Being a small family firm is no barrier to becoming a world leader.
Small means focused and nimble in Wolf’s terms and the family connection means the money it makes gets re-invested in keeping the business at the cutting edge.
The fact that Wolf is a family business means that it has a long-term attitude towards investment, says managing director Ian Tinker.
“We have invested a lot of money in technology and performance as well as significant sums in tooling and approvals – and in maintaining our position in the market,” says Mr Tinker.
Ian Tinker is the century old firm’s fourth MD – and the first from outside the founding family, but there is still plenty of family involvement.
Former managing director and founder’s grandson, John Jackson, continues as chairman, his son, Miles is marketing director, and his nephew, Alex, the firm’s technical director, is in line to take over when Mr Tinker retires later this year.
Continuing re-investment has enabled Wolf to expand from exclusively serving the mining industry to providing explosion proof lights for sectors as varied as offshore oil and gas, marine vessels, refining and petrochemical industries, food processing, pharmaceuticals, breweries and distilleries as well as firefighting, water treatment and gas distribution.
It has enabled the company to set up its own research and development division to respond to changing requirements and develop new products and to expand its Saxon Road works, building a new warehouse and machine shop four years ago.
Wolf’s flexibility means that it has been able to adapt its technology to meet clients’ specific needs, while retaining essential safety certification.
The firm has also had the courage to go back to first principles when changes to regulations set new standards for safety lamps.
“We had been planning for the change for five years,” says Ian Tinker.
“Our competitors tried to modify an existing product. Prior to that, they had 80 per cent of the market and we had 20 per cent. Within six months that had turned around completely.”
Although public sector budget cuts might have been expected to hit Wolf’s business, the firm continues to go from strength to strength with customers who include fire brigades and Ministry of Defence.
When the London Fire Brigade renewed its contract with Wolf for the third time in succession, it opted to upgrade its Wolf safety torches to incorporate the company’s latest LED modules.
“They have chosen to spend more.
“They are buying a better product, requiring less maintenance, with a longer life, that produces a better light,” says Alex Jackson.
Wolf has also gained the largest order it has ever had from the MoD.
“After talking to their users, the MoD was more than happy to accept that if they spent more to get a better product then they could do a better job,” adds Alex Jackson.
Export is a major part of Wolf’s business, with 20 per cent of its output going to Europe and 40 per cent to the rest of the world.