attract talented people.
“We represent a level of craft and skill that differentiates us from the rest of the automotive world. I’d like to think that makes us an great place to work.”
On our visit Steve takes us on a tour of the Morgan site. He has told us he makes it his business to know the name of everyone on the workforce and there is an apparent affection and respect for the boss. He says this is very much a two-way thing.
“I’m always on the shop floor, chatting to people, watching how we work and ensuring that we are going about things the right way. I have a relationship with everyone here – we all share the same goals and the same ambitions. Mutual respect between the people that work here and myself is vitally important.”
So that is the working environment, but what about the product itself? Who buys a Morgan and what can they expect of these beautiful creations?
Steve enthuses: “You buy into a lifestyle and a community. From when people come here to see their car built, through to the various races or car shows around the world, there is a real family. We always talk about the wider family at Morgan and it’s hugely important to us.
“The one thing that never, ever ceases to amaze me is wherever you are in the world, if you are driving a Morgan, people are so friendly towards you. They will ask you about the car and many will have a story about a family friend or relative who had a Morgan.
“That’s incredible because we don’t mass produce cars like some of the other manufacturers. The Morgan brand has that power and that wow factor.”
That sense of family and community is rubber stamped by each and every new owner of a Morgan receiving a welcome pack accompanied by a personalised note of thank you and congratulations by Steve himself.
Another way of expanding this “Morgan family” is by attracting thousands of people every year to the site’s factory tours.
“Whether you are a man, woman, boy, girl, young old there is something here to enjoy,” says Steve. “Even if you don’t want to own one of our cars, you can appreciate the story, the history of Morgan.“We have 30,000 visitors to the factory every year which makes us all very proud and gives us a sense of achievement. There is a real eclectic mix of people who come here – owners, prospective owners, casual visitors, even school children – and they all buy into what we do.”
A satisfying consequence of this number of visitors flowing through Morgan’s doors is the impact it has on the surrounding area. Malvern is rightly proud of its signature company and Steve is keen for Morgan to remain at the heart of the community.
“I’m a local lad and 70-80 per cent of our 200-plus workforce are the same,” he says. “It means a lot to the local community that we are bringing in thousands of visitors into the town every year, and with them potential spending power.”
“We also take our corporate social responsibility extremely seriously. We have a local and national charity each year. We support as many local events at schools and generally within the community as we can. And of course the more investment we put into our business and this site, the better it has to be for this area.”
On the back of a 14 per cent year-on-year revenue growth in 2016, Steve’s team confirm that 2017 will show even stronger results. In order to sustain this growth going forward, Morgan has put some robust structures in place.
Steve explains: “The part of the business that we really proud of, built up during the last five years, is our design and engineering, research and development departments. We have organically grown these in the company. Again this is ensuring that while we embrace our fantastic heritage, we our looking to the future, always striving to improve and be on the cutting edge. That word “future” again.
Steve continues: “It’s an ever-changing world. There will be more change in vehicle manufacturing in the next decade then there has been in the last century. That tells you what the challenge is, and how important it is for Morgan to be ready for that.
“The pace of the motor industry is very, very rapid now, so although we have this 109 year history of making cars, it is really important to ensure that we are in line with the complex requirements of the modern motor industry, whilst also striving to take the lead.
“I’m confident with providing quality at every level of what we do, we will be around for another 100 years at least!”