Chairman Lord Bamford reflects on the company's 75 years in business
From StokeonTrentLive: Digger-giant JCB is marking a milestone 75 years in business on Friday, October 23 - the same day that the company's chairman Lord Bamford marks his 75th birthday.
The Rocester firm was founded by Lord Bamford's father, the late Joseph Cyril Bamford who was affectionately known as 'Mr JCB', in 1945.
And over the last seven-and-a-half decades, the company has grown from its humble beginnings at a tiny lock-up garage in Uttoxeter to a global manufacturing firm which boasts 22 plants around the world - 11 of which are based in the UK, employing around 7,000 staff.
This week, StokeonTrentLive sat down with Lord Bamford for an interview about the company's milestone birthday, where he reflected on the firm's 75 year history and revealed what the future holds for the firm.
What are your earliest memories of JCB?
"One's memories of childhood, I think are glimpses really, I don't remember being a child much, other than being with my parents and having a little tricycle and living in a tiny terraced house in Uttoxeter.
"I remember more clearly being with my mother and going to my father's second place of work, at a place called Crakemarsh Hall. He rented stables and I remember playing there.
"His first place (of work) was a garage in Uttoxeter. I remember as a child, playing around the machinery, which was probably very dangerous really, but I don't remember hurting myself.
"My mother used to take tea – they didn't have coffee in those days – to the guys that worked in this tiny little factory.
"And then, as I got a bit older, I remember travelling with my father. He had a pick-up truck, I think it was an Austin A40, I remember going with him to scrapyards in the Black Country buying steel, he was driving and I remember sleeping sort of across the bench seat.
"My father worked in our family's business, which was based in Uttoxeter. It made agricultural machinery. He worked for his father and different cousins; it was a public company and it made machinery principally for farmer's and also, it made beer equipment because Burton-on-Trent, where beer was made, was nearby.
"My father was sacked by his father just towards the end of the war, and that was when I was born. I joined the business in 1964."
How has JCB changed over the years?
"The changes (I have seen over the years) are extraordinary. I worked in our business before I ended up running it; it was really quite a small business, it was quite regional.
"From an early age we exported. We exported to France, that was our first customer, and then to Spain, and then to Holland and Germany, and the reason for that was they were the closest markets that we could get to; and also the cheapest. You couldn’t fly in those days and most people in export exported to the old colonies which existed until well into the sixties.
"It was a tiny business. It's now a world business and has 22 manufacturing plants around the world, it employs as many people overseas as we do in the UK and we have 11 plants in the UK.
"When I took over in 1975, we had one plant in Rocester, Staffordshire."
What are you most proud of?
"Proud is one of those words that it can mean all sorts of things. In my case, I am very proud of the business and what we've achieved but in business you can only look forward; looking back is a nice glow but it's keeping going that's the important thing; there are still markets for us to do well in and there are still areas of the world where we could do better.
"But having a base in Staffordshire, I think, has given us a strength. We have plants in India, in America and in Brazil and in China, but our base is here and our roots are here and that does make a big difference.
"In terms of satisfaction, a very big satisfaction for me is people joining us as apprentices and ending up as directors, that to me is a great achievement.
"They don't necessarily have to end up as directors, but they can end up in a senior capacity and they might serve overseas for us. A lot of our people do go overseas for us and I think it's important that they do.
"It's important for our company, they're like disciples going around the world. And also, people who are in our business overseas come to us; so again it's a sort of family business that has gone on at quite a pace.
"There are a lot of siblings in the business and there are a lot of families who are with us, but they don't have a right to it, they have to earn it, and that's important.
"A lot of people come from North Staffordshire, and always have done, and I think it's a very big plus; people from this part of the world are hard-working, they've got a sense of humour, they're natural engineers.
"It's not all potteries. There has always been engineering businesses in the Potteries and this whole area, even Derby and Burton, has got an affinity with engineering in some form or another – and agriculture as well.
"We got landspeed record for a diesel car, the Dieselmax, and that was in 2006 and unfortunately the record still holds; I say unfortunately because I would have like to have gone further with it, but nobody else came close. In the meantime, only last year, we got the world's fastest tractor as well and that is here in the offices.
"It's kind of a fun thing and I think you need to be seen as a fun business, not like everybody's singing and dancing all the time, but it's got a little bit to it which other companies don’t have."
What have been some of the company's biggest challenges over the years?
"Challenges, when you've got them, take much of your thinking, but once you've achieved that challenge it kind of goes away and you're onto the next thing.
"One of the challenges was making diesel engines. We didn't make diesel engines, we bought them from other people. We launched our own diesel engines in 2004 and we've made since, three quarters of a million - almost 100,000 a year for 20 years – and now we supply engines to other people.
"That was a challenge to do it, and it was an achievement to do it, and now we make engines here and in our plant in India aswell. We have a family of engines and they are very good. We don't get many complaints."
How has JCB fared this year with the challenge of Covid-19?
"This year has been a challenge for anybody in business; it's been a challenge for anybody not in business, but it's been quite alarming.
"We had an enormous order book in March, this year was going to be a record year for us. At the beginning of March we had an order book of a billion and a half dollars of orders on hand and by the end of March it had disappeared; that's because people buy our sort of machinery to do a job. It's an investment and they need it to do a job virtually immediately, they don't buy them to use in a year's time, they buy them for that job.
"If they don't get the job, or if a house-building site or construction site is closed, they don't buy the machine.
"It's a pretty brutal world, and that's what happened."
"Not producing machines means you're not needing components; and you can't employ people doing nothing.
"The Government furlough scheme was a very good scheme and we did take advantage of that to begin with, quite a lot of people were on the furlough scheme, and then gradually we have been taking back people.
"We've had to reduce the number of people but we have been taking back people and at the moment we're on the point of recruiting more people, but, like most businesses, we respond to the marketplace, if the marketplace needs machinery, they need it.
"It does fluctuate. I'd love it not to but it just happens to be a fact of life."
"JCB still belongs to the same family and even with Covid we're trying to keep going and I would say, making a pretty good fist of it."
What is the secret to success?
"The secret to success? There might be secrets for other people but one of our motto's is 'stick and stay and make it pay.'
"I'm 75 this week and I'm still here and I'm still at work. The people who work in the business, I wouldn't say they are geniuses, and I'm certainly not a genius, but we have stuck at something and we are good at what we do.
"We haven't bobbed and weaved and gone into all sorts of other businesses and industries, so I don't think it's a secret, it's just old fashioned working at something and having a great team around you too.
"Of course, in business there are times when things get bad and times you can make wrong decisions but if you stick at something, you tend to make less bad decisions and more good decisions and I think that's experience."
How is the company celebrating its 75th birthday?
"We'd planned an enormous number of events to be held this year and we haven't been able to hold any of them, so we'll have to think again on what we do to celebrate, because 75 years is quite a marker for a business.
"I think 75 years of the same family running it, and still based round here, it's definitely something worth celebrating and a way of saying thank you to people."
What is the next 'big thing' to come out of JCB - and what does the future hold?
"We must be influenced by what has been happening in the world and particularly in global warming and the effect on individuals, the effect on nations.
"One of the areas for concern is something that is something which is close to us as a business - and to anybody making products which are, in the broadest sense, automotive - is the fact that they consume fossil fuels, which to us are petrol and diesel.
"Those fuels produce all sorts of emissions and we have to be concerned about them, we have to – as a company and as a country – have to be very concerned. So looking ahead, as a company, we have to get our minds around what do we do about that and what can we do, sensibly, to reduce the emissions of our footprint as a company and our footprint as an industry."
"One of the things we've done in the last few months, we were the first people in the world to be in production with electric mini excavators. We are now making these machines daily, they are being made in Cheadle.
"They have batteries and they are charged overnight, they are virtually completely silent and have no emissions whatsoever, and obviously they don't use diesel.
"We also have a whole family of other, smaller pieces of construction machinery coming along. In September, we launched an electric dumpster, and there are more products coming along like this.
"It's opened up more places where our customers can work the machinery, like in the middle of cities where noise and emissions come into it.
"Going on from that, we just showed a 20-tonne hydrogen-powered dig excavator, which is powered by green hydrogen.
"These are real innovations and they're being made in North Staffordshire, by a North Staffordshire business for the world stage."