Alan Hawkins is a man not to be put off. Ismail Mulla heard how after one failed business venture he has never looked back with his second enterprise.
It’s fair to say Alan Hawkins has seen many changes during his time in engineering.
The 65-year-old is the chief executive officer of Turbine Efficiency, which maintains and reconditions power generating gas turbines that are worth up to £2m each, along with their component parts.
Mr Hawkins’ career began in the RAF, where he learnt everything from how to march to becoming an aircraft technician, in the early 70s.
At the time he hated the disciplinarian approach but looking back Mr Hawkins is more wistful about his days in the RAF.
He said: “There’s different ways of doing it. When I did it you became an apprentice at RAF Halton.
“There was the discipline which I didn’t like very much. Things like making you get your haircut I never really liked that very much, but in retrospect when you leave you actually miss it.
“Because life in the RAF is so intense you get to build very strong relationships with the people that you work with. When you actually leave that environment you do miss it quite a lot.”
After leaving the RAF Mr Hawkins put to use the transferable skills he had gained and started work fixing gas turbines at Ruston.
While at the Lincoln-based manufacturer he learnt everything about gas turbines including how to build them.
Mr Hawkins’ first attempts at launching his own business, a furniture manufacturing company, failed.
There was a certain poetry around the idea of him launching a furniture manufacturing business. Mr Hawkins later found out that his grandfather, who he never knew, had a similar business – which was very successful for a long time.
But this failure didn’t deter him and instead he learnt lessons that would help him launch Turbine Efficiency from a back bedroom in 2001.
“I think when you are starting a business you need to be obstinate,” said Mr Hawkins.
He added: “You have to be determined and you just have to keep doing it. Every single day you have to get up and keep plugging away.
“You need a bit of luck but the adage that the harder that you work the luckier you get is pretty true.”
Following the attempt at running his own furniture manufacturing business, Mr Hawkins went back to “his roots” and started fixing aeroplanes, working in large hangars around the country.
“In those days in the 80s it was a lot more informal than it is today,” he said.
Mr Hawkins added that it simply took a phone call to get the job and the next day you were fixing an aeroplane.
He said: “They used to take your word for it, that you knew what you were doing, which is a bit scary when you think about it now.
“I spent quite a few years doing that and then the opportunity came to rejoin Ruston gas turbines.”
But there was something nagging away at Mr Hawkins, a feeling that the environment could be better.
“I spent ten years at Ruston. During that time I realised that I didn’t like the environment very much. I really thought that I could do a better job and in January 2001 I took the leap. I accepted a small redundancy and formed Turbine Efficiency.”
Mr Hawkins added: “One of the things that happened with Ruston is that it’s a small factory in Lincoln and they were constantly being bought out by somebody else.
“The name was constantly changing. What I saw was a lot of disaffection from the employees and from the customers. I realised that there was a better way of doing things than what was happening. I thought well it’s up to me to make those changes.”
On his second attempt at launching a business, Mr Hawkins had a stroke of good fortune when he bumped into a group of entrepreneurial people in Dartford who wanted their gas turbines looking after.
The caveat being that the expenditure had to be low as the turbines were coming out of service within three years.
This would go on to lay down the foundations for Turbine Efficiency of creating innovative maintenance solutions.
Today, business is good for the Doncaster-based company. Most recently the firm’s employee numbers have shot up from 70 to 89 and turnover has grown by 40 per cent.
Mr Hawkins said: “There’s a worldwide need for the skills that we have. Some areas are better than others but I think we’ve identified the ones that are the best for us.
“The quality that we have built up within Turbine Efficiency in Lincoln is second to none. That’s always been the driving force behind us – that we have this high quality solution for customers.”
One of the things Turbine Efficiency is investing heavily in over the next year is IT and its website – to enable them to communicate with customers.
Exporting is second nature to the business and in 2014 its success beyond these shores was recognised at The Yorkshire Post’s Excellence in Business Awards.
Ever since he’s been involved with gas turbines, the idea of exports has never really entered Mr Hawkins’ head as “the world’s just a place where you do business”.
Mr Hawkins says that they did a calculation once on a wall map and found that the sun never sets on their customer base, such is the reach of Turbine Efficiency.
While many businesses leaders are concerned about the UK potentially leaving the EU, it’s not a concern shared by Mr Hawkins.
He said: “For one thing I don’t think it’ll happen but in any case you’re judged in this business by how good you are and how reliable you are and not what country you’re from. Unless there’s some strange political influence.”
Looking ahead, the former RAF aircraft technician’s priorities are simple. To continue doing what they’re doing. “There’s no reason not to. It’s enjoyable,” he says.
Alan Hawkins’ factfile
Date of birth: 24.03.50
First job: RAF aircraft technician
Education: Chatham Technical School
Last book read: Good to Great
Favourite holiday destination: Malaysia in the summer, the Alps in the winter
Favourite film: The Sting
Favourite song: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
Car driven: Jaguar
Most proud of: Turbine Efficiency