When successful North East engineer and entrepreneur John Reece was looking to diversify his award-winning engineering business, he approached Phil Kite.
Phil, a chartered accountant with more than 25 years’ experience working in and running North East engineering firms, joined the Reece family business in 2012 to oversee a new strategy.
This strategy was to create a collective of diverse yet complimentary engineering companies, which included the Reeces’ existing Pearson Engineering.
Phil explains: “Pearson Engineering had been very successful over a ten-year period but John was mindful that any markets have a business cycle and so wanted to create a holding group of innovative companies which would diversity the business.”
Reece Group acquired Responsive Engineering Ltd in November 2012 – a key move in forming the new group.
“Our goal was to create a group of product businesses supported by a sub-contract manufacturing business; Responsive provided a significant range of such services including fabrication and machining,” Phil explains
The group has since acquired Velocity UK (Ltd), which provides rapid road repairs for public and private sector clients, the IPR and assets of mine detection company MineWolf Systems, and, most recently, Continuous Retorts Ltd, which has developed equipment to sterilise and pasteurise food more effectively.
In need of a facility to accommodate the expanding Reece Group operations, Phil and John set their sights on the iconic Armstrong Works which sits on the banks of the River Tyne at Scotswood.
At over half a kilometre in length and with 33,000 sq m of manufacturing space, the Armstrong Works has had a long and illustrious history in defence, ship building, locomotives and aerospace.
The Reece Group moved into Armstrong Works in August 2015 after a £20 million transformation – to the delight of Phil who’s last business was a supplier to its previous owner.
“The factory means a lot to many people in Newcastle and signing the agreement was a real highlight for me,” he says.
“Armstrong Works is an amazing site and has helped the Reece Group to significantly increase its capacity – with plenty of room to grow.”
All of the group’s companies operate independently, with their own board of directors, but the complementary nature of each means that collaboration and ideas sharing is common place and mutually beneficial.
“All the companies have their own autonomy in terms of direction and leadership, but we want people from each company to come together and cross fertilise ideas. Our job at Reece Group is to support and facilitate this activity.”
Innovation is also at the heart of Reece Group and it established Reece Innovation Centre in 2012.
The centre brought together material scientists, electrical and mechanical engineers and sensor technologists to work on new ideas that assist the group’s companies, as well as helping to spawn new enterprises.
In the beginning, Phil reveals, the innovation centre was given a wide remit but more recently has tended to focus on sensor technology, utilities and contract engineering.
Notable products developed so far include a hydrapulse flusher that maintains and monitors flow rates in sewers, and a unique fingerprint system that helps to detects counterfeit liquids.
“There aren’t many companies that have a centre dedicated purely to developing new products but innovation is at the core of the business and we are always trying to adapt and improve what we do,” says Phil.
In addition to its commercial activity, the Reece Group and the Reece Foundation (established in 2007) have also been heavily involved in inspiring the next generation of engineers.
“The Reece family have always been passionate about engineering and both the company and the foundation have invested in numerous schemes and mechanisms to get more young people into STEM subjects,” explains Phil.
Just some of the projects the Reece Group and the Reece Foundation are supporting are the Big Bang North East Fair, Maker Faire UK, Durham University’s Science Festival and Think Physics – a Northumbria University initiative to encourage more females into science subjects.
The group is also involved in scholarship funds with St Cuthbert’s School and the Royal Grammar School to nurture the next generation of engineers, as well as Primary Engineer, which helps introduce primary school children to STEM-related subjects.
Phil reports that over 10,000 young people have been contacted through the work of the Reece Group and the Reece Foundation over the last two years, and employees have devolved more than 150 days to educational engagement activities.
Reece Group has also been committed to recruiting apprentices over the years and recently, it established a graduate cohort scheme where young recruits will spend time in each of the group’s companies.
“It will develop their skills and understand of engineering in different sectors,” Phil explains. “And it will also mean that these young people will grow up together and as they progress to become, hopefully, industry leaders, they will know each other and want to collaborate.”
Looking to the future, Phil doesn’t discount more acquisitions, but at present the Reece Group’s priority is to focus on the existing companies which now cover the defence, oil and gas, rail, construction, nuclear, aerospace and food processing sectors.
In all the group’s activity, innovation will continue to remain central.
“We want a culture whereby people are encouraged to think differently,” says Phil. “Things are always changing and engineering is all about how you adapt to that changing environment.”
Reece Group Ltd