One of the best companies in the ‘Made in Sheffield’ club is actually in Rotherham.
Last year, AESSEAL hit a record £170m turnover, it has an incredible 13 Queen’s Awards - the highest business award in the land - and as for patents, founder and managing director Chris Rea says he stopped counting at 50.
AESSEAL is the fourth largest mechanical seal maker in the world. Wherever something spinning must attach to something stationary a seal is required. And, from oil rigs to food factories, customers need to know they won’t fail.
Chris said: “I really enjoyed last year, if you’re going to put your life into something you better have a good score.
“When you’re doing well everyone wants to join in and people come up with their own initiatives, productivity goes up and staff turnover goes down.
“I like my team to win beautifully, with no fouls, but to annihilate the competition.
“We might be the largest private employer in Rotherham and even if we aren’t, we have the highest wage bill due to the hi-tech jobs.”
AESSEAL has 1,780 staff - and several vacancies - and has been the town’s most profitable, by far, for years.
It invests heavily. Some seven per cent of annual sales - about £10m-a-year - are spent on research and 38 per cent of its thousands of products are less than five years old.
The headquarters on Bradmarsh Industrial Estate boast possibly the biggest collection of computer-controlled machine tools in the country, each one a mini-factory making complex parts from often exotic metals.
Chris says their new ‘11-axis’ machine cost £1.1m but is four times faster than its predecessor, making production in Rotherham cheaper than in China.
Now 64, he has been running the business since he was 25. And from the age of 35 he says he has done it, not for the money, but because he “needs to.”
He claims to be only a manager who is good at accounts, but has views on everything from leadership to millennials. And despite AESSEAL’s long record of success, his feet are firmly on the ground.
“The sum total of everything I have done wouldn’t buy half an upmarket apartment in New York. I have total perspective.
“No one cares about business people in history. No one knows who the best business person was in the time of Galileo. The goals I have are pathetically irrelevant in this world. I do this because I have a need to do it.
“I’m a manager and I’m better dealing with strangers, but fundamentally I get the best out of people.
“I’m not so good at the day-to-day but as MD I do anything important enough that no one else is doing, I spend a large amount of my life dealing with problems.”
Chris also says millennials - those reaching adulthood in the early 21st century - are the first generation that won’t be better off than their parents. As a result, values are important to them.
“They are saying we don’t do enough to project our values in order to attract people. In five years half of the workforce will be millennials, the trouble is the people making the decisions aren’t, in the main.”
Those values include a lot of CSR - corporate social responsibility.
The firm sponsors Rotherham United’s New York stadium, Titans rugby club, the GUTS engineering show for youngsters and, since 2010, has donated £700,000 to charities via South Yorkshire Community Foundation.
But AESSEAL might not have been the company it is today if Chris hadn’t been sacked two years into the job.
He started in 1979 as one of two investors in a small distributor of seals imported from the US. But after two years he was ‘sacked by telex’ and when his co-investor sold up he was left with “100 per cent of nothing.”
He made it his mission to “get his own back” on the man he held responsible and travelled all the way to Australia to set up in competition - a journey of nearly three days back then.
On the return journey he had stops in Hong Kong and Singapore and took the opportunity to establish operations there. Today export is 90 per cent of business.
Chris said: “He probably didn’t even notice what I had done, but I was so motivated I would have pursued him to the ends of the earth.
“All I had going for me was passion. But I don’t hold a grudge, what’s the point?
“Looking back I wouldn’t change a thing. You can only improve tomorrow. I have no intention of doing anything else as long as I am mentally capable.”
MIS MEMBERSHIP IS A WAY TO HONOUR A GREAT INDUSTRIAL BRAND
The Made in Sheffield licence can be awarded to any firm with an ‘S’ postcode and AESSEAL in Rotherham is a longstanding member of the club, which promotes excellence in manufacturing.
Managing director Chris Rea said: “I have a great respect for the fact that Sheffield is a great industrial brand.”
His firm operates in the best traditions of entrepreneurialism and innovation that made the region a global powerhouse.
Today, AESSEAL has 230 locations worldwide and supplies customers in 104 countries. Its vision is to become the number one seal manufacturer in the world by 2029.