PUBLISHED: 10:23 16 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:26 20 February 2013
Sir David McMurtry from Renishaw. Interview by Nicky Godding
Sir David McMurtry from Renishaw. Interview by Nicky Godding
Britain needs more businesses that make things even better if they can sell their innovations abroad. Renishaw, headquartered near Wotton under Edge, is such a business.
A highly successful precision engineering company exporting more than 95 per cent of products abroad, to China, the Americas, Middle East and Europe. It employs more than 2700 people, over 1600 at its five sites in Gloucestershire, including its headquarters at a former woollen mill near Wotton-under-Edge.
In the three months up to the end of September last year, the company increased its turnover 15 per cent over the first quarter of its previous trading year. While gross profit was down a little for the same period, the company says this is largely due to employing more people to support its growing revenue and production demands, and investment in research and development. Chairman/Chief Executive and co-founder of Renishaw is Sir David McMurtry, 71, and the story of how he solved an engineering problem on Concorde and went on to lead one of Britains most enduringly successful home-grown engineering businesses is inspiring.
Born in Dublin, the young David loved engineering and went to work for Bristol Aero Engines (later to become Rolls Royce) at Filton. By the age of 24 he was a qualified engineer working in the companys design office. Aged 30 he became the Deputy Chief Designer and worked on the RB199 and Tornado fighter engines. During this time a colleague came to him with a problem: They couldnt make the fuel pipes for the Concorde engine because of limitations with the existing measurement devices.
That weekend he scratched his head and on Monday presented them with the solution, a touch trigger probe. 40 years later derivations of the original probe are still in production at Renishaws Gloucestershire manufacturing plants (it also manufactures in Ireland, Germany and Pune, India), generating revenue along with hundreds of other innovative products designed by the Renishaw team led by the still energetic Sir David.
Sir David and his business partner John Deer, now Renishaws Deputy Chairman, established the company in 1973 and finally bought out Rolls-Royces interest in the original patents in 1987. Despite being over the age of retirement, Sir David continues to be the companys chief designer (when I ask about retirement I get an amused, raised eyebrow). John is the man behind the manufacturing side of the business. Over the last four decades they have made an invincible team.
Of course, the upward trajectory of the company hasnt been without its blips. There have been court cases regarding the infringement of Renishaws copyright (all bar one resolved in Renishaws favour) and in 2009, 437 job losses worldwide to combat the recession. However thanks to decisive action by the Renishaw board at the time, two years later the company has not only been able to re-employ many, but continues to recruit and nowemploys more staff than ever. It was one of the most difficult things we ever had to do, says Sir David of the redundancy round.
The Group has seen a rapid upturn in its global business over the last two years, particularly in its core metrology business and especially in the Far East, which accounts for 40 per cent of the companys revenue. Continental Europe delivers 30 per cent of revenue, North and South America 23 per cent and the UK just five per cent, with two per cent of revenue from elsewhere. China is growing at a frightening rate, says Sir David. Everywhere you go, new buildings, airports, factories, homes. No-one can appreciate the scale and speed of the countrys development until they see it with their own eyes.
92 per cent of Renishaw revenue comes from manufacturing products for the metrology sector. The growing sector of healthcare makes up the final eight per cent and the company is actively seeking to expand into new markets here to broaden its manufacturing base. In healthcare it has an emerging molecular diagnostics business, and in spectroscopy products which are being used in research applications including cancer detection and IVF treatments.
Such pioneering work requires huge investment in research and development and in the year ended June 2011 Renishaw spent over 40 million on R&D and engineering. Its this investment in people and plant that is essential if Britain is to rebalance its economy towards manufacturing and exports, says Sir David. In Britain we have the ideas, but many businesses are inept at exploiting them they just let things happen, he says forcefully. Renishaw has always supported the next generation; in fact many of those in the most senior roles within the business are home grown.
Last year the Group took on 25 apprentices and celebrated the success of Roxanne Pollard, one of its first year apprentices, who represented the UK at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles last May. Sir David is a product visionary. Hehas more than 200 patents to his name and in 2001 was appointed a Knight Bachelor for services to Design and Innovation.
Earlier this year he was admitted as a fellow to the Royal Society. Hes also an engaging interviewee without any discernable ego for the huge contribution hes made to the British economy, innovation and manufacturing and an evident hunger to carry on doing what he does best. As a concession to his age, and probably his wife, he says that he takes Fridays off, but I dont really believe him. He might not physically be in the companys picturesque 19th century headquarters, but I bet thats where his head is.
Renishaw received the Grant Thornton Mid-Cap Business of the Year award for FTSE listed businesses and mutuals with a turnover of less than 500 million at the UKs National Business Awards held late last year. The judges said: Renishaw is not only exporting British designed and British manufactured products to over 30 countries, but attracting more graduates into manufacturing. Developing innovative products that significantly advance its customers operating performance, Renishaw is an irreplaceable business.