Business is booming for Frank Dudley Ltd, a Birmingham-based family metal-pressing firm, celebrating its seventieth year of operation
Born 70 years ago in a garden shed in Birmingham, Frank Dudley Ltd’s namesake had a wife and five children to feed. With just a few hand presses to work with, he had to come up with products that would catch the eye of the region’s carmakers.
He did; he made some high-quality washers for cars and thanks to the booming postwar automobile market, business soared and Frank’s family were able to live in comfort.
Now, as Frank Dudley toasts its seventieth birthday, the company can now afford to buy a larger cake after it won a contract from a prestigious luxury car company to supply bumper finishes for its popular grand tourer model.
This good news comes on top of the business securing another major contract to supply a West Midlands automotive engineer with body in white work. Overall, sales at the Brummie manufacturer have increased 20% in the past year to £6m and confidence in the company is high.
Managing director and grandson of the company’s founder, Grant Dudley-Toole, says quality and diversification have been key to Frank Dudley’s success: “Traditionally, we’ve been a bracketry-type pressing company, but over the last 15 months we’ve added things into that mix, like spot-projection welding; we’ve put robotics in to do the welding and then diversified some way towards alternatives to automotive.”
He continued: “[Frank Dudley’s] approach of ‘getting products, right first time’ is one that we have built our business around and has been crucial in helping us introduce lean manufacturing and world-class quality and delivery performance – two important factors in us winning the recent contracts and a major earth moving equipment manufacturer.”
The company’s matriarch Jill Dudley-Toole was awarded an MBE for services to manufacturing and the local community, although her death soon afterwards meant her son had to collect the prestigious honour on her behalf.
Commenting on the family’s recent visit to Buckingham Palace, Grant Dudley-Toole described the day as “especially poignant.”
The company has come a long way since the days of Frank Dudley’s shed. In his early years, Frank relied on his sons and daughters pitching in after school hours to transport his products to local platers. Help from the more juvenile family members continues today.
Current business development manager, Josh Dudley-Toole’s first role in the business was a Saturday job cleaning trucks at the age of 11.
Frank died in 1966 when he was only 53 years old, but his family have worked hard to keep his company and legacy alive. It has continued operating despite recessions, oil crises, and the 2005 closure of the MG Rover plant in Longbridge – an event which Grant Dudley-Toole considers to be the company’s most difficult time.
“About two-thirds of our business was MG-related. At the time, we had about 180 people in the business and overnight we had to halve those numbers. Cashflow was severely affected too. It was a bad time.”
The business bounced back; however, current uncertainty surrounding Brexit has the potential to cause new difficulty for the company. Grant comments: “The problem we always get is that we talk ourselves into recession and we talk ourselves out.
“Brexit is all about confidence and what I see in the customers and suppliers we deal with is confidence. And when we get events like Brexit, confidence over investment can suffer. Companies can say, ‘Right, we won’t invest as much. I won’ take that contract. I’ll see what happens first.’
He believes the government could use the upcoming Budget to announce more spending or tax breaks on apprenticeships and machinery to help companies like his. If the government gave more help to employ apprentices he says, the firm would subsequently take on more.
Despite these concerns, Grant is optimistic about the family business’s fortunes. And though his grandfather is no longer with us, he feels Frank’s spirit and values permeate through both his family and his company with incredible potency.
“I’ve got my granddad and grandmother looking from above putting pressure on me to keep it going. It’s easy to start getting negative, but you just keep going, because I’ve seen it all before and we’ve come out the other side and survived.”
Reporting by Harry Wise