Like father, like daughter - engineering is in the genes at Torres Pumps

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Dawn Torres could not have wished for a finer role model than dad Ken, who arrived in Sheffield with just a 10-shilling (50p) note in his pocket and within 20 years had his own engineering company.

But the very first time she watched him work is a vivid memory. He was totally absorbed, building a pumping device to a client’s exacting specification... On the living room carpet of the family home in Wadsley Bridge.

After years of toiling in factories and reaping accolades only for his bosses, father of two Ken Torres had decided to go it alone, building specialist pumps for the food, chemical and road tanker industries.

“I remember there was oil everywhere and mum getting pretty upset about it,” she grins. “She insisted he found himself a workshop.”

From that point on, Dawn went off to work with her dad every weekend and school holiday: “I would do whatever I could - answer the phone, take messages, make tea - and stand on the pavement looking out for traffic wardens when dad had to drag a pump out and spray paint it,” she recalls.

She determined to become an engineer and most of her lunch hours at Tapton School were spent on the lathes in the metalwork rooms. At 13, she was turning her hand to fabrication work on a female engineering awareness course staged at a local college.

Before long, she was doing her dad’s invoicing and quotes and trying her hand at sales. That’s when she wasn’t in the workshop, drilling, tapping, milling and turning.

“My younger brother had no interest in engineering but I loved taking something from the raw product to a piece of equipment that could do a specific job,” she explains.

She got a degree in engineering at Hull University, the only girl in a class of 40. Her classmates saw her as their equal, but on practical days in engineering colleges she faced sexism. Dawn recalls: “I knew how to operate everything in the workshop. The tutors resented that and male students from other courses gave me verbal abuse constantly. I was shouted at, called names, followed when I went to the toilet. It was very intimidating. I hope this doesn’t happen to female engineering students today.”

She had a far better time on a work experience stint towards the end of her degree. At the BP plant in Hull there were 50 of her father’s pumps installed - and she knew exactly how to help the engineers get the maximum benefit out of them.

Inevitably, after uni she went straight into her father’s firm, which had by then had moved to purpose-built premises on Brightside Lane. She had no job description - she still hasn’t at the age of 42.

A mother of two, she works ten-hour days alongside her father, running both Torres Pumps and its subsidiary All Pumps, and shares parenting duties with husband Ed Holdsworth, who runs nearby Brightside companies Practical Control and Wireless Health.

Working with dad has never been difficult. “I’ve had to prove my capabilities in a male orientated world, though never with dad. He has only ever judged me on my merits,” she says.

“He and I believe that a good engineer can approach a problem from many different angles, evaluate them in their head and then come up with the best solution. You can be male or female, so long as you have a brain which works that way.”

There isn’t any job at the company that she cannot do - but there are several only she CAN do.

She is the only person in the company to hold a Class 1 driving licence, which means she can collect the huge tankers from haulage firms who have their seals made and fitted at Torres. And she is in charge of recruiting; dad and daughter have discovered that there is nothing finer than a women’s intuition when it comes to spotting engineering talent.

Dawn Torres could not have wished for a finer role model than dad Ken, who arrived in Sheffield with just a 10s note in his pocket and within 20 years had his own engineering company.

His is a remarkable tale of achievement in the face of adversity. Ken left his Bombay home and his university studies in engineering in 1962 at a time of civil unrest. He choose Sheffieldas his destination because of its manufacturing. He arrived on a Friday and had a factory job arranged by Saturday.

In the 17 years that followed, he worked in scores of local factories, never gaining promotion of any description. “I don’t know whether it was the system, racial prejudice or the fact that I was never afraid to speak my mind,” he reflects.

His big break came when his employer won a contract to build a 36-ton bow-loading system for use in the North Sea.

“I kept telling them the design wasn’t going to work but no one would listen,” he recalls. “On the day the company staged an event to demonstrate the machine to BP and Shell, nothing worked. I was standing at the door; I’d just clocked out. The boss shouted over and asked me if I’d worked on the machine. I told him I knew it inside out and had always said it would not work.

“I was given the job of getting it stripped down and redesigned. It worked and I got to take it out to the North Sea to see it installed.”

After that numerous job titles came, the last being engineering director. “Not bad for someone from the factory floor,” says Ken, now 70 and with no plans to retire.

He set up Torres Pumps and clients he had solved engineering problems for over the years flocked to him. It was Torres that made the hydraulic grouting system that sealed the Channel Tunnel after numerous other systems had not worked.

“I made the company a success because I was determined to prove to all the firms I had worked for that I had it in me,” he says. “Now I’m on a level playing field with the sons of the company owners who turned me down for promotion.

“But the very best thing about having my business is that although I had to put in so many hours of my life, I didn’t lose time with my daughter. She has been here with me and I cannot put a price on our relationship.”