“TIME, MONEY, PEOPLE – THAT’S WHAT MAKES OUR BUSINESS”
By Julian Nettlefold
BATTLESPACE Editor, Julian Nettlefold, travelled to Oldbury UK’s Headquarters in Wolverhampton to meet Group Managing Director, Richard Skan
“Were you always destined to join the family business?” The Editor asked.
“No, not at first, after leaving Plymouth University, I joined the German automotive firm Brose in Coventry, for whom I worked in product development for 10 years. The family firm H.V. Skan Limited was being run by my father Roger, who left university early to join my grandfather Howard Victor Skan, who founded the business in 1954 – selling Schott glass products as their U.K. agent. In 2000, married with three children and destined to go to the USA to work for Brose, I decided to branch out on my own to acquire and run my own company, which we put into the family business, Skan Group Holdings. After a long search, we found the ideal company, Oldbury UK Limited. It fitted the bill perfectly – as it was a retirement sale by the three co-directors and was in much need of investment and modernisation.”
Founded in 1861 by Isaiah Oldbury, supplying axles, suspensions and components for horse drawn carriages and carts, the company was acquired by Skan Group Holdings in 2000 and subsequently relocated to its new headquarters in Wolverhampton in January 2006.
“How long did it take to get to where Oldbury is today?”
“It was a bumpy start to begin with! Oldbury’s business, which was then based around running gear and specialist trailers for the quarry industry, telecoms and aerospace in particular, was built around three key customers, turning over circa £1.9 million. Invoicing and financial control was lax and then, just as we purchased the business, one of the customers went out of business and another one’s requirement dried up – leaving us with just one main customer! In addition, quarry crushers went from wheeled solutions to being tracked. We realised that we had to diversify away from standard trailer work, of which much was going to Eastern Europe – and build the business around engineered mobile platforms and engineered solutions.”
“It worked and today, Oldbury UK is one of Europe’s leading specialist platform providers, focussing on vehicle engineering, trailerised and containerised solutions. We provide standard, bespoke and UOR solutions for a wide range of sectors and industries worldwide, including defence, homeland security, CBRN, aerospace, construction, extraction, waste management and transport. Our engineering capabilities include the design, development and manufacture, integration and supply of specialist platforms, transportable systems and carrier platforms.”
“How big was your U.K. MoD business when you bought Oldbury?”
“Minimal – only 3% of turnover. We knew that the MoD was the U.K.’s largest user of specialist equipment, so we had to get into that market. To achieve that, we had to obtain ISO 9001 and all the required qualifications to become an MoD bidder. In addition to the required qualifications, we had to get our name around and to that end, we attended the 2003 DVD show, where we got our first big break.”
“During the first day waiting around for the MoD IPT buyers, we received an enquiry for 48 specialist trailers for the Skynet 5 Reacher programme. These trailers would have to be lightweight, low maintenance, medium mobility and have a low bed height for 5th percentile operability and maintainability – and be towed behind vehicles including the Mowag Duro 3 and BV206. We were optimistic of technical compliance and offered alternative innovative solutions more and won the contract. Solving the BV206 solution was the most challenging, as Astrium required a trailer with a payload of 1.5 tonnes, but the trailer itself had to weigh only one tonne – as the drawbar pull of the BV206 was 2.5 tonnes. Our unique, patented design, achieved this, as well as adding a requirement to put skis on