In September 1939 a solitary Jewish refugee, Hans Neuhaus, founded a business in a sleepy industrial town on the edge of the Pennines. Separated from his wife and son who were living in Nazi Germany, he could have had no idea that his new enterprise would become a remarkable roller-coaster story of redemption, resurrection and restoration affecting the lives of hundreds of local families.
Although the Industrial Revolution had brought untold wealth to the British Empire as it expanded to rule a quarter of the globe, its success had been built on the back of the blood, sweat and tears of the working families in the North of England. By the 1930s Whitworth near Rochdale had been devastated by the Great Depression and the decline of the cotton industry with death rates, infant mortality and unemployment as much as 30% higher than the UK average.
It was into this area of deep deprivation that Hans Neuhaus, with the help of my Great Uncle Tom, utilised his skills to start up Anglo Felt Industries Limited (later renamed Anglo Recycling Technologies) to manufacture hair-felt interlinings for its shareholders who were local footwear manufacturers. Because its original products were unavailable elsewhere in the UK it generated added-value without displacing employment from other areas and after the War it started exporting to European markets to bring much-needed prosperity to local families growing to become one of the two largest private-sector employers in the town. From the very beginning most of the materials used were either recycled or waste from other industries and although its products have evolved, these exceptional environmentally-friendly credentials have been maintained to the present day.
By the 1970s, the retirement of Hans followed by a rapidly changing marketplace led to desperate times and by 1984 the business had sustained huge losses for eight years (equivalent to £1million in today’s money), a 30% loss of turnover owing to the defection of their Sales Agent to a large Competitor and very low productivity and morale evidenced by high absenteeism and labour turnover. The production machinery had become antiquated with no capital for investment and profitability was crippled by very high fixed costs within a dilapidated Victorian Mill with water pouring through a rear wall undermining machinery and ruining the production process.
As a last-ditch effort I was appointed CEO by the Parent Board but at only 28 I had never run anything, knew nothing about the product and lacked any formal management training for the role. What happened next was so outrageously improbable that many years later I wrote a book subtitled ‘what happened when God turned up at work’ about a series of perfectly choreographed Divine interventions and the release of untapped human potential. Just a few examples: God gave us unsolicited contacts with production and sales specialists who brought expertise and resources at just the right time to improve efficiency, create innovative products and open up new markets. A ‘once in a hundred years’ sewer replacement resolved the chronic waterlogging. A retired ex-Director inexplicably attended the Parent Board Meeting at which, without his intervention, the motion would have been passed to close the business. An unplanned acquisition of a waste jute processing Plant in Dundee provided a unique source of our main raw material ensuring survival during a global shortage and another essential material arrived just in time following months stranded in the Suez Canal. That's not even mentioning the militant Trades Union Official whose suggestion to moderate my proposed Bonus Scheme saved us £50k. in wage costs (and from bankruptcy) whilst still ensuring our staff were the second-highest paid in the industry.
Then there were many individuals within the business who had previously been in ‘dead-end jobs’ but given the opportunity developed extraordinary management skills and ingenious technical feats that boosted productivity by 60%.
We even experienced what I have described as ‘Plant 3 Resurrection’ when one despairing Friday all was lost only to be followed by resurrection on Sunday. It started with a ‘phone call late on Friday afternoon telling me that our main production Plant 3 had suffered a catastrophic failure which I knew meant the end for the business. The next day I vividly remember standing alone surveying the wreckage feeling utterly desolate and with every fibre of my being crying out to God for help. The following day our brilliant 24 year old mechanic spent six hours utilising winches to pull its 2” thick tangled frames completely straight - which still doesn’t make any sense as steel once bent never returns to its original shape, but the proof of the pudding is that I watched the machine still operating perfectly 35 years later.
During Easter 1986, our 20-year-old First Year Apprentice Electrician attended Spring Harvest and at a 10,000 strong gathering bumped into Phil, a production engineer specialising in a new technology: Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). Following this encounter, Phil’s inexperienced protégé was able to design, build and install a PLC controlled panel for a newly rebuilt plant saving huge sums in cost and time.
By March 1987 sales had doubled and the business made a profit for the first time in 11 years. Once profitability had been restored, the Parent Board sold the business and it was purchased by a private individual called Kingston Macaulay. The new owner invested heavily improving the building, reroofing large areas and redeveloping the offices but sadly the factory floor steadily degenerated into a harsh, aggressive and Godless place. Shop floor turnover was very high, morale desperately low and Anglo was once again on the edge. However, upon retirement his younger son Simon was ready for this new challenge despite many initial setbacks. After attending an Alpha Course, Simon had recently become a Christian and had a sense that he wanted to bring his Faith to work.
Some 20 years later, things have again changed and the business is transformed into an open, friendly and happy place. Simon relishes coming to work to see his colleagues who have become friends. For many years all employees have signed-up to an agreed Company Charter which sets out Christian values and standards: to be honest in all dealings with staff, customers and suppliers. Each year 10% of the company’s profits are shared equally amongst employees and Simon sees the business as being at the heart of the Whitworth community. For example, when Lancashire County Council announced that they were closing their popular Youth Club, Simon set up a charity ‘Friends of Whitworth Youth’ and working alongside local churches most Monday evenings sees a room full of more than 30 happy children, strongly supported by the local community including the High School, Scout Committee and Mayor.
Anglo Recycling Technology has been a transformational business since my Great Uncle Tom assisted a German Jew fleeing the Nazis. Then came my own participation in a divine rescue 35 years ago creating jobs at a time when local male unemployment exceeded 30% and for the last 20 years it has been owned and totally revitalised by Simon Macaulay a Christian entrepreneur. Outperforming the fictional ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ movie it has earned the credentials of an Anchor Institution within its locality having been one of the two major private-sector employers in a small town for more than 80 years. It has always manufactured environmentally-friendly products, is heavily engaged in the local community, has spawned social enterprises and provides industrial units for start-up/small businesses. It has fed hundreds of households in a locality ravaged by deprivation and at todays’ values injected more than £100m into the northern economy bringing prosperity to innumerable families, suppliers, retailers and associated businesses.
Peter Riley's book called the Anglo Files ‘What happened when God turned up at Work’ is unpublished but he has kindly offered to send TEN members a copy on request. E-mail him at [email protected]