From a business on the brink to business of the year: A Norwich manufacturing success story
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018
In 2012, it was uncertain whether Lintott Control Systems would make it through the year.
Fast forward to 2017, and its directors were on stage at the EDP Business Awards collecting the Business of the Year award – following wins in two other categories at the 2016 ceremony.
The Bowthorpe-based designer and manufacturer of water management systems has been taking great strides towards success since two new directors came on the scene six years ago.
After making a loss of £1.3m on £10m of sales in 2011, the company saw profit before tax increase tenfold to £871,912 in 2016.
2018 has brought more good news as it secured a Queen's Award for Enterprise in the Innovation category – the only Norfolk firm to do so this year.
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Last year I conducted an interview in the company's boardroom – plastered with papers about its people-focused ethos and emphasis on staff training – with David Owen, one of the directors who took a controlling interest in Lintott in 2012.
This year sees me in the same boardroom with Andrew Pilkington, the firm's director of digital delivery since 2016.
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After starting in the test department 21 years ago, he progressed to become a senior manager under the old regime.
As such he has been with Lintott 'through thick and thin' – both the financial troubles of the early 2010s, and the benefits of the turnaround powered by Mr Owen and chief operating officer Jamie Thums.
He said the company was a 'basket case' before Mr Owen and Mr Thums came on the scene.
'We were thought of as an old-fashioned manufacturing company. David and Jamie have brought a different aspect to that. They have changed our appearance inwards and outwards almost completely,' he said.
'The company had to be more or less stripped right down and built back up.'
The duo also brought a 'different way of thinking,' Mr Pilkington said.
'You start looking at monitoring techniques throughout the company. Then you look at the differentiators in the market place.
'We had to rebuild the company and how we think. The award shows that effort to change has attracted attention. When you're inside the company and all these things are changing you can't see the wood for the trees, so it is nice to get recognition. It buoys company morale somewhat.
'I'm very proud and the team should be too.'
Despite some disruption to staff during the turnaround, Mr Pilkington said more than 55% of the company's 108 staff have served for at least five years.
'There was a degree of reluctance but we had to change, otherwise we were not going to survive. Once people internally knew this it was accepted.'
He added: 'We try not to look backwards too much because the company has a bright future.'
Since the award win Lintott has secured three new water company framework contracts – a good rate for such long and complicated contracts, Mr Pilkington said – with more in the pipeline.
Digitisation of processes and improving digital capabilities is currently the company's main focus, with its newly developed i-Catalyst system – for which it won the Queen's Award – a culmination of its efforts towards this. Designed in-house, it features a digital platform for customers to design and configure their own systems, and allows Lintott to operate a 'visual digital factory', integrating tools to manage design, production and project management.
Building on i-Catalyst, Lintott's big project for 2018 is to work on automating processes to monitor performance more closely.
Mr Pilkington says the new systems are already improving efficiency, and there is hope that monitoring more data could gradually influence staff to work more efficiently.
He said: 'We have now got ourselves in the position where we have a nice springboard into the years to come. But it doesn't stop there – if our competitors try to catch up we want to be somewhere else by the time that happens.'
He added that any company growth will be managed, a change to the 'less disciplined' expansions of previous years.
Another major aim for Mr Owen and Mr Thums is to raise the company's profile in the area and in its industry.
Mr Thums is now chairman of the New Anglia Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering group (NAAME) and the company is part of the spin-out Greater Norwich manufacturers' group.