The last time Neil was at a Valve World event, in 2010 he was the suave, impeccably dressed CEO of MRC Transmark. The suit, like his role, fitted him to a T. But truth be told, Neil worked hard to achieve this position.
The first steps came in 1983 when Neil joined Saunders Valve Company as an applications engineer, quickly rising to become regional sales manager. Next stop was Shipham Valves, where Neil ended up as sales and marketing director; a role he also filled after joining Hattersley Heaton. He then moved to Heaton Valves (later Transmark Fcx), being promoted to managing director, group divisional director and finally group chief executive. Later, when Transmark Fcx was acquired by MRC Global, Neil became the CEO of MRC Transmark and then Executive Vice President of International Operations.
As his CV shows Neil started out in manufacturing before transferring to distribution. He notes: “half way through the 1990s it became clear that end users no longer wanted to hold inventory and administer the supply route of multiple valve suppliers, product inspection etc. They wanted to reduce their non-value added activities and cost by using distribution to focus on their core business.”
Realising this, Neil moved to valve distribution and set out to promote integrated supply agreements. “At the time, the major oil, chemical and petrochemical end users were buying direct from manufacturers and simply putting up with often long and unreliable lead times. Heaton Valves was seen as an emergency-only supplier but quickly evolved into a main supplier of all valve and actuator products. The integrated supply and framework agreements were then born and developed.”
Initial agreements covered only commodity gate, globe, check and ball valves but actuators, control valves, HF acid valves, butterfly valves etc, were soon added. Says Neil: “if the end user had a need we would look to stock that product. In the end we supplied every valve sometimes with a buy out arrangement.” The growing customer base clearly recognised the continued added value and cost reduction benefits of these agreements which quickly turned from having a local scope to being national, international and ultimately global in nature.
Another industry change taking place at the time was the demise of commodity valve production in Europe. Attention was turning to manufacturers in the Far East although concerns had been voiced about product quality. Thanks to his background as an engineer Neil was ideally qualified to assess production facilities and was thus able to develop reliable sources of supply.
Fast forward to 2016 and Neil says the valve industry is generally in pretty good shape although many companies are under pressure from low demand and depressed prices for commodities. “The industry will continue to evolve as user demands change. I am for ever impressed with the resilience of valve manufacturing in Italy and their ability to remain some of the most capable and innovative manufacturers in the world. Their focus on excellent valve design and incredibly efficient manufacturing techniques is I believe their greatest asset… regardless of the often perceived unreliable delivery times.”
Neil says that suppliers must always remain laser-focused on their customers, suppliers and staff. “This business has some of the most talented people going and they should be protected and developed even in difficult times. As CEO of Transmark Fcx I was pleased to introduce an ‘International Trainee Programme’. Every year we recruited degree qualified engineers and placed them on a three-year training programme working in all areas of the business and at many of our International locations. This produced engineering-minded, well trained and experienced young professionals that went on to become the fabric of the business.”
After a successful career Neil retired in the summer of 2013 and has since stuck to his decision to spend his time with his family. “I was fortunate to be able to stop on my fiftieth birthday. My wife and I are using the opportunity to travel and enjoy our homes in the UK and The Bahamas. In all I spent thirty years in valves and thoroughly enjoyed every day. Looking back, would I do anything differently? No, absolutely not! I wouldn't change a single thing.”
Neil will be attending the Valve World 2016 Conference and looks forward to meeting up with his many friends and colleagues. He can be reached on: