Profile - Doug Jackson: Man of steel looks forward to manufacturing a bright future
DOUG Jackson has travelled for long enough and far enough to fill the pages of a classic British novel. Two of the trips stand out over his long journey, however, which has taken him from his birthplace of post-war Glasgow to school in Cardiff, Athens and Somerset and finally to Sheffield and the top of a steelstockholding firm.
The first was one taken regularly from the age of eight. The son of a marine surveyor went to boarding school becaue his parents often worked abroad and would take the train from Taunton School to London's Paddington station on his own.
It seemed a long distance then and is a journey that today, in an age of greater suspicicion and many more dangers, few
parents would contemplate for their children.
The other, several years later, was by road when, as a 23-year-old, he drove his old Triumph Herald to the industrial landscape of South Yorkshire to start a new life at British Steel, attracted to it because "it looked like a big macho business".
Today Mr Jackson's work takes him as far away as China but these two trips seem to have made more impact on him than any others. He is managing director of an 85-year-old steel stockholder but says these early journeys up and down Britain helped give him the strength of character needed for a lifetime in heavy industry.
Each time he arrived at Paddington station he was met by a universal aunt, a form of kindly chaperone for children
of which only a few can be found today.
"It really ought to have been a blue-rinsed old lady but she was probably only 32," Mr Jackson said.
"Then I hung about in London and went to West Kensington and Heathrow with a badge saying 'unaccompanied minor'. You do that and then find that everything is easy. It makes you able to cope."
It was a daunting trip for an eight-year-old but Mr Jackson
is clearly feeling the benefit
More comfortable in his own skin than many other survivors of boarding school, it is perhaps no coincidence that Hillfoot Multi Metals positions itself as a company which offers "stability and continuity in a turbulent market".
The 35m turnover firm, which offers services ranging from stockholding and metallurgical advice to aluminium prefabrication, welding and protective coating and steel boring, machining and ultrasonic crack detection, was family-owned before being taken over by Scotland's Murray Metals Group, which is owned by Glasgow Rangers chairman Sir David Murray – reported yesterday to have reached an agreement "in principle" to sell the club to Scottish tycoon Craig Whyte. Hillfoot and Multi Metals had been working closely for the last year and merged last month.
Mr Jackson joined Hillfoot in April 2002 and has seen several recessions in a 35-year career but the speed of the most recent crash left him, and much of his industry, shocked.
"It was the worst in terms of the suddenness. We were doing okay in summer but then the autumn came and it was as if somebody turned the lights off."
HMM lost 12 staff but is now recuruiting again, particularly in oil and gas work. Today the firm has 65 staff at its Sheffield base, as well as 30 in Glasgow and 15 in Wednesbury in the West Midlands, and Mr Jackson sounded unperturbed by some commentators' gloomy predictions of economic stagnation.
"I am still optimistic," said Mr Jackson. "I am not expecting a double dip. It is more than green shoots."
He is also upbeat about the health of the steel industry in Yorkshire, despite its waning during the 1980s.
HMM has a stockholding capacity of 15,000 tonnes, as well as scope of a smiliar amount held for its use at ports, and exports its products to the Middle East, Thailand, Austrialia, Australia and Western Europe, while there are still other big-names firms in the industry here, such as structural steel firm Severfield-Rowen, based in Thirsk, and Billington Holdings, one of the UK's leading structural steel and construction safety solutions specialists, of Barnsley.
"There is still steel being made manufactured in Sheffield. If somebody says nobody makes steel in Sheffield they are wrong... I find myself shouting at the television a lot and I don't just shout – I email the BBC.
"The perception of the UK outside it is very different. They (the rest of the world) still sees us a country that makes things."
As with much of the manufacturing done in South Yorkshire, HMM's work is complex and intricate, helping it to do well abroad. It also works with the technical departments of major steel suppliers, ensuring it id one of the first to know about developments in new grades of steel to improve machining.
Steel is currently the slightly larger part of the business and Mr Jackson is keen to stress the importance of the aluminium side as HMM's journey continues on a sustainable footing.
"There aren't many businesses left in Sheffield which have been around for 85 years but we have gone through changing markets and has realigned with the markets we have.
"We will grow on the back of organic growth and by
expanding our operation in Scotland. Added turnover and margins are going to come from added value. We may even find that turnover is lower but margins higher."
Perhaps the fluctuating fortunes of Corus have been on the mind of Mr Jackson and the rest of the industry. The steel-giant, now owned by India's Tata, was forced to cut thousands of jobs last year after the parent company saw its profits dive. Last month it gave the industry a major boost, however, when it said it would safeguard 2,000 jobs with the start of a 6.5m investment programme.
"It is a good sign. There are some signs that things are beginning to get a bit better but we don't know what the VAT increase and public sector spending cuts will do to the industry."
HMM is not dependent on Corus, of course, and whatever the fate of British manufacturing over the next decade, Mr Jackson appears strong enough to cope.
The industriousness he showed when he was young, first at Taunton School and then in sales at British Steel, is still with him today, perhaps because he prospered during his time as a boarder.
He admits he found it "difficult" at times but overall he liked it, even sneaking out with friends to visit pubs and meet girls before coming back in time for chapel – a short but tricky journey and a good preparation for many years spent on the move, before coming to rest in Yorkshire.
Name: Doug Jackson
Title: Managing director
Education: Taunton School and the University of Hertfordshire –BA Hons - Business
First job: salesman at British Steel
Favourite holiday destination: Vancouver Island
Favourite film: 12 Angry Men
Last book read: Solar – Ian McEwan
Car driven: Range Rover Sport
Most proud of: My three sons