Ron Dennis throws weight behind expanding Semmco

Posted on 14 Jun 2013

Ron Dennis is notoriously busy with his beloved McLaren, however he took the time to join in the festivities as UK manufacturer Semmco opened its new Woking facility.

The McLaren Automotive executive chairman came to the launch of the brand new manufacturing facility as he wanted to offer the kind of help he received when starting up.

“I have a demand on my time, but in life you have to remember the times when people helped you.

“I was born in this area and my business back in the late 70s was no bigger than this and we were able to have the imagination, vision and entrepreneurial spirit to actually do things you wouldn’t expect.”

Semmco are a UK manufacturing company who mainly make access and ground support equipment for the aerospace and railway industries. They also make breathing protection and military equipment.

Its client list includes British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, First Scot Rail and East Midlands Trains, amongst others.

Stuart McConie, managing director of Semmco, is the visionary behind the company. Starting in 1993 he had a base of 2 employees on the company books. Now that figure has grown to 29. Further to this production output has doubled in the past three years.

Mr Dennis sympathised with the passion and vision from the Semmco managing director and said he wanted to nurture that spirit.

“When you see someone who is entrepreneurial, as Stuart is, he’s got vision, he really recognises with a passion the relevance of the workforce to his own future, to the company’s future you want to nurture that, you want to be supportive of it.

“You’ve got to remember where you came from and you’ve got to help people fulfill their own dreams.”

Inspiring graduates

Mr Dennis said the lack of natural resources in the UK means there has to be a focus on ‘brain driven industries’ to help the struggling economy.

“Fifty per cent of engineering graduates emerge from university and go into banking. The bright lights of the city have pulled people into the service industry and the simple stark reality is we aren’t a country with vast quantities of natural resources.

“You look at that and you realise you’re not going to compete, therefore we have to be absolutely focused on brain driven industries. Aerospace, pharmaceuticals, all the things that have behind them all the stem subjects that should be more powered into the universities.”

The former McLaren Racing chief highlighted the need for what he called a ‘synergistic relationship’ between the Government and industry.

“It’s not just about government providing education it’s about industry inspiring young people to go into those fields and of course those fields have inherently been considered to be socially unacceptable, you get dirty and those things, but it’s not like that at all.”

He added: “It’s a synergistic relationship we need to have between industry and the Government. It’s why I do many of the things that I spend my time on now, to try to create awareness and that dynamic.”

Get on the bus

Semmco leader Mr McOnie has a lack of enamour for CVs, preferring to hire practical people and those who share his vision.

“CVs are an awful thing to read because sometimes people don’t want to put things on CVs that they’ve done because they want to impress you. But if he’s a practical person, or he’s worked hard, he’s had other jobs as well to bring in income then you know he’s conscientious.”

“The technical qualification stands by itself, but it’s the individual that you’re interested in and also getting the people to come on board with you and share with you the journey.”

The Semmco boss added: “When you want to grow the business you have a vision and we have a phrase in this company, we want people to get on the bus and come with us. Everybody’s heading in the same direction. So when you look at engineers you want to work with those who want to come in and work as part of a team.”

Semmco boss Stuart McConie speaking at their Woking facility launch
Semmco boss Stuart McConie speaking at the Woking facility launch

Focus on exports

Whilst Mr McOnie was clearly pleased at the culmination of 20 years hard work, he is still looking forward and has big plans in place for growing Semmco over the next three years.

“We’ve identified a three year plan, we’ve identified that growth will come from the export market, and also the UK market we’re trying to get a bigger share.

Exports currently represent 22% of the company’s turnover, but Semmco aim to increase that figure to 30% over the coming years.

“The export market has been good for us over the years and we’re developing some opportunities with airlines, particularly based in the Middle East and Australasia, we’re also doing something in the Russia area. That’s where we see the growth coming.”

The Semmco managing director clearly believes there’s a key ingredient to Semmco’s steady success and that ingredient is a healthy dose of realism. Mr McOnie sees setting realistic targets as absolutely the way forward.

“I think that we have to not set our sights too high, we have to be realistic what we can achieve and that’s what we have done at Semmco over the years.

“It’s also about motivation of the staff because if you set your target too high and you keep missing it, everybody turns off, if you exceed it, everybody they feel positive.”

Mr Dennis shared that perspective.

“I believed for many years in indigenous growth. I grew at the pace I could afford to grow. I’m risk averse, I’m still risk averse. I’m debt averse, I hate debt.

“You have to be cautious, sensible and calculating. As the old carpenter’s adage goes measure twice, cut once. Think through your growth, but don’t lack a decisive approach.”


Mr McOnie listed what he believed a business needs to do with funding.

“When you get some money you need to buy machinery, you need to invest in training people and you need to improve your product and perhaps you need to develop export markets as well.”

He went on to say how manufacturing has become a buzzword amongst banks and companies if they approach investors with passion and belief.

“The other thing I’ve noticed in the last 12 months is that the banks are really tuned into manufacturing, because it’s the buzzword. I think five years ago if I had gone to the banks with the same proposition they would have said ‘well we’re into the service industry at the moment’.

“Now people are starting to realise that manufacturing is the only way we’re going to come out of the sticky mess we’re in at the moment. We have to make a product, we have to sell the product and bring income into the country.

“I think it’s an education from both parties. I think the banks have realised they have to be more selective, but companies also need to go to the bank and promote what they want to do with a passion and a belief.”

Team pride

Mr Dennis went on to speak of his pride for all those involved in McClaren Automotive beating BMW to the International Engine of the Year Award, 3-4l category. The first time the prize has eluded the German company since 2008.

“That’s going to be a thing of the past, we have to come to terms with the fact that CO2, all the legislation that’s going to come down the road, we can’t have any dispensation because of the history of cars we’ve made in the past. The mission was how do we create an engine that had the lowest CO2 per horsepower of any engine in the world?

“You don’t ever say you can’t do it. We broke down all the constituent technical challenges and we built an incredibly efficient engine.”

Mr Dennis added: “When you come out and beat that huge organisation with all its technology, all its research, here’s a small company with small suppliers and we conceptualise an engine that’s been hailed by a very esteemed magazine as the best in the world you fell proud, but you feel proud for every single person that was involved in it and that doesn’t mean just the McLaren people, it means all the other people.

“The engine is controlled by electronic control systems, everything is about control and taking data and processing data and giving the engine exactly what it needs at that moment in time and that makes it more efficient.

“I think the simple word is pride, but not pride just for me, but pride for everybody involved.”