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Founders pass two famous Newbury businesses to next generation

Sarah Bosley talks to the owners of Newbury Electronics and the Highnett Group about their succession planning

Sarah Bosley


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Founders pass two famous Newbury businesses to the next generation

(L to R) Nicky Varley, Stewart Highnett, Toby Bartlett, Philip King and John Rowley

Two long-standing Newbury businesses have started the New Year under new management.

At Newbury Electronics, Philip King has handed the managing director reins over to John Rowley and taken on the role of chairman. Both men are pictured below.

The firm has been trading for 60 years and is a leader in the provision of bare printed circuit boards (PCBs), assembled electronics and electronics design.

Mr King, who joined Newbury Electronics 37 years ago, has overseen £3.5m of capital investment at the company during his seven years as MD.

He said: “It is time to move on and hand the baton to the next generation.

“It was quite a lengthy search to find John as we wanted somebody who totally understood the issues that an independent business like ours has.

“There is no major group to back you up.

“You have to be aware and to a degree cautious, but you have to consistently reinvest to move forwards.

“The process has been like a rebirth for the business.

“We have be doing quite well over the last few years and prospects look very promising.”

Mr Rowley, who is 37-years-old and has nearly 20 years of experience in the electronics sector, added: “I am excited about taking on this pivotal role at Newbury Electronics, a company that has gone from strength to strength under Phil’s leadership.

“With over £3.5m worth of capital investment in the last few years and more to follow in the next few months, the company is one of the best equipped in the country to meet the demands of modern electronics engineering production and deliver a comprehensive and reliable service to both new and existing customers.

“We are a very well-known brand in the industry and the quality of our products is very solid.”

Before joining the Newbury company at the end of last year, Mr Rowley had previously worked as an operations manager, operations director and most recently as the managing director of SMT Developments.

He completed an MBA in business administration in 2012 and graduated from the Great 200 Leaders programme.

He is also a recipient of The Manufacturer’s Top 100 award.

A project for the coming year is the launch of the company’s multi-national websites, which will begin with a Dutch launch and will quickly roll out across a number of European languages – a huge undertaking for a relatively small, independent business.

The two men are currently in the process of a year-long handover and said they didn’t have too many concerns for the business in the aftermath of Brexit.

“We are looking to change our shift patterns and to recruit locally,” 67-year-old Mr King said.

“We are hoping to add 10 to 15 trainees to train as assembly technicians.

“Manufacturing is an industry that has an ageing workforce and there is a big gap in the middle, but people are starting to become interested in industry again.

“I want the business to carry on doing good things for its clients and ensuring the longevity of the business is one of my priorities.”

The company has a close working relationship with another Newbury business that is also undergoing some changes in 2019.

After 40 years at the helm of the Highnett Group, founders Stewart and Christine Highnett have handed control to Toby Bartlett and Nicky Varley (all pictured below).

The decision to step aside has been made all the easier, Mr Highnett admits, by the fact that it is an employee who is taking over.

He said: “I started the business 40 years ago and that anniversary prompted me to start thinking about leaving.

“Now is the right time for Christine and myself to step away from the business.

“We hoped it would be a success, but never imagined we would be where we are now, with national and international clients, a committed and skilled team of employees and regular new business enquiries.

“I would now quite like to retire and spend more time rebuilding classic cars.

“Psychologically I am ready to go and I have complete confidence in the guys we have here.”

The new owner and managing director, Toby Bartlett, aged 40, joined the company six years ago and so has a clear understanding of how the business works and was the perfect person to take over when Mr and Mrs Highnett decided to take a step back.

“This is an amazing opportunity and I am determined to build on the success and reputation of the company,” said Mr Bartlett.

“In addition to the support and encouragement I’m receiving from Stewart and Christine, my colleagues are also right behind me and I’m looking forward to 2019.”

One of the biggest challenges for Mr Bartlett this year is finding more skilled staff.

He said: “We currently have two apprentices completing their final year of the Level 3 NVQ Diploma in electrotecnical technology and we are keen to talk to anyone who may be interested in developing their career with us.”

The Highnett Group, which employs 10 people at its Newbury offices, comprises of Highnett Controls, Macklin Controls and Solatest Renewables – a division that was at the forefront of the solar energy boom.

Highnett Controls, the foundation of the group, designs, manufactures and maintains control panels, alongside M&E installation and maintenance, servicing and repairs for a range of systems, including fire and emergency, lighting, plumbing and motor and machine fault diagnosis and repair.

“We are only a small company, so it is in its best interests for me to let go and I am ready to do that,” Mr Highnett added.

“We have run it for 40 years and have had good and bad times and I think it is time for someone else to take up the challenge.

“This is the ideal solution and it means all the employees keep their jobs and everything stays the same.

“And I am going to be in the background for a year or so.”

Looking back, 66-year-old Mr Highnett said, they have enjoyed some exciting times during their 40-year tenure, from helicopter ditch training to allow them to work in places such as the Outer Hebrides, to building panels for the London Olympics.

What exciting things both of these companies will get up to in the future is now in the hands of a new generation.

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