December 7, 2018
After selling his beloved Ford Granada (Sweeney Style) in 1978, 21-year-old Keith Miller founded his own mobile welding and repair business in Newcastle. Initially utilised by quarries, mines and opencast coal sites, Keith’s repair service soon expanded and he began manufacturing products.
He was joined by his younger brother, Gary, and his wife’s sister, Jacqui, after which the family-business decided to take a risk to become pioneers in the earthmoving industry.
Today, 40 years on, Miller operates on a global basis, supplying innovative, high-quality attachment solutions to the world’s leading earthmoving OEMs and their dealer networks.
Based in Cramlington and China, Miller manufactures a range of buckets, quick couplers, hydraulic breakers and other attachments.
Here, chairman Keith Miller chats about his 40 years in business and his future vision for Miller.
Where did it all begin?
I was always quite ambitious as a young lad and while I was in my first welding job, I approached my old boss and asked about potential promotions. His response was: “You are a second- rate welder and that’s all you will ever be.”
I decided to use my own initiative and on my next holiday I went around the North East to all the quarries and coal sites and asked if I was to start my own business, would I get any work. The response was very positive and people started to ask for my contact details. I gave them my parent’s home phone number and waited for the phone to start ringing… and it did! That was really the start of Miller.
What made you decide to start manufacturing industrial buckets?
I began in mobile welding and doing onsite repair work, and while I was repairing products, I could actually see some of the flaws and faults from the original designs of the buckets. I always thought that if I was building a new bucket, I wouldn’t build it like that. I then thought: ‘why don’t we?’. We went from repairs and improving repaired buckets, making them better and stronger, to offering a bespoke bucket manufacturing service to the UK dealers.
My brother, Gary, and I started off offering one-off buckets for special applications. We then put ourselves on the tender list at the national coal board. We had to build our very first order in a rented allotment in one of the coldest winters I can recall. But it paid off and we were fortunate enough to win a few contracts and we started manufacturing buckets.
What has changed in the subsequent 40 years?
Just about everything you can possibly think of has changed. In 1978, there was not a lot of focus on health and safety and there certainly wasn’t the technology that we have these days. I think fax machines had just come on the market but apart from that there a letter or quotation through the post and waiting two to three weeks for a response before meeting them for a chat to finalise the deal.
The changes in safety and the impact that products and their designs have had on improving the quality of life has been fascinating. From an engineering point of view, I think it’s wonderful. I mean, if you take a look at the technology and machinery, the technology has come from pretty basic designs, which were functional, into intelligent machinery in today’s market and what I think to myself is: ‘where do we go from here?’. How can we improve further? How can we improve
At Miller, we innovate and are constantly looking to push the boundaries and make sure our products are more productive by being safer, lighter, stronger and more cost- effective. The world is a fascinating place today and I see lots of fantastic opportunities for the future.
You mention innovation, safety and performance – what new things are expected from Miller over the next few years?
The company is currently going through a change period which is really exciting; I am driving the team to focus on customer focus. Providing old-fashioned customer service and added value products is still vitally important – as is innovation.
We are passionate about offering the safest products, the most productive products and the finest customer service for most advanced attachment solutions in the world.
In our 40th year, we are taking the next step forward in quick coupler technology and we are very excited to be launching another first for Miller and bringing to market the Miller
GT range – the next generation of hydraulic quick couplers from one to 50 tonnes. With the new products and the new investments in our production facilities and service teams, I’m looking forward to further expanding the business globally. I’m looking forward to pushing the boundaries in terms of new markets, gaining market share and attracting new OEM business.
Where do you see Miller in another 40 years time?
It’s so difficult to predict what’s going to happen in 40 years time, but what I see at the moment is continuous growth and, as a business, we have to continually innovate.
I have a young family and, if they are interested, I would love it if my children would be part of the business in the future, though it’s okay if they don’t.
I’m incredibly proud of how well the Miller brand is recognised by the OEMs globally and on construction sites around the world. From the beginning, I always had a grand vision of building a world-class leading brand. With incredible drive and tenacity from my sister-in-law, Jacqui, along with great support from Gary and some fantastic Miller people, we have been able to develop a brand that I believe is the industry standard for quality, safety and performance. As the Americans say, let’s ‘leverage the brand’, take advantage and grow the opportunity.