Phileas Fogg entrepreneur Keith pens his own memoirs

NORTH East entrepreneur Keith Gill, one of the founders of the snack brand Phileas Fogg, has written his memoirs, detailing his life and career spanning five decades.

The memoirs are in two parts.

Taking It Head On: Memoirs of a County Durham Miner’s Son is Part 1 and was penned during the months of lockdown. Keith started practicing his writing over a decade ago through travellogs, blogs and Facebook posts.

The 70-year-old, who is Durham born and bred, now spends his time running a luxury bed and breakfast, The Old Post Office in Lanchester, with his wife Pauline.

However, it is his involvement in the creation of the Phileas Fogg snack brand – which transformed the adult snack market and put Consett, where the brand was created and developed, on the map – for which he is best known.

Boosted by memorable TV advertising campaigns, some of which included the fictional Consett International Airport and Punjab Airways, Phileas Fogg became a household staple thanks to its ‘grown up’ textures and flavours which gave consumers a taste of the world.

A decade after founding it, Keith Gill and his business partners sold the business in a multi-million-pound deal.

Keith said: “I had thought about writing a book for many years and had actually done a fair bit of work on it in stages but never got round to completing it. During lockdown, when the B&B was forced to close, I had more spare time so decided to make it my project. At that stage it was something to keep me occupied and the plan was the finished book was something my family and I could enjoy.

“However, word started spreading that I was penning my memoirs and friends and acquaintances got in touch to see if they could get a copy when it was finished. That’s when I decided to make it a proper published book which would be available to buy.

“I must admit it was a nerve-wracking experience. As a first-time writer my biggest concern was the quality of my work, but the early drafts received positive feedback, so I carried on.

“Throughout the writing of the book, I was so disciplined, setting myself targets for how many words I wanted to draft each week, and speaking to friends and family to make sure everything I was recollecting was accurate.”

Keith drew on the support of his Phileas Fogg and Tudor Crisps business partner Roger McKechnie to ensure the details of their time together were correct – they were, because as Keith says he has “been blessed with a good memory”.

Taking It Head On: Memoirs of a County Durham Miner’s Son, details Keith’s journey from his birth at Dryburn Hospital in Durham; his childhood growing up in villages across County Durham; and his school and college years.

Keith also relives his first steps into employment and being selected by betting company Ladbrokes for a six-week ‘schooling’ programme, which saw him finish third of 200 recruits nationally and be put through a management training programme.

Finally in 1977 Keith started at Tudor Crisps in Peterlee, which as he recalls was a ‘wow’ moment when he eventually discovered marketing and it discovered him. Keith worked for the company until 1982 when he left and it was from here that the Phileas Fogg journey began.

Keith added: “Penning my memoirs has been such a terrific experience for me. I am fortunate and blessed to have had some great support along the way, which has certainly helped me as it’s up there with the hardest things I’ve done.

“I just used Amazon as it mitigates the upfront costs but have been delighted with the reviews and 5 star ratings achieved in the first 6 weeks of the launch and appear to have found my ‘writing voice’

“If my entrepreneurial journey can inspire and enthuse the next generation, who can see that anything is possible with hard work and determination, then I will be even more proud to have helped but my proudest achievement is having helped create over 400 jobs and livelihoods for families across both parts of my overall journey in my native North East”.

TMD Friction donates £1,000 to Warrington hospice to mark H&S milestone

TMD Friction in Warrington has donated £1,000 to St Rocco’s Hospice as it marks a major health and safety milestone.

The site has recorded 1,000 days without any time being lost to accidents and as a thank you the company agreed to make the cash donation to a charity chosen by the employees on site.

They chose the hospice, which provides round the clock care to patients who have incurable and terminal illnesses, as many have had direct or indirect support from the facility.

Colin Andrews, Logistics Manager at TMD Friction’s Warrington facility, believes the site’s success in achieving the health and safety milestone is down to the commitment and work ethic of the 34 staff who work there.

Colin, who has been with the company for 38 years, said: “It really is a fantastic achievement to reach 1,000 days without losing any time due to accidents and the credit has to go to the team on site, who pride themselves on their high standards and organisation throughout the site.

“Health and safety is something we take incredibly seriously – for us it’s not just about what needs to be done, but the added extras that we can introduce which ensure that this site maintains our impeccable health and safety record – for example we’ve added safety features onto our fleet of forklift trucks, which isn’t a legal requirement, and our supplier tells us we’re the only customer in the UK that has done this. That’s something we’re so very proud of.

“When we reached the 1,000 days milestone and the company said they would recognise this achievement with a £1,000 donation to a charity of our choice, the guys straight away chose St Rocco’s Hospice in Warrington.

“It’s a charity we have supported in the past and one which not only provides a fantastic service to people across our community but one which means so much to the staff here – many of whom have friends or family members that have received care from the dedicated team there.”

A spokeswoman for St Rocco’s Hospice welcomed the donation from TMD Friction, as the hospice relies in large part to donations and fundraising campaigns. She said: “We are incredibly grateful to TMD Friction for their very generous donation.

“Donations like this are vital in us maintaining the high quality of care we are able to provide to our patients, and the support we can offer to their families. Thank you to the staff at TMD for choosing to support St Rocco’s Hospice, and we congratulate them on the health and safety milestone they’ve achieved.”

TMD Friction’s Warrington warehouse opened in 1993, originally supplying parts to depots around the country. Today it is a central distribution hub for the UK, servicing around 400 customers.

Tom Russell, UK Operations Manager at TMD Friction, said: “The guys at Warrington have worked so hard to ensure they maintain incredibly high health and safety standards, going over and above what’s required and expected to introduce systems and processes which are being highlighted across the group as models of best practice.”

Mullen Stoker on why people do business with people

It’s long been acknowledged that the key to a successful business is the relationships between staff and clients.

People do business with people after all.

And that’s certainly an ethos that sits at the very heart of Mullen Stoker, the Durham-based chartered accountancy and IT firm, as director Stephen Green explains…

When Mullen Stoker founders Neil Mullen and Gary Stoker launched their accountancy and IT firm 11 years ago, they were determined to do things differently.

They wanted to created a firm that put honesty, integrity and the personal touch at the heart of their client offering – a business that was built on relationships.

And that’s exactly what they’ve achieved.

Many of their clients – which range from sole traders to SMEs and large corporates – have been with them from day one. And the new business the Mandale Business Park firm brings in is usually through recommendation and word of mouth.

Director Stephen Green said: “We like to think that at Mullen Stoker we do things differently.

“It’s not about the thrill of the chase or making promises we don’t stick to. It’s about looking after our clients from day one, with the personal touch that we were determined would be at the heart of every client relationship.

“For us, it’s not about our clients feeling valued at the start – it’s about them feeling loved all the time. They have a dedicated contact from day one, and no matter when they need to speak to that person, they are available.

“People do business with people after all and that’s something we never lose sight of. We pride ourselves on the fact that when a client comes to Mullen Stoker they stay with us and have no hesitation in recommending us to their own friends and work colleagues.

“That’s something that cannot be underestimated.”

Dave Gardener, owner of long-term Mullen Stoker client Peter Dodd Funeral Directors in Sunderland, said: “Mullen Stoker are fantastic because they speak my language which is so important.

“They make the whole process so simple for me which is great because it is a minefield and there are so many areas we have to keep on top of.

“I always feel like nothing is too much trouble for them, that they’re always happy to go above and beyond for us and are on the other end of the phone if we have any questions we need help with.

“It’s for that reason that I would class them as friends as well as our accountants and for a small business like ours, that is crucial.”

Mullen Stoker was founded in 2020 and provides specialist accountancy and IT services. It currently employs 15 people with further plans to grow in 2021.

TMD Friction wins two prestigious global awards

TMD Friction Kaizen Award Winning Team
TMD Friction Kaizen Award Winning Team

TMD Friction in Hartlepool has beaten off competition from manufacturing plants around the world to win two global group awards for continuous improvement.

Every year the TMD Friction Group hold the Kaizen Awards to celebrate the success of projects implemented which have made a difference in terms of productivity, health and safety or training.

Usually held in person, this year’s awards took place virtually, with representatives from every site that had submitted projects for consideration attending.

There were four awards given out in total, with Hartlepool winning two – both categories the plant had entered, Best Use of Tools and the top award, Best Kaizen Project.

The project submitted was for a multi-employee led programme to improve overall equipment effectiveness. The project saw a six per cent uplift in productivity as a direct result of the Kaizen improvement techniques, which was recognised by the judging panel who selected the Hartlepool plant as the winner of the top award.

It is the second time in four years that a Hartlepool project team has walked away with the top award.

Michael Findlay, UK Engineering Excellence Manager at TMD Friction, said: “It’s a real honour for the team to have received the top award and for me, it demonstrates how much everyone is working together to improve production levels and create a better, more efficient, working environment.

“It was certainly a team effort, with around 30 staff members playing a part in the project and 15 of them receiving specific Kaizen techniques training to upskill.

“Our success has given us such a good foundation to build on, and since winning we have put a further 70 people through Kaizen programmes to improve various areas of the plant, including the shop floor and office, who have all undergone development training specifically to build on their understanding of the philosophy.

“I think it was this inclusive approach that the judging panel was particularly impressed with, as a key element of the Kaizen philosophy is to involve everyone in the improvement process.”

The team that developed the winning project was led by Matthew Price and consisted of Mark Wylie, Ste Rudd, Chris Grindley, Dave Metcalf, Jonny Robson, and Mark English.

Michael added: “Historically the top award has gone to an Original Equipment plant outside Europe, where they are generally more mature in their adoption and implementation of the Kaizen approach. So, for Hartlepool – an aftermarket site – to once again be chosen ahead of all other global sites is testament to the fantastic things going on here.”

Tom Russell, UK Operations Manager, said: “This award win – the second time Hartlepool has been recognised at the very top level – demonstrates that the plant is leading the way in the successful implementation of Kaizen improvement techniques. These techniques and processes are playing a significant part in the facility’s continuous growth and ambition to become thebest performing site in the TMD Friction Group portfolio.”

TMD Friction’s Hartlepool plant is the only UK production facility and has been making parts for the passenger car aftermarket since 1974.

It now employs 449 people in the North East.

The company, which manufactures brake pads for 95 per cent of the models for Europe’s aftermarket, including emergency services vehicles and many of the major distribution small trucks and vans, moved to its current base on Oakesway Trading Estate in 1998.

The past 12 months have seen 52 new products introduced at Hartlepool and two new flagship customers added to TMD Friction’s portfolio of automotive manufacturers.

ZF celebrates young female talent for International Women in Engineering Day

Beth Parodi from ZF Peterlee
Beth Parodi from ZF Peterlee with colleague Lee Faccinhi.

GLOBAL technology leader ZF is marking International Women in Engineering Day (Wednesday, June 23) with the appointment of another female engineering apprentice.

Beth Parodi started earlier this year as a Level-3 SQA apprentice. Having completed her probationary period with the Peterlee company, Beth is now working towards the many technical elements of her three-year apprenticeship.

Beth joins fellow engineering employee Holly Herron, who is into her third and final year of a Level-3 maintenance technician apprenticeship. Once she has completed the qualification, Holly will hopefully move onto an engineering HNC.

Beth, 19, from Sunderland said: “I am really enjoying my apprenticeship, it’s such a diverse role and I am learning lots of new skills. I aim to do really well so that when I have completed my apprenticeship, I can move up in the company.”

Both Beth and Holly have been recruited through Sunderland College, ZF Peterlee’s long-term apprenticeship partner.

Holly said: “ZF is an excellent company to work for and from day one everyone has been so supportive. I am currently working through the final year of my apprenticeship, after which I’m aiming to complete an engineering HNC, which I really hope will put me in the ideal position to move up within the company.”

Lance Herdman is Holly’s manager. He said: “Holly has integrated well within the maintenance team and has gained a lot of respect from her fellow technicians, who have been impressed with her work ethic and attitude to learning and pushing herself.

“I understand from speaking to other department managers that Beth is also progressing well and has shown real enthusiasm in the role.”

Carolyn Bird from the HR team managed the recruitment of both Beth and Holly and is delighted at how they have settled into the business.

She said: “Both Holly and Beth have done so well with their apprenticeships so far, during what has been a very difficult period.

“It’s been especially hard for Holly given she has had to continue with her apprenticeship during three lockdown periods, which have understandably presented us and Holly with many challenges. However, they’ve both knuckled down and not let the circumstances affect them which is testament to them and their commitment to their development.”

Lisa Hudson, HR Manager at ZF Peterlee, added: “As a company, ZF believes in apprenticeships as a way of developing talent and is also delighted to be championing young female engineering recruits like Holly and Beth. It is so important that the industry attracts more women and global events like International Women in Engineering Day can only help that.

“Investing in fresh talent is a key element of our succession planning programme. However, just as importantly, we are committed to the development of all of our staff, so when we bring people into the business we support them through their learning and development and encourage them to take the opportunities for further progression that come their way.

“It’s an approach which has really enhanced ZF Peterlee’s continued growth and secured our position of a global automotive technology centre of excellence within the group.”

ZF Peterlee, which employs around 900 people, is a worldwide leader in the production of automotive camera safety technology, with millions of pounds of investment committed in the last few years to support the continued growth of the market.

£2m investment puts TMD Friction in the driving seat for growth

TMD Friction

TMD Friction in Hartlepool has outlined ambitious plans to grow during 2021 after securing over £2m of investment from the TMD Friction Group.

The global automotive manufacturer, which has one of two UK production facilities in Hartlepool, has been making parts for the passenger car aftermarket since 1974 and now employs 449 people in the North East.

TMD Friction, which manufactures brake pads for 95 per cent of the models of Europe’s aftermarket, including emergency services vehicles and many of the major distribution small trucks and vans, moved to its current base on Oakesway Trading Estate in 1998.

And despite the challenging economic climate due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, TMD Friction is building on a successful end to 2020 and first quarter of 2021 by continuing to scale up production to meet global demand and expects to be making around 120,000 parts per week throughout 2021.

The growth has been supported by investment in new employees and new machinery, including £450,000 on a new paint line and £250,000 on state-of-the-art air compressors. Further investment has been made to make the plant Covid-safe, to upskill staff in all areas of the business, improve health and safety performance and in better software and technology to boost internal communications processes.

TMD Friction’s CEO, David Baines, said: “The Hartlepool site has grown massively in the past 12 months, despite the global coronavirus pandemic, and we now have the broadest capabilities in the group at Hartlepool. In fact, the chances are if you are changing the brake pads on your car, they will have been made in Hartlepool.

“To build on that, and really establish this facility as a global centre of excellence, the group has committed significant investment which will support the continued scale up of production.

“Alongside that, we are investing in our existing workforce and bringing new talent into the business which will help us achieve the ambitious plans we’ve put in place for the current financial year.”

The past 12 months have seen 52 new products introduced at Hartlepool and two new flagship customers added to TMD Friction’s portfolio of automotive manufacturers.

The company’s other UK sites in Elvington, Warrington and Cleckheaton have also benefited from investment to support operations at Hartlepool.

Tom Russell, UK Operations Manager, added: “The growth at the Hartlepool plant over the past 12 months – probably the hardest 12 months we’ve ever faced – is down to the dedication and commitment of our workforce.

“As a team we’ve shown real resilience and as a result only six days of production time were lost during the pandemic – six days where we closed the plant and worked round the clock to get the production areas Covid-safe.

“Since then, production has been significantly upscaled and we’re now making more of the product range here at Hartlepool than anywhere else in the world.

“That’s something we’re incredibly proud of and credit has to go to our staff who have worked tirelessly to ensure we’re consistently meeting production targets.”

Mullen Stoker feature: Why teamwork is key to company growth

Mullen Stoker Team

CHARTERED accountancy firm Mullen Stoker celebrated its tenth birthday last year, marking the milestone by announcing ambitious plans to grow across the region.

The Durham-based company, which now employs 15 people, is branching out in Northumberland, having secured the services of rural and farming expert Cathy Eales who is well established in the area.

And as director Neil Mullen tells us, it is the people within the company that are key to its continued growth and success.

Since launching in 2010, Mullen Stoker has enjoyed year on year growth, building up an extensive portfolio of accountancy clients from sole traders to footballers, TV stars to large corporates.

Alongside the accountancy division of the business, Mullen Stoker has also seen its IT department grow rapidly, particularly over the past 15 months as more and more businesses have introduced a hybrid model allowing staff to split their time between the office and home working.

Now, as the company looks to build on the success its enjoyed in its first decade of operations, director Neil Mullen is keen to praise the role every member of staff within Mullen Stoker has played in the year on year growth.

Neil, who co-founded Belmont Business Park-based Mullen Stoker with fellow director Gary Stoker, said: “There’s no doubt our hugely talented team is the most important ingredient in our continued success.

“We’re incredibly lucky that every member of staff, regardless of their role or seniority, is committed to doing the very best they can for the company. They really do excel in their own roles and specialisms and are happy to share their knowledge to others in the team so we’re all constantly learning.

“I can genuinely say that without the people, we would not be where we are now.

“Thyey are at the very heart of what we do, and whether it’s investing in our existing employees or recruiting young talent or personnel with vast industry experience, every individual is as important as the next.

“I also think we’re fortunate that everyone within Mullen Stoker genuinely likes working for the company – we spend more time with the people we work with than our families so enjoying coming to work is a must.”

Mullen Stoker recently announced the appointments of Cathy Eales and Steve Hutton, who have joined the team to spearhead the growth in two key areas – Northumberland, where Cathy was previously based and has extensive knowledge and contacts, and auditing and compliance, which is Steve’s area of expertise.

Neil added: “Attracting people of Cathy and Steve’s calibre will ensure we build on the success we’ve enjoyed in our first 11 years and help us realise our ambitious vision to establish the business as the leading chartered accountancy and IT specialist in the North East region.”

EDBS hails success of new starts and growing businesses

LEC Client Work

A BUSINESS support organisation has hailed the success of the businesses and entrepreneurs it has supported, proving the coronavirus lockdown wasn’t all doom and gloom.

In the 13 months since the country went into lockdown, East Durham Business Service has helped a number of budding entrepreneurs to launch their own business.

Alongside the new-start support it provides, the Peterlee-based organisation has also welcomed several new firms into Novus Business Centre and played a pivotal role in the growth of existing tenant companies.

One new addition to the facility is e-commerce specialist Rogers and Rogers, which works with online retailers to grow their digital presence and increase sales online.

The company was launched by husband-and-wife Andrew and Kimberley Rogers in 2017, who decided to move into Novus Business Centre earlier this year after outgrowing their home office.

Andrew said: “Our business quickly outgrew the space we occupied at home, and alongside the fact we wanted to take on professional office space to host client meetings, we decided it was the right time to make the move.

“We knew about Novus Business Centre so came to have a look, and felt the facility was the perfect environment for us to grow our business.”

The first few months of 2021, most of which were spent in the third national lockdown, have also proved fruitful for long-term tenant LEC Communications and Design, which moved into Novus Business Centre in 2013 having been launched by communications expert and former business journalist Leanne Fawcett the year previously.

Leanne said: “After what was undoubtedly a challenging 2020, I’m delighted to say the first four months of this year have been really good for us, with several new businesses coming on board and existing clients increasing the support they receive from us.

“I’m now looking forward and feel optimistic that the growth projections I put in place at the start of last year are once again achievable.”

East Durham Business Service has also helped several budding entrepreneurs launch their own businesses during the pandemic, including Peterlee mum of two Aiysha Homer who founded Dreadsrock; Amy Speckman from Murton who set up Sweetie Treats; and Melissa Pigford, who is the most recent enterprising success story, having launched Material Mel Creations, which makes eco-friendly bags, in December 2020.

Melissa, 30, from Peterlee said: “I’ve always had a feeling I’d end up starting my own creative business. My background is a mix of fine art, textiles and costume design, so I have a wide variety of skills that blend really well with making eco-friendly bags and accessories.

“My adviser was Hina Joshi, who was great in working with me to develop a business plan and review all elements of running a business, so I was properly prepared when I did launch Material Mill Creators.

“I am really enjoying working for myself, being able to fully showcase my creative passion, and am excited to see the business grow as we gradually return to normality.”

The new-start support offered by East Durham Business Service is through the Enterprise Support in the North East programme through the European Regional Development Fund.

Denise Fielding, Operations Director at East Durham Business Service, said: “There’s no denying it’s been a tough 12 months for the business community, but there are some real positives to take from it too.

“We have been able to support existing tenants to grow, we’ve welcomed new companies into the centre and we’ve helped budding entrepreneurs realise their dreams of starting their own businesses. For me that’s testament to our resilience and determination that even when the chips are down, we have remained committed to doing what we do best – nurturing business growth and helping new starts launch, both of which are vital to the region’s economic growth and prosperity.”

New owners target triple growth for training and apprenticeship provider TACS

TACS Training

NEW owners of a training and apprenticeship provider have announced ambitious plans to triple the number of learners it supports into careers.

TACS, based at Novus Business Centre in Peterlee, was recently bought out by business owner Neil Armstrong and son-in-law Daniel Cooper.

The company was launched 14 years ago to support the manufacturing and engineering sectors and grew to support around 60 apprentices per year working with employers across the north.

In December 2020 Daniel and Neil – with the support of TACS’ existing employees –  took the helm and quickly restructured the management team. Adrian Joyce was appointed to head up the Housing and Property apprenticeship programmes, a new venture for the business; Rob Dignen remianed Head of Manufacturing and Engineering; whilst operationaly Daniel is overseeing the Trade and Wholesale department.

After undertaking a comprehensive review of the business, its clients and the potential to grow, Daniel has revealed TACS’ management team is planning to increase the number of apprentices it supports by around 200 per year and add to the company’s internal headcount with at least four new reruits across its new departments, taking its workforce to 14.

Expansion has already started with the appointment of three new members of staff and the internal promotion of Phillipa Walker to manage Support Services.

Daniel said: “The buyout of TACS was opportune really. I was already delivering apprenticeships within the Trade and Wholesale industry which unfortunately came to an unexpected end when the whole department was made redundant in March 2020.

“When I spoke to owner Rick Nicholson, it was clear he was in the market to sell, so I spoke to my father-in-law and we decided it was the perfect fit. The buyout was completed in December and now we’ve got to grips with the business, we have mapped out how we want it to grow over the coming years.

“The transfer of my existing apprentices and appointment of Adrian in Housing & Property allowed us to become a national provider overnight and we are now delivering apprenticeships for clients  right down the country to the South Coast.

“Our future plans include initially tripling the number of apprentices we have on our books, from 60 to around 180, and strengthening our team with at least four new people from their respective industries, which we can then train to be trainers – individuals who share our ambition to really establish TACS as one of the leading training and apprenticeship providers in our sectors.”

TACS offers bespoke learning and development solutions, tailored specifically to meet the individual needs of every client regardless of their size, whether they’re in the manufacturing, engineering, housing or trade and wholesale sectors.

Daniel added: “We are hugely passionate about what we do and want to position TACS at the heart of our clients’ growth plans.

“We really believe we can take this business to the next level and are confident that we can achieve the rightly ambitious plans that Neil, Adrian, Rob and I put in place when setting out our growth strategy. We will achieve these plans whilst maintaining quality of education and positive destinations for our apprentices, despite the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has presented.”