MADE IN SHEFFIELD: Wardpower in safe hands after buy-out
A boy was having an operation at Sheffield Children's Hospital when it was hit by a power cut.
The outtage put life support and vital systems across the site potentially at risk - except a back-up generator made by Wardpower of Sheffield kicked into action and a crisis was averted.
Boss Bob Linley smiles at the memory of the incident in 2015 when his firm’s equipment leapt into life, just two weeks after it had been installed.
“There was a little boy being operated on. We were proud about it, but that’s what we do. We do a lot of testing, sometimes for a week.”
The company makes diesel-powered generators used as back-ups or, in some countries, a source of electricity.
It has two at the Children’s, while others stand ready to keep Sheffield’s lights on. Three are installed in the big electricity substations - city centre, Aldwarke and Templeborough - to ensure they keep working in a power cut. Or in a flood, as happened in 2007, when the equipment at Templeborough was damaged by the water which inundated the Lower Don Valley.
Wardpower has a 31-year history of supplying 70 countries and, more recently, UK firms such National Grid, Scottish Power and Vodaphone, which needs to protect the phone masts that have sprung up on every street corner and power hungry data centres.
But despite more than three decades at the helm, this week has been Mr Linley’s best. He has just sold the company to an Indian multi-national, the Pai Kane Group, which is promising investment, expansion and orders.
The deal gives him the exit strategy he was seeking, although he says he’ll still be involved for the next two years, and it safeguards the future of the firm and its 15 staff.
“I’m genuinely excited about it. I’m not looking to be here for the next 20 years, but the average age of the workforce is mid 30s, it gives them a lot of opportunities. Several people are going to India to learn what they do.”
Already the firm is looking at taking additional premises in Staveley near Chesterfield and is bidding to land a huge order from a global telecoms company for 2,000 small generators, Bob says.
In contrast, Wardpower makes just 15 a year - although they are all individually built to meet the needs of the site and the user and can cost more than £1m.
And they can be large - every few weeks a lorry inches down narrow Wicker Lane with a Wardpower generator on board. So far it has never got stuck, although it has been close.
But it is this expertise and reputation for reliability that is in such demand in Africa, the Far East and Middle East.
Bob said: “The Indians have been keen to do something with us for quite some time. They see Wardpower as a marque in power generation and they were travelling to countries where people were saying, ‘we only want British generator sets’.”
Now Pai Kane plans to grow the business, crack South America and make an Anglo-Indian product.
Mr Linley was 16 when he started work at ‘Tommy Wards’. He was part of a group that bought out the electrical department called Wardpower in 1987.
“I started as a lad in 1972 when it was part of the old Thos W Ward around the corner on Saville Street. It’s been quite a journey and personally satisfying to see a proud and long-established Sheffield name has such a positive future. The first Wardpower generator set was built in Sheffield in 1956 and this takes us to the next level.”
MADE IN SHEFFIELD BORN AND BRED AND EXPORTED AROUND THE WORLD
“We were in the first wave of members when the Made in Sheffield organisation was resurrected in recent times.
“I’m born and bred in Sheffield. My family have all worked in engineering. I’m proud to promote the Sheffield name,” says Bob Linley, boss of Wardpower.
“I started working at Tommy Wards and travelled all around the Middle East, Africa and Far East and it helped.
“We even took on three agents in Iraq, Jordan and Syria who had degrees from the University of Sheffield.”
The first reference to Sheffield products with a cutting edge is Robert the Cutler’s tax return in 1297.