Five-year gamble pays off for JD Cooling – Norfolk’s Business of the Year

PUBLISHED: 14:21 28 November 2018 | UPDATED: 14:24 28 November 2018

Norfolk Business Awards 2018. Photo credit Simon Finlay Photography.

Norfolk Business Awards 2018. Photo credit Simon Finlay Photography.

Copyright 2018

A Norfolk business leader’s five-year gamble to take his firm to new heights paid off in style as it took home the top title at the Norfolk Business Awards.

The victory for JD Cooling represented the culmination of a five-year transformation which saw founder John Dye give away 75% of the company to his senior management team, set a new course for the firm and more than quadruple turnover.

The King’s Lynn-based company supplies specialist refrigeration units, including large-scale food and drink suppliers to national supermarket, and high-end pharmaceutical clean rooms.

Mr Dye said JD Cooling’s success in being named Business of the Year could be traced back to his decision to launch an employee ownership scheme in 2014, in a bid to retain senior talent in the business, and investing in the expertise that allowed the company to move into specialist and environmentally-friendly technology.

“It was a gamble,” he admitted. “They needed the incentive of ownership so that they could drive the business forward.

“Looking back, I don’t feel the company would have grown as well if I didn’t have other people as focused as I was.”

He added: “When I handed over control, it was a £5m business; when I looked recently it was over £20m. We’ve quadrupled the size of the business, so they have earned it. I now have a smaller share of a much bigger business.”

The company now employs 112 people and has customers all over the country, but Mr Dye believes within five years turnover could have broken £50m and the payroll could exceed 200 people.

In recent years it has completed projects for the likes of Baxter Healthcare in Thetford, the Linda McCartney factory in Fakenham, and fitted Europe’s largest clean room for pharmaceutical firm Bespak in King’s Lynn.

JD Cooling was praised by judges at the Norfolk Business Awards for its foresight in anticipating the move to environmentally-friendly measures, phasing out harmful HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) in favour of natural refrigerants.

Mr Dye said to take home the biggest prize of the night had been a shock, and said the quality of Norfolk businesses on show at the awards had been “eye-opening.”

MORE: Read about all our Norfolk Business Award winners

Coming full circle

On Monday, the project that kick-started the firm’s change in attitude was completed as a new mashed potato factory in Airdrie was opened by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The upgrade to the Albert Bartlett plant changed it from simply washing potatoes, to turning them into mashed potato – a more lucrative value-added process, and one which linked up a complete “farm to fork” chain.

When bosses at the plant asked Mr Dye to supply that more advanced system because of their previous relationship, he faced a choice: to turn the work down, or recruit the expertise needed to deliver it.

He realised that he need to bring in the talent required to protect the business’s future, or risk being left behind.

“I asked my fellow directors to look ahead and look up,” he said.

“I said ‘If we don’t do this, we will be competing against everyone on price - we will be chasing to the bottom, which everyone can do’. I asked them not to rest on their laurels.”

The factory was finally opened this week, five years after Mr Dye was first approached about it, and the change in tack has proved successful for the entire business.

Mr Dye said: “We’ve got into places we would never have got into otherwise. Now we are looking at even more advanced efficiency - people being able to look at their Ipads while they are on holiday and know that their factory is still running efficiently.”

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