Lawton Tubes

Ever wondered what it takes to run and grow a successful engineering company?

Wardtec is a family business established by Anthony Ward’s father back in 1982, and now expertly guided by Anthony himself as the Managing Director. In this Q&A, get to know more about the challenges and successes that have shaped Anthony and the business over the years.

What’s your background within the industry?

I trained as a Vehicle Design Engineer with what’s now JLR. They sponsored me through my apprenticeship and my design degree. I could have carried on with a very nice career designing cars, being a cog in the wheel. But I wanted to plough my own furrow. That’s when I decided to join my father as an engineer at Wardtec.

What’s the draw of engineering for you?

It’s in the blood. In terms of pure engineering, I love it – as a job and a hobby. I enjoy coming up with an idea and being able to prove it and have somebody want to buy it. It’s a nice feeling.

What do you enjoy about your role?

Enjoyment of running a business is when you can be successful at it. It’s not always fun, but when it’s going right, it’s a fantastic thing to be resourceful to the point where you can grow and develop something that works. I think most people in business would tell you that’s the little buzz you get.

I enjoy that Wardtec has a good reputation. I enjoy the fact we’re profitable because it means we’re getting something right. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much money you make if what you put out is poor quality. I don’t differentiate between who I am as a person and who I am as a business owner. If people thought what we produced was poor quality, that would just be the worst thing for me. It’s got to be right. If it’s not 100% right, it’s not going out the door.

What skills do you bring to the role?

Integrity and a safe pair of hands. When we say we’ll deliver a product on a certain day, we do everything to make sure it’s 100% right and delivered to the agreed terms. I’m a detail merchant, and I’m thorough. But you can’t apologise for that when you’re a manufacturing engineering company. I’m also calm and collected. I don’t run around with my head on fire when it’s all going wrong.

What are your top tips for growing a successful business?

Sometimes, it’s enough to just think, ‘What’s today got in store?’ You don’t always need to overthink it. Some of your growth will take a random organic path. Sometimes, your best plan comes from something not working and taking a different route to get where you want to be. And before you know it, you’re importing, exporting and doing everything else!

There’s no magic or mystery to it. It’s just about hard work, not giving in, and always endeavouring to make everything you do the best it can be and the best experience for the customer. Make it easy for people to work with you – that’s how you get repeat business.

What’s been your biggest challenge?

Covid was the biggest challenge in recent times. I’ve probably learned more about business in the last three or four years than I’ve learned in the previous 20 because of covid. It was a reminder that you have to think on your feet and change the plan very quickly if you need to.

The 2008 financial crisis was another challenge when our sales suddenly dropped 20% overnight. That’s when we got into the stainless steel fittings market and global procurement. Now, 80% of what we sell is stainless steel fittings. It’s taken the business in a new radical direction, which was a gamble, but I’m not sure we’d still have a business if we’d not taken that decision.

In the most bizarre way, challenges like these energise you. It almost feels a bit like starting a business again from the beginning, so you’ve got that renewed energy of survival.

What lessons have you learned?

As a manager, you have to be the person that pulls everyone together. To galvanise them into getting the best solution. You’ve got to be calm in your approach, even if something’s gone really wrong, because ultimately the buck stops with you; you have to be there to guide the fix.

In the early days, I tried to do it all myself. But as you get more experienced, you realise it’s about getting your people within the organisation to work as a whole, and if you can get that happening, by and large, you do okay.

What do you enjoy outside of work?

Motorsport is a bit of a passion for me. If it’s got wheels on it, then I’m interested. I also love snowboarding and mountain biking – plus I’m a really keen gardener!

What plans do you have for Wardtec in the future?

Last year, I sold the business. To me, that’s the ultimate endorsement, that somebody would want to buy your company. We’re now solely owned by Lawton Tubes. It’s a good fit. Lawton Tubes is a big family company. They share the same values and approach to investment and growth, and they have the professionalism to know you need people outside your family to run an organisation like that. We were on strong foundations before. But I think we’re on even stronger foundations now.

Find out more about Wardtec here.