When your dad is one of Sheffield’s most successful entrepreneurs, you have two choices in life: do something completely different, or join the family firm and take it to the next level.
Mathew Grey, aged 33, is doing the latter, using his energy, ambition and, not least position, to drive through breathtaking expansion at OSL Cutting Technologies, four companies within the larger OSL Group founded by David Grey.
He has just launched a £2m plan to bring all manufacturing on to the main site on Burgess Road in Attercliffe - and rebuild half of the buildings there.
After spending a small fortune and two years on a computer system, he plans to use it to buy more businesses and swiftly “drop them in” to the family.
And he is a big believer in the advantages of youth, with a 31-year-old managing director, a 25-year-old running a £25m ‘consolidation programme’ and an 18-year-old buyer spending £8m-a-year.
Overseeing it all are the “wise heads” on the Main Board - chaired by his father.
The discussions are sometimes frank.
Mathew said: “There definitely have been some heated conversations around direction. They have up to 40 years’ experience, there’s a healthy balance of respect on both sides.”
He sees Cutting Tech as being in a new wave of youth-focused manufacturing firms.
He said: “I give young people a shot. We make a lot of mistakes and learn very quickly. We’re very aggressive in our way of driving decisions. Talent is very hard to come by. But young people want to work with young people.
“A lot of my competitors are on the verge of retirement. I’m building a culture that’s energetic, productive and data-driven. I’ve taken old-school manufacturing businesses and brought them into Industry 4.0.”
But he’s not a carbon copy of dad.
David Grey started from scratch and built the OSL Group through years of relentless activity that led to him suffering a heart attack at 44. It forced him to slow down to a more human speed.
Mathew said: “He’s a street fighting entrepreneur. When you build something from nothing it takes personality, dedication and passion and it ended up working against him.
“My environment is a lot more controlled and structured. I’ve had a privileged upbringing and I’m a different person to him. I’ve got a platform to take this business to the next level.”
He acknowledges he takes risks but says the group’s results speak for themselves.
Cutting Technologies has bought three rivals since 2015 and increased headcount from 16 to 130, turnover from £4m to £18m, and trebled profits. Average organic growth is 10 per cent a year, he says.
Firms in the group make drill bits that cut holes. Rotabroach is so well known it’s the ‘Hoover’ of the sector, says Mathew.
Alongside it are G&J Hall, reamer specialist Taylor&Jones and Universal Drilling and Cutting Equipment, acquired earlier this year. It is based on Catley Road, Attercliffe, but scheduled to be brought across as part of the redevelopment.
The group also has two warehouses in the US and one each in China, the Netherlands and Australia.
Mathew was made managing director of the main OSL Group in 2018 and has four more bosses reporting to him.
A MODERNISER WITH RESPECT FOR MANUFACTURING HERITAGE
Mathew Grey went to Birkdale School in Sheffield and Leeds Met University before starting a high-powered position at Lloyds Bank.
But when he was offered a job in private equity, his dad David asked him to join the family firm.
Mathew said: “He realised I was ready and didn’t want to lose me. It was a natural step. It was something I wanted, not a decision based on family ties.”
David Grey was Master Cutler in 2014. Would Mathew also do that?
“I see it as an option.”
He’s also a big believer in the Made in Sheffield brand and wants to do “a lot more” to promote it.