SHEFFIELD ENGINEERING: Changing gears drives success for pals after buy-out

Four pals are celebrating a successful year as owners of a Sheffield business they joined 30 years ago.

Monday, 25th March 2019, 4:05 pm
Updated Monday, 25th March 2019, 4:08 pm
Made in Sheffield TDR Transmissions, from left: Carl Smith, Lee Walkland, Jason Smith and Darren Morland. Picture Scott Merrylees
Made in Sheffield TDR Transmissions, from left: Carl Smith, Lee Walkland, Jason Smith and Darren Morland. Picture Scott Merrylees

The quartet all joined TDR Transmission in the 1980s from school, or the old YTS scheme, and put in decades of work to reach mid-management.

When the owners approached them about retirement they leapt at the chance to take control.

Made in Sheffield TDR Transmissions, from left: Carl Smith, Lee Walkland, Jason Smith and Darren Morland. Picture Scott Merrylees

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Eighteen months on and the 21-strong firm is growing: turnover is up, four jobs have been created - a mechanical fitter’s post is being advertised - and the new bosses are beginning to think about moving to bigger premises.

Managing director Lee Walkland said the experience had been “great.”

He added: “We all play to each others’ strengths. We have meetings and it can get a bit heated. But there’s nothing that’s not sorted out that day.”

Darren Morland, operations director, said: “One can’t operate without the others. We are a four-man team and every one is integral to the business.”

Martin Jones, mechanical fitter.

TDR services and repairs the gearboxes and drives that keep industry moving, from steelworks to quarries and sewage to medicine.

The four were offered first refusal to buy the company in 2016 and by August 2017 it was theirs. It was a huge moment for them all, as well as borrowing £1m from NatWest, they all put in their own money.

But there are no regrets.

Jason Smith, aged 45, joined as a YTS storeperson on £15-a-week. Today he is operations director and co-owner.

Matt Lynch. Picture Scott Merrylees

He said: “We have embraced it. We had ideas the owners were reluctant to go with. By taking over the shackles were removed.”

And they all believe in promoting from within.

“You can mould that person. It creates motivation, people who work here get a chance to advance in the company and one day achieve what we have achieved.”

TDR prides itself on a 24-hour repair service - anguished 2am calls from plant managers are a fact of life - but “they then remember you for the day-to-day stuff,” says Lee.

Lee Walkland, MD of TDR Transmission.

It also services equipment to keep it going for years, saving clients money. Brexit uncertainty stalling investment in new machinery is also boosting business, they believe.

Sixty year old gearboxes come in for repair and have to be reverse engineered and have new parts made, all using imperial measurements.

The four can also remember the shutdowns, when industry took a break at Christmas and in the summer, which would see work drop off dramatically. Today they are more consistently busy.

TDR was founded 40 years ago and has lived through huge changes.

It was established at 16-20 Corporation Street in 1979 by Terry Needham, when Sheffield boasted steelworks and heavy industry from the city centre to Tinsley Viaduct and beyond.

In the 1990s it moved to make way for a car park for the under-construction Crown Court on West Bar. It set up in the old George H Cook premises, also on Corporation Street.

MD Lee Walkland, left, and director Jason Smith. Picture Scott Merrylees

In 1999 Ken Walkland, Lee’s dad, and John Siddall took over and were running it when the company was forced out by a compulsory purchase order to allow for road widening. In 2005 it moved into purpose-built premises high on the hill at Hunsley Street, Grimesthorpe with a view across all of Attercliffe.