Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Life in the Fast Lane for Award-Winning MD; Champion First-Time Failure Breeds Future Success According to Jon Gagg - and He Should Know. JEZ DAVISION Talks to the Darchem MD about Life, the Love of Fast Cars and Business Philosophy

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Life in the Fast Lane for Award-Winning MD; Champion First-Time Failure Breeds Future Success According to Jon Gagg - and He Should Know. JEZ DAVISION Talks to the Darchem MD about Life, the Love of Fast Cars and Business Philosophy

Article excerpt

Byline: JEZ DAVISION

AFTER a hard day in the boardroom, most 60-something managing directors would gladly wind down with an aperitif before putting their feet up in front of the telly.

But for Jon Gagg, life in the fast lane begins once the working day finishes.

The self-confessed gadget freak likes nothing more than to climb out of the pinstripes and into a pair of overalls to build his own sports car.

"Nought to 60 in 2.8 seconds", he exclaims, unveiling an image of the finished article on his PC.

Even someone with only a passing interest in soft-tops couldn't fail to be impressed. His Ultima Can-am project is a metaphor for Jon's ability to fuse disparate parts into a unified, effective working whole - a strategy that has reaped huge dividends at Darchem Engineering.

Jon is responsible for the company's four main business units - including insulation systems, a thermal protection business unit, turbine structures and aero-structures operations - which employ 720 staff across two sites at Stillington and Gloucester. He has managed to create a working equilibrium out of which has grown one of the Tees Valley's most notable success stories; a pounds 60m turnover business that has doubled in value since he joined as manufacturing director in 1997.

Jon, who became managing director in 2006, is too modest to attribute the firm's growth to his own stewardship and says his best move has been "to hire people who are better than me". But he admits his most telling asset is an ability to see through the fog of industry jargon and boardroom politics.

He says: "If you ask five different manufacturers to describe their product, they will go into intricate detail about what it does and howit works.

At Darchem, our products do only one thing: they make money. That might be the aim of every company, but some people take three steps out of the boardroom and start talking a different language."

Darchem has a blue-chip client base that includes Airbus, Boeing, BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence. He believes the company can break through the pounds 100m turnover barrier within the next five years by concentrating primarily on organic growth and the expansion of the company's Teesside base in particular, although he has not ruled out further acquisitions, with potential buy-outs "on the radar".

With large aerospace contracts accounting for about 60-70% of Darchem's business, Jon believes the sector's ability to offer a long-termorder book is the key to its future success. So, too, is the ability to secure new applications for the company's core products, which include lightweight insulation systems used in the aerospace, marine and energy sectors.

Many of the end customers for these products are based in growing, low-cost economies in Asia and the Middle East but although 40% of Darchem's revenues are generated by exports, Jon sees little value in moving its manufacturing base overseas. …

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