The future’s navy blue for the Diamond Dispersions duo

Diamond Dispersions directors Sue Wright and Peter Callahan
Diamond Dispersions directors Sue Wright and Peter Callahan
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They are the yin to the other’s yang.

They know each other inside-out, travel the world together three months of the year, trust each other implicitly and are there for each other for better, for worse.

It sounds like the perfect marriage. But Peter Callahan and Sue Wright share only one love; the quest to develop the perfect ink solution to industries all over the world.

They jointly man the helm of Diamond Dispersions, an award-winning Sheffield company with global sales in excess of £1.2 million. They have a Queen’s Award for export and a Sheffield Business Awards 2013 trophy under their belts, sell to China, India, south Korea, Indonesia and the Far East.

Currently, navy blue is their very favourite colour. By the end of this month, a £2.2 million contract which is still under wraps will see their inkology team producing five tonnes of a dispersion tinted the hue of a sailor’s uniform every month.

Magenta and orange are likely to follow and it’s certainly got them feeling in the pink.

But life has not always seemed so peachy.

Just seven years ago, they were broke, down and out of business.

Having met in 1996 while working as advisors for Business Link Derbyshire, Sue, who had run a marketing business and a recruitment firm, and Peter, who had worked in I.T. in Kuwait as a systems advisor to the government, had helped scores of people set up in business when they quit to set up their own.

Says Sue: “With a third partner, we had found a local company that made mills which could produce micro-fine pigments.

“Despite the fact that, as a business advisor, I had always told people never to go into a business they knew nothing about, that’s exactly what we did.”

Before long, their company, Diamond Sheffield, fell into further uncharted territory; carbon recovery.

A firm in Chesterfield who pyrolyzed car tyres to extract oil, gas and steel asked Diamond Sheffield to devise a way of extracting the pure carbon from the chemical-laden waste left at the bottom of their furnace.

It took them on an exciting but expensive three-year mission, which did result in a process that worked, and a patent to boot.

They intended to use the carbon for ink jet dispersion; but then the company supplying the carbon waste got closed down by the Environment Agency for breeching EU air pollution laws.

They struggled on for two years and developed some quality ink dispersion formulas, but were so broke they had to fold the company.

“We were in our mid 50s, a time when most people are saving for retirement,” says mum of two Sue. “We each lost huge sums.”

Afterwards, they went to the pub to drown their sorrows - and ended up talking each other into having another crack.

Recalls Sue: “We knew were we so close to coming up with a world quality formula; we went home and asked permission from our partners, Vanessa and Tom. Over the years they have begged us to stop numerous times having seen the stress that we go through.

“But they were as supportive as ever, so we set on my son-in-law, a bio-chemist, borrowed from the banks and on credit cards and we launched Diamond Dispersions.

“To our joy our biggest asset, all the staff from our previous company, came with us.”

Their goal was to create a perfect dispersion that would make the perfect ink. They bought in expensive bead mills from Switzerland, set up their own chemistry lab at their factory in Darnall and worked out the ultimate formulation.

“Quality control is absolutely vital,” says Peter. “Our inkologists are devoted to the study of ink excellence, milling the finest quality pigments we source from Europe, blending the exact amount of additives and delicately balancing the best ingredients. We create the optimum; non-bleed, non-smear, stable formulations with excellent adhesion, consistent colours and high optical density.”

Clothing industry clients use their products to digitally print fabrics; photographic companies rely on them to colour their world of printing.

Seven years on, with a staff of 13, they feel they are now on the brink of big-time success: “ The marketplace is exploding; there are so many industrial applications our products can be used for,” says Peter, who also has two children. “We’re in talks with a Brazilian company in talks with flip-flop makers Havaiana; many fashion brands are printing their own fabric designs instead of sending cloth to China and India for screen-printing. 2014 is the turning point for us.”

Peter is now 63 and Sue is 62. Shouldn’t they be looking towards retirement? “We wouldn’t be happy doing nothing,” says Peter. “If Sue decided to buy a retirement place in the sun, before you know it she’d have turned it into a B&B and built a restaurant down the road.”

The relationship they describe as a third marriage is key: “Business partnerships can be tricky, but ours is built on total trust and complementary skills and personalities,” says Sue.

“He is the blue sky thinker; I am the one who says don’t be ridiculous, we can’t possibly do that - then sets out to find ways of making it happen.”