Mark Banton, MD of Parry Stainless Steel Products in Draycott, Derbyshire, isn’t your run of the mill business leader, having taken his own path to the top. The journey begins with a typical story for a Mansfield lad, whose career choices were limited.
“At that time we were only offered two choices on leaving school. Go down the pit or join the army. That was it,” he recalled.
However, working in the coal mine at Welbeck colliery for British Coal is where typical ends, as he began to excel, progressing through the ranks. The transition from the coal face to business owner has not been without its challenges, which Banton has clearly taken in his stride.
In what ways does he think that his early life in the coal mines prepared him for turning round a successful manufacturing SME? “People management; working in the pit was a tough environment. Welbeck was a modern pit producing 1.5m tonnes per year, it was 700metres underground and the coal faces were 7miles from the pit bottom. I loved the camaraderie with the team, literally at the coal face. It was a dangerous environment but that was why the men bonded and it gave me valuable lessons in man management.”
After 14 years working in the public sector, Banton moved to the private sector, spending the next decade in steel forging, where he successfully demonstrated his passion, the principles of Lean manufacturing, whilst acting as prime change agent to drive culture and operational change. This became the foundation for his next career steps when he spent time working in the UK, France and Italy within the aerospace sector for Derby-based manufacturer Rolls Royce and Airbus.
In 2012 the opportunity arose for Banton to return home and he joined Parry as operations director, working for the Parry family. He knew that with time and by applying his experience of Lean manufacturing, he could make significant improvements to the operational efficiency and culture of the company to reverse its recent fortunes. Sadly, and despite the best efforts of the Parry team, the company moved into an administration procedure due to the business financiers refusing to support the company on the back of a pension fund deficit created by legislative change.
In late 2016, Banton was offered the opportunity to purchase the business and assets from the administrators, saving over 70 jobs in the local area and also to become the business owner. This was the catalyst for the creation of the current Parry Stainless Steel brand.
This enabled the company to reset and operate without the legacy issues, but of equal importance, it allowed the family culture to return and thrive, building on the loyalty and commitment shown by the staff through multiple generations contributing to a very genuine pride in the company and its products.
Key to the success of the new business was a radical approach of ongoing openness with creditors and it is pleasing that in this case, the vast majority of these creditors continue to support and trade with Parry today. To compliment this process, the management team has worked closely with Mazars LLP, who replaced the chosen administrators on the request of the Pension Protection Fund, in order to maximise the recovery and unusually deliver a significant return to the old creditors of the business.
It is safe to say that Parry can now be considered one of the leading producers of stainless steel products, having gone from strength to strength, employing a strategy to achieve world class manufacturing standards. And from talking to a number of the shop floor employees, the family ethos remains, despite the introduction of a continuous improvement culture and Lean manufacturing processes.
Now the whole operation is based around minimisation of waste and maximisation of productivity across standard and bespoke products. The company has since attained the utopia of a carbon neutral business, a credential which is highly valued in the new Parry.
The inherent ironies in connecting the dots from Banton’s early career in ‘dirty coal’ to the present day ‘clean energy’ are not lost on him: “If we are to aspire to minimise waste in our processes, it’s only reasonable that we care enough to have as little impact on the environment as we possibly can. I believe that companies’ ecological credentials are going to become more and more important in competing for business. If a business (and its owners) care about the environment, it will naturally seek partners that share the same values.”
When asked to comment on the future, he responded: “Guiding Parry into a new era is challenging, particularly at a time when political and economic insecurity around Brexit is affecting many sectors. Restaurant and retail closures, of both independents and high profile chains make the news almost daily and contribute to a general feeling
of uncertainty up and down the high street.
“We are diversifying and expanding into new sectors, developing new products and adapting others through our Parry Centre of Excellence, ready for introduction into the healthcare, care home, educational and clinical sectors.”
This is reiterated by the recent collaboration with a market-leading graphical solutions manufacturer which has given Parry the capability of wrapping products in a huge variety of textured finishes. It also includes the ability to utilise custom graphics on Parry products which means its equipment takes on a new life and has the ability to be personalised for all consumers.
Banton has a clear path for Parry, it continues to innovate and expand, creating new products, forging new partnerships and developing new markets. Next month will see the business complete the purchase of its premises, the result of a new partnership with Shawbrook Bank Plc, guaranteeing that Parry is here for the long-term. This will enable the renovation and opening of a new showroom for use by its distributors and set the scene for the future of Parry, another significant milestone for the business. The story of Parry continues to be written.