Last year was an important year for Nifco UK as it marked 25 years since the Japanese plastics manufacturer established links with Teesside.
Mike Matthews, the current managing director of Nifco UK Ltd and European operations officer, joined Teesside family-run company Elta Plastics in 1985 and helped grow the company from an annual turnover of £300,000 to £3 million in three years. It was this impressive growth that attracted the attention of Nifco Inc, which bought the company in 1990.
Producing plastic components for the automotive industry, Nifco UK is now part of a network of 35 production plants and four R&D centres, spanning 17 countries across the globe.
Nifco’s Teesside operations have achieved steady growth over the past 25 years, thanks to what Mike refers to as the “four i’s: investment in property, investment in equipment, investment in technology and investment in people”.
After outgrowing its existing premises on Yarm Road in Stockton, Nifco UK won the approval from shareholders to build a new state-of-the-art, £12.8 million factory and R&D centre on Durham Lane in Eaglescliffe. The facilities became operational in 2012, housing the latest automation equipment and technology.
Nifco UK has also continued to build its workforce over the years, currently employing 560 people.
Mike, who himself began his career an apprentice, is committed to taking on between four and six new apprentices each year and has a five-year strategy in place to combat the skills gap in the manufacturing sector.
Throughout 2015, Nifco UK contended with mixed fortunes in the global automotive industry. The UK car manufacturing sector produced its largest amount of cars ever (1.6 million), while ongoing Russian military intervention in the Crimea and the economic slowdown in China took their toll on the global markets.
Nifco UK’s 25th anniversary year started very brightly, though, when it won its largest ever contract: a £50-million deal with Ford, spanning 10 years.
“It was the result of five years of work,” explains Mike. “Ford is looking to cut its supply chain by 90 per cent and so to achieve a long-term contract like we did was hugely important.
“Taking the business forward with a non-Japanese manufacturer was also significant and has helped cement the Nifco UK position within the global company.
Nifco UK continued to win new work throughout 2015, achieving 12 per cent growth and a turnover of £62.2 million.
“We also created about $20 million of business for other global Nifco sites, which is something that I am very proud of,” adds Mike.
The factory invested £750,000 on a new dynamometer machine in 2015, and continued to boost its workforce in every department. Nifco UK Ltd and its managing director were also awash with nominations and awards.
The highlight was the factory winning Processor of the Year at the Plastics Industry Awards – described by Mike as “the Oscars of our industry” – for the fourth time.
Mike, who is the president of the North East Chamber of Commerce and a former North East Business Executive of the Year, was given a special lifetime achievement by the Engineering Employers’ Federation and was the only private sector nominee to be shortlisted for the prestigious Investor in People’s Leader of the Year accolade.
When asked how important awards are to him and Nifco UK, Mike replies: “They’re very important. They underline everything we do and allow us to benchmark ourselves.”
Mike sees this measurement as critical to Nifco UK, and not just in the realm of awards, as he explains: “Everything we do is about benchmarking ourselves; to see where we are, where out competitors are, and where we want to be.”
Nifco UK Ltd is now targeting £100-million turnover by 2018 and £200 million by 2025.
To achieve this, Mike remains committed to the pragmatic approach that has served Nifco UK well for the past 25 years.
“We’re a company that ticks boxes,” he says. “In whatever we do – whether winning new work or looking to invest in the business – we decide what needs to be done to achieve it and then we go about ticking every box.”
The past 12 months …
Turnover: £62.2 million (2015)
Operations: Nifco UK invested in 22 new items of machinery in 2015, including more than £1 million in a dynomemeter and 3D printer
Recruitment: Grew by 81 members of staff in 2015. Current workforce is 560.
Prominent client wins: 10-year Ford contract, worth £50m. The factory also secured £25 million of new business for 2015.
Awards: Nifco UK was announced Processor of the Year at the Plastics Industry Awards, for the fourth time. It was also recognised as 35th fastest growing company in the North East (Ward Hadaway Fastest 50)
Highlight: Chancellor George Osborne chose Nifco UK as the backdrop for the introduction of his Long Term Economic Plan on February 26, 2015.
Forecasts: Plans are in place to be a £100m business by 2018 and with 10 per cent growth, year-on-year, a £200m business by 2025