How getting the sack laid firm foundations

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Keeping ahead of the game has been one of the keys to the Special Steel Group’s success, right the way back to 1925 when the company was founded by Bennett Beardshaw.

Bennett, grandfather of current chairman, Alan Beardshaw, was born in 1887 and started work at the age of 13, when his father died.

His first job was as a messenger boy for cutlers and silversmiths Mappin & Webb.

“They gave him a message in the morning, he would run to another shop, wait for a reply and then run back with it. By the time he was 15 he thought there wasn’t a lot of future in that!” Alan Beardshaw recalls.

“I think he was a really bright guy who hadn’t had an opportunity to flourish. By the time he was 18 he was studying metallurgy at Sheffield Technical College on day release and when he was 19 he applied for a job at Jonas & Colver.”

Bennett Beardshaw worked for the Sheffield steel company until he was almost 30 – in the very building that was recently acquired by the company he went on to found.

While he was at Jonas & Colver, Bennett did a lot of work on heat-treatable steels – the steels that gave birth to modern-day engineering and special – or ‘speciality’ steels.

He set out to convince Mr Colver that the firm had to get into heat treatment in a big way, but his determination only put his bosses’ backs up and he was fired for his pains.

“Grandfather thought that if he was to make anything out of his life, he had to make the heat treatment business work, so he rented some premises across the Bacon Lane bridge and built himself a furnace,” says Alan Beardshaw.

A second furnace followed, and then more heat treatment and annealing furnaces as Bennett Beardshaw’s business, processing engineering steels for the motor and machine tools industry, grew.

The Second World War prompted further growth, with finance from the War Office, which needed heat- treated steel for armaments.

It also brought its hazards. One night an incendiary bomb came through the roof, which Bennett’s son and Alan’s father, Douglas, calmly picked up and threw into the neighbouring canal.

Even after Bennett handed over responsibility for running the company to Douglas, he still turned up for work every day and could be a hard task master.

“When I first started here, my grandfather couldn’t understand why I didn’t come to work on Sunday,” Alan Beardshaw recalls. “‘What are you going to do?’ he’d ask me.”

“He died in 1974 and was working on the morning he died. He was 87, he worked in the morning, went fishing in the afternoon, watched the World Cup in the evening, locked the back door and died.”