Tickford Ltd. has grown at a rate of 40.1 percent a year for the last five years. It is one of 18 engineering company members of the UK industry organization SMMT who together employ 20,000 people and have annual sales of $800 million. 'We are not a cottage industry,' says John Thurston, chairman and chief executive. He was interviewed at company headquarters in Milton Keynes, UK, by Ian Morton.
How important is the design engineering industry?
We have got to the point where there is widespread reliance on our industry. If you took our industry away, some manufacturers would fall over tomorrow. They would get back up again by recruiting our people, but they would fall over first.
What is business like today?
The whole business is now global. You could not start up from scratch today because of the huge initial investment you would need in people and information technology. IT is the biggest single factor in our recent growth. Our investment in IT and the ability to pass huge files of information around the world and to work with people in other locations is the single most impressive aspect of our industry's development.
We have also pushed technology forward. Different firms have different specializations. Tickford's is high-performance engines and alternative fuels, especially gas-powered vehicles.
Within our specializations UK design engineers are as good as those of the best vehicle manufacturer. We must be, otherwise we don't get the work.
Can you call yourself global without being in Japan?
The Japanese do not have an industry like ours. With their cradle-to-grave philosophy, their car manufacturers like to pride themselves on doing everything themselves, and Japan has no room for independent specialists. But though they purport not to need us, the Japanese, too, use the services of our industry.
Where is new business coming from?
Much of our industry's work is done with Tier 1 suppliers who now have to provide vehicle manufacturers with a complete box of tricks which has been designed, engineered, tested, integrated and made ready for production, functions previously the province of the manufacturers themselves.
Manufacturers are slimming down their supplier base and becoming more reliant on fewer design engineering firms.