September 2019 marked sixteen years since Mark Burton took over AI Materials (the forerunner to Broder Metals Group) and began the exciting journey that has seen it develop into a well-respected company supplying customers in 42 countries across the globe. We thought we’d take a closer look at the man behind this success.
Q: You have extensive experience in the steel industry – where did it all start for you?
The steel industry was a major employer for school leavers in Rotherham in 1976 and through my father I got an interview at British Steel Corporation (BSC) at Templebrough, who took me on as a commercial apprentice. Over the next three years, I was on rotation through eight different departments, including Accounts, the Melting shop, Cold- and Hot-rolling and Ingot Conversion, which gave me a fantastic background in the steel-making process.
Following successful completion of the apprenticeship, I moved into the Strip mill, firstly in Production and Production Planning and then joining the Sales department in 1980.
In 1984 I left to work with my father in his engineering agency, taking on a travelling sales role that saw me clock up an average of 55,000 miles a year as I drove up and down the UK building up a network of contacts.
Q: How did the take-over of AI Materials come about and what were your initial thoughts on the company?
In 2002 a customer I had worked with for several years was offered the opportunity to purchase AIM, whose owners were looking to do other things. The customer approached me and asked if I wanted to join forces with him in the venture. AIM was under-performing as a titanium stockist and converter, but it had huge potential to develop through its existing customers.
Q: How did that develop into something more long-term?
In the early 2000’s, the titanium industry was struggling and it quickly became apparent that in order to do well, AIM would have to diversify. We spotted an opportunity to move into the nickel alloy markets, aiming at the fastener and valve manufacturing companies, with a gap in the market for a fast-responding stockholder.
Another key factor was meeting Mike Andrews who also saw the potential of AIM and agreed to work with us to turn it round from the £200k loss in 2003. In our second year of ownership we were able to break-even and have never looked back since then.
Q: Over the last sixteen years you have built up the Broder Metals Group with several start-up companies (Alloy Flanges & Fittings, Integrity Alloys, and High Tensile Stainless). Could you tell us more about these?
This has come about thanks to two factors. We enjoy close relationships with many of our customers and from time to time they have asked us to increase our stock ranges and offer new services. It has also been our philosophy to bring on capable people and give them opportunities to put their ideas into practice. Where we did not previously have the skills internally to offer the customers what they were asking us for, we brought in specialists with that knowledge and built a structure around them to allow them to concentrate on the sales and customer service side of the business, with the admin and financing taken care of by the existing Group.
Q: How important is having a world-wide presence to BMG?
It is massive. Historically our exports have been consistently well over 50% of our turnover. In 2003-4 we noticed that as the internet grew as a business tool it was leading to more overseas customers finding us. We set up our export department in 2006 to specialise in servicing our overseas customers and are very proud of our multi-lingual staff and how successful they have been in getting BMG into new markets.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing companies in the steel industry?
In the short-term, the oil & gas industries are still suffering from the low oil price resulting from the development of shale and low global demand. This has impacted investment and many big projects are currently on hold awaiting a sustained rise in the oil price.
In the longer term, for companies in Western Europe it is competition from China, Taiwan, India and the emerging economies from Eastern Europe, as they develop the capabilities and expertise which will enable them to move into the high specification alloys.
We also have the fall-out from Brexit to consider, although this probably won’t be known fully for a few years and we have to remember that it is up to us to keep working closely with all our customers, no matter what the politicians throw in our way.
On a personal level, new entrants into our UK markets are a challenge we must face. Several competitors have tried to change their ethos to copy us, particularly the level of service we offer our customers. However, after years of being solely price orientated, I do not believe it will be easy for them to move to be a more service-driven company like ourselves.
Q: And finally, where do you see BMG going next?
As a company we are really looking forward to the next 18 months. We know we have the capability to spot and develop niche products that complement our existing core product offering and with our entry into the Aerospace market there are several opportunities we are seriously looking at. In addition to this we will continue listening to our customers and building the long-term relationships that have brought us this far.
Thank you for reading this interview. Broder Metals Group would welcome the opportunity to support your future material requirements. You can contact us today by clicking here.