North East Business Insider Q&A with Tom Russell from TMD Friction

How was 2021 for the company? Did it perform as expected, above expectations or did the challenges brought by the pandemic hamper performance?

There’s no doubt 2021 was a year of highs and lows, with many of the lows the result of circumstances beyond our control.

The coronavirus pandemic had a massive impact on our business in 2021, mainly because of the number of staff who were forced to isolate. At one point we were around 25 per cent down on numbers which, for a business like ours which relies on shift outputs to maintain production levels, has a huge knock-on effect.

However, the changes to isolation rules, which brought an end to the ‘pingdemic’, was a game-changer for us, and really did help us get back on track in terms if staffing numbers and results.

As we look back on the year as a whole, we’re happy with what we have achieved and thankful for the team effort. We are nearing our weekly production output targets that we set at the start of 2021, and are confident these will be achieved at the start of 2022.

What kind of momentum is the company ending the year with? Will it start 2022 in a strong position?

The final few months have been busier than ever for the business, so much so that the traditional festive shutdown we normally have in place was cancelled because the demand for brake pad production is so great. We’re basically working around the clock to achieve output levels that our clients require, and of course, we must thank our staff for their willingness to work the increased hours needed to ensure we fulfil orders.

This unprecedented demand means 2021 will roll into 2022 seamlessly, and guarantees we’re starting the year in a strong position. Not only that but current client orders mean the first six months of the year are going to be tremendously busy and it’s likely that will remain the case throughout 2022.

What kind of challenges – either in industry or on a wider national scale – might the company come up against in 2022?

The main challenge we are currently facing is access to the right people. The labour market doesn’t seem to be in a particularly strong position with many manufacturers including TMD Friction struggling to recruit the people we need. It’s crazy that we have the jobs there and want to recruit, but can’t because we can’t find the people.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the coronavirus pandemic is still with us, and the new Omicron variant is causing significant problems globally. But as an employer that made vast changes to our way of working to ensure our environment is clean and Covid-safe for every member of our staff, we will continue to operate in a ‘business as usual’ way and of course, review the position on a regular basis.

Do you have any plans moving forward to expand the team?

Yes, absolutely. As I’ve said we need to increase staff numbers to meet client demand, so that’s our number one priority and something we are actively looking at.

In 2021, our workforce increased from 460 to 508, which is a significant increase, particularly in the current climate.

What would it like to achieve over the next 12 months? What would you want to have achieved if we had this chat next year?

Well, first and foremost to continue to perform safely and successfully, meeting international demand for our products which increases year on year.

We’re close to having the building blocks in place to enable us to hit our output targets of manufacturing 120,000 parts per week which is fantastic and testament to the hard work and commitment of our workforce who continuously go above and beyond what’s expected of them.

In 2021 we secured over £3m of investment across the plant, so we’ll be working closely with our parent group to secure further financial commitment that will support our continued growth in Hartlepool.

On a personal level, I’m also supporting the recruitment of young talent into the business. Our apprentices are key members of our team and with a proven track record in promoting them once they’re fully qualified, TMD Friction is the perfect business for people looking to secure long-term careers with an employer that will reward potential with the chance to move into more senior positions.