After 45 years running the business he founded, the new Master Cutler’s advice is very simple: never give in.
Ken Cooke, boss of a successful machinery repair business, says there is always a way through tough times.
Two years ago CTW Hardfacing lost a quarter of its business when Tata Speciality Steels closed down a big part of its operations in Rotherham.
The firm scaled back, regrouped and pushed on. And within three months it had won the work back elsewhere.
“When I look back over 45 years there were times when business wasn’t good and I didn’t take a salary and spent hours agonising about things.
“But there is always a way forward. It may be changing the focus, or reducing size or changing direction.”
The 379th leader of historic manufacturing body, the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire, has had pause to reflect on his life after appearing on the front of The Star earlier this month - a paper he used to deliver.
“I never dreamed of being Master Cutler. It was too far away. You can have ambition but you have to be realistic.
“But when opportunities come along you have to seize them. I was extremely proud to be asked.”
Born in Carbrook, he lived in a house on what is today Meadowhall Retail Park, opposite Ikea.
“My father worked in the steel industry, my mother worked part time when she could. My mother in particular drove me forward and wanted the best for me, she was very encouraging. A lot of my family were close by, it was a strong community. The steelworks were a community too.”
He attended Carbrook County School on Attercliffe Common, more recently Players House, and from the ages of 12 to 16 attended Central Technical School in what is the Leopold Hotel in Sheffield city centre today.
“They were pumping information into us. It was interesting, it was exciting. It opened my eyes to opportunities.”
His first job was at Edward Pryor - today called Pryor Marking Technology.
From there he moved into a managerial role at Penistone Hard Materials and after two years set up CTW with two friends.
“I felt I could do it better. I felt the market wasn’t being exploited in the right way and customer service could be done better. It was so easy. People said to me you must be extremely clever or lucky but back then people could start a business easily.
“In 1972 the steel industry was thriving.”
Today, up to 40 people work for the Neepsend company, including wife Janet and daughter Natalie, a director.
The Master Cutler’s firm is expert at restoring machinery.
“We are a niche market, we create a lot of our own business. Where a component is worn and lasts a year we rebuild it and make it last two years. We choose the right material for the right application.
“Plant manufacturers don’t like us.”