WFEL RETURNS TO BRITISH OWNERSHIP
By Julian Nettlefold, Editor, BATTLESPACE
BATTLESPACE meets Richard Case new Chairman of WFEL
In an era when many the venerable names of British industry, such as Smiths Industries and Pilkington Glass, are being gobbled up by foreign predators, it is refreshing to see a large U.S. parent, UTC returning its military bridging subsidiary, WFEL Limited (originally Williams Fairey Engineering Limited), back to British hands.
UTC had purchased WFEL, which was part of Kidde plc, in 2005. WFEL, was originally acquired by Williams Holdings in 1986 when it was known as Fairey Engineering and subsequently became part of Kidde plc following the Williams demerger in 2001.
A year later Dunedin backed the management team of WFEL, led by Managing Director Ian Wilson and Finance Director Cliff Richards, in a transaction valued at £48 million. WFEL is now one of two defence related businesses in Dunedin’s portfolio.
Dunedin provided £21 million of equity, for a majority stake, alongside a debt package of £27.5 million provided by Barclays Leveraged Finance and Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander Ltd. Dougal Bennett and Duncan Macrae led and completed the transaction for Dunedin.
WFEL is located in Stockport, has a workforce of 160 and provides high specification, high functionality, and complex bridging systems to a number of armed forces across the world. In addition, WFEL is also the sole supplier of specialist consumable steel rods used in the reactors of the UK’s fourteen Advanced Gas Cooled Nuclear reactors.
In June of this year Dougal Bennett handed over his Chairmanship of WFEL to a well known City figure and engineer, Richard Case, previously CEO of AgustaWestland helicopters and also a non-Executive Director of FKI together with Gordon Page.
Richard became Managing Director of Westland Helicopters, a major defence company in 1992 when it was an independent company with a turnover of £200m – within 10 years working with a dedicated team increased the turnover by a factor of 7 to £1.4bn with improved margins and exemplary cash flow.
He has managed through diverse types of ownership, moving from an independent Company to establishing itself as a major division of a large Engineering Conglomerate (GKN) and then moving into a Joint Venture Company with Agusta and becoming the largest Helicopter Company in the world.
“What gave you the impetus to become Chairman of such a venerable and well known part of British engineering heritage?” the Editor asked
“My skills and background coupled with my recent experience as a Non-Executive Directorship at FKI, position me well to work with the knowledgeable and capable team of WFEL to implement the growth programme that is the critical strategic element in their future.”
“Given that you spent 43 years at Westland, what synergy did you see in taking the helm at WFEL?”
“There is a tremendous synergy to helicopters and bridging and indeed nuclear engineering. All require a high level of integrity, accuracy and long-term engineering excellence. After all if WFEL had made a bridge which collapsed or a nuclear component which failed, they wouldn’t be in business today! The same is true of Westland where the excellence of our product, since the company started, has ensured that we built safe and reliable machines.”
Ian Wilson, Managing Director of WFEL, believes that Richard’s appointment is particularly significant for the business: “Richard brings a wealth of experience that compliments and enhances the business model under which WFEL operates. His extensive knowledge of our market will help to broaden and underpin our long term strategy while significantly impacting on the near term markets on which we are currently focused.
“How did a British company steal a march on large U.S. and foreign competitors to win the key Dry Support Bridge (DSB) contract in 1996?”
“WFEL Ltd has been building military bridges in Stockport, Eng