Power to the owners: some of the employees who own AWI (Image: NC)
The business, with sites in the West Midlands and Yorkshire, is a rarity, owing its £12 million turnover both to the quality of its wires, that can be found in everything from coffee machines to spaceships, and the way it operates. That is all down to AWI employees who own the company and have equal shares in the profits.
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“I get the same as every other member of staff,” says managing director Mark Venables. “Currently that accounts for 22 of us. Ten other newer members are now being integrated into the system.
“We have no doubt this way of working helps create a fully committed workforce that is 100 percent for our customers so they have no reason to go elsewhere. Our people stay too, 15 years or more.
“The aerospace and environmental standards accreditations we hold, along with our long-standing partnerships with sales agents help secure new business.
“Our prices are also all inclusive with duty paid so clients know where they stand. Together these factors foster trust and increasingly we are seeing how much they count for customers.”
Set up in 1946 as an electrical wire maker serving the heating and electrical sectors, in 2000 under its visionary chairman Bill Graham it took the decision to change strategy and produce specialised wires in smaller quantities for project developers around the world.
Fair shares for all: AWI managing director Mark Venables (Image: NC)
Quality engineering: Wire technician Ryan Cooper (Image: NC)
We have no doubt this way of working helps create a fully committed workforce that is 100 percent for our customers so they have no reason to go elsewhere
Today the round, flat and profile wires, ropes and bars AWI makes come in 60 assorted, mixed metals and composites, renowned for their quality and resistance to corrosion and heat.
Demand stretches from the automotive, aerospace, and nuclear sectors to energy, food and marine.
“Wherever reliability is crucial,” explains Venables. “Our machines are low power and efficient, and we modify them so we can make to exacting standards and our clients’ increasingly technical demands.”
After waiting times for raw materials lengthened, the company decided to expand its stockholding to 200 tons with three-week lead times.
Investment, most recently £5million from profits in people, plant and property, has enabled the company “to grow in a controlled way over the past decade”, says Venables who aims with further automation to reduce order-to-despatch times down to a fortnight.
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Magnificent managers: all AWI stakeholders can multi-task and problem solve (Image: NC)
Concerns about Brexit spurred the company to look even further afield for new markets. It now has websites in 19 languages, is active on social media and invests in the biggest presence possible at trade shows.
“The US is doing well and China growing along with Vietnam and Cambodia,” adds Venables.
“During the 2008 recession profits dipped, but no one was made redundant which showed the strength of our business model.”
The next growth target is £15 million turnover by 2022. The challenge though is to “find the right people to fit our democratic culture,” Venables admits. “We ask candidates to spend a day working with us.
“There is no need to manage here in the conventional sense because all our people can all multi-task, take decisions and problem solve. We learn from our mistakes and regularly document how each one of us has added value. We can all see this and it means we never lose sight of our strategy.”