11BROWN MCFARLANE |
BEST PRACTICE REPRESENTATIVE 2018
Tony O’Reilly, managing director
Brown McFarlane, Stoke-
on-Trent
Brown McFarlane was founded in Glasgow in 1888 by
Captain AR Brown, to supply ships from the colossal yards
of the River Clyde to Japan’s navy and merchant fleets.
Twelve years later, George McFarlane, a naval architect, joined
the company. After assisting the mass effort to facilitate Japan’s
evolution from feudal shogunate to a modern industrial nation,
Captain Brown was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun and
appointed Japan’s first consul at Glasgow in 1889. Throughout
its 130-year history Brown McFarlane has demonstrated its ability
to change and adapt to the external environment. Kenneth
Brown, the founder’s great-grandson, joined the company in
1965, focusing the business on steel plate stockholding and
component manufacturing. Now headed by Tony O’Reilly,
managing director, and Martin Maley, executive chairman, they
employ around 100 people, including six apprentices.
From the early days of providing value-added services for shipbuilding to the
introduction of steel stockholding, gas and plasma profile cutting and more recently
waterjet and laser, targeted investment has been a key element of our long-term
sustainability. Although our Stoke facility, which is now the main operating centre,
was opened in 1982, our head office remains in Glasgow, and has been owned
and run by the Brown family for five generations. Richard Brown, group chairman,
and Peter Brown, group finance director, play an active part in the business today.
Our Stoke site operates as a supplier of long, wide and heavy gauge carbon and
stainless steel plates. It is also a component manufacturing business and historically
FACTS ABOUT
BROWN MCFARLANE
»Managing director:
TonyO’Reilly
»Executive chairman:
MartinMaley
»Established in 1888
»Based in Stoke-on-Trent, head
office in Glasgow
»Services: Steel plate
stockholding and component
manufacture
»No. of employees: 100
»In 1949, Richard P Brown,
grandson of the founder,
established the Tokyo office,
which today trades as AR
Brown Co Ltd. It imports
chemicals and machinery from
Britain, Europe and America
»www.brownmac.co.uk
Brown McFarlane
THE PARLIAMENTARY REVIEW
Highlighting best practice
12 | BROWN MCFARLANE
supplied to customers in some key
market sectors, including oil and gas,
mining and boiler and pressure vessels.
The business has continued to evolve
and is now providing tailored solutions
to a far broader customer base in the
UK market, including construction,
yellow goods, railways, bridge building
and agriculture.
We produce myriad components for
critical steel-based equipment used
in manufacturing and engineering,
as well as now offering services to
the construction and nuclear sectors.
Many of our clients carry out work
on key government initiatives and
infrastructure projects, including HS2
and the nuclear build programme. We
have come a long way since our early
days and are now involved in cutting-
edge technological initiatives which
focus strongly on the nation’s future.
A family business grounded in
diversification
We are a longstanding family business
that treats our employees, suppliers
and clients professionally. We focus on
providing decent working conditions
and a family-friendly atmosphere for
all workers. Local MPs have been
impressed with the working ethos,
conditions and employee benefits
offered. The family sentiment that
underpins Brown McFarlane’s
operations runs through everything
we do – our Christmas bonus for the
last two years has been equally shared
between every employee. We strive to
do things properly, correctly and fairly
and want to be universally perceived as
a company that does the right thing.
Our recent history, however, has
been somewhat tumultuous. Since
the recession in 2008/09 and the
subsequent demise of the oil and gas
sector we have had to diversify to
maintain our performance. Fledgling
operations in Dubai and Singapore were
closed to ensure the group survived
the depths of the recession. Focus
has since been on modernisation and
diversification, building a business that
doesn’t rely on one sector for its income.
We have experienced growth in turnover
and profitability in the last two years.
The stock profile has been redesigned
to fit with the new business model, our
warehouse facilities have been upgraded
and we are currently transitioning to a
new enterprise resource planning (ERP)
system that provides live data which will
improve customer service, productivity
and management information.
During this time the board have
continued to invest and they have
remained fully engaged. New
machinery and technology has helped
us to improve our competitiveness.
There has been an investment of circa
£4 million in processing equipment,
IT and infrastructure in the last few
years and we are starting to see some
exciting new opportunities emerge.
Our order book is now different. The
oil and gas sector is still a feature and
there are some signs of recovery in this
sector. Our share in other core markets
of pressure vessel and boiler, high-end
yellow goods and engineering projects
has grown and this is now augmented
by a growing presence in construction,
architectural and nuclear.
Recruitment concerns
The challenges for our industry
are the ageing workforce and the
relative attractiveness of a career in
Multi-head gas profiling
We are a
longstanding
family
business that
treats our
employees,
suppliers and
clients
professionally
13BROWN MCFARLANE |
BEST PRACTICE REPRESENTATIVE 2018
manufacturing. To combat this, we
are working on succession planning
in all areas of our business. The
apprenticeship scheme is part of
the answer, and we are working
on upskilling our current workforce
through internal and external training.
Changes have also been made to
our recruitment process, and we are
looking to employ a more diverse,
inclusive and broader range of skills
that will help to modernise our
company and ensure we are fit for the
future. Continued, targeted investment
in the working environment,
equipment and training is also making
a difference to staff retention, making
us a more attractiveemployer.
Challenges with Europe
Brexit brings its own challenges. The
employment of skilled and non-skilled
workers from central and eastern
Europe was a quick fix for many in
our industry. Recent years have seen
growth in these economies outstrip
that of the UK, and the Brexit vote may
sway more of these people to look for
other opportunities.
The uncertainty of trading arrangements
going forward is also an obvious concern
for all. Labour costs may increase, our
international trading partners may
change and we will have to be nimble
and innovative to find solutions.
We are looking at the positives. All
UK-based companies will face the
same challenges and we believe that
appetite for change, a healthy balance
sheet and strong market position
will stand us in good stead. There
are also potential export advantages,
and we are looking at exploiting
these through selective growth in our
internationalbusiness.
Continual investment
We want to continue to reinvest
and grow in the right areas. Planned
expansion of our stainless steel
division will take place in the next
year with further investment in a new
laser set to complement our existing
processes. We also have an eye on the
government, particularly regarding
their moves to encourage British SMEs
to work much more integrally on major
infrastructure projects.
We are embracing innovative
technology to update our operating
systems and working practices. This
allows us to keep pace with customers’
increasing demands and growing
expectations while ensuring the
long-term viability and prosperity of
thebusiness.
We will continue to innovate and
grow to become the supplier of
choice in our chosen markets. We
aim to operate with professionalism
and consistency, partnering with our
suppliers, delighting our customers and
developing our employees.
We are
embracing
innovative
technology to
update our
systems and
working
practices
Finished components ready
for packing and despatch
Stainless steel processing