What drove the company to relocate from Scotland to Powys in the 1990s?
Partly, it was the potential support. Ever since the days of the Mersey Dee Alliance (MDA) in the 1980s, Wales has been known to back industry. We’re now right on the border with England, and while the founder, Bob Gilliard, could have established the business on the English side, he realised that this support plus competitive rent and rates made it more advantageous to be located in Wales.
You operate in a specialised industry. Does Powys offer a good access to the right talent?
Our core business is in battery supply, installation and servicing – plus training. We operate throughout the UK, and our site engineers can be based anywhere in the country. But because the battery industry is very bespoke in its requirements, we prefer to train apprentices to grow our business. Our first apprentice, Rob, has now been with us for 12 years, and we’ve had a dozen more over that period. We’ve never had a problem getting the right quality of person: there’s obviously talent out there.
How important has it been to create a qualification geared to the industry?
It’s been a bugbear of Bob and his son Chris, the current MD, that people can work on batteries with absolutely no qualifications, so we developed the EAL-accredited, Ofqual-approved VRQ Level 3 in Standby Battery Systems. It takes up to two years, and all our site engineers are put through it. We also deliver one and two-day battery awareness courses, and are in the process of getting those accredited. This gives us an enormous market. We’ve trained warehouse people who work with batteries, people who install them, employees of major car companies and workers in the nuclear sector. Creating suitably qualified and experienced personnel is fundamental to our industry.
What’s the attraction of Wales for your company, and for businesses in general?
Culture and talent. There are a lot of very capable people who were brought up here, have gone to university, developed tremendous skills, and now want to come back. We’re able to get well-qualified people because it’s the lifestyle they want as much as the work. Our belief as a company is that it’s the culture that matters. We look after our staff and our customers, we do the right things environmentally, and we reinvest to make sure we’re moving forward as a company. Our culture fits very comfortably in Wales in that context.
What’s in the pipeline for NiBS?
One of the frustrations I have is that people are obsessed with growth. By contrast, what we’re after is a company that’s sustainable. This is a family-owned business and we have no debts or commercial shareholders. We’re about making a reasonable profit, and we invest that in the business. It’s all about being built on solid foundations, so that the company carries on for a long, long time. Instead of having another 50 jobs this year, 50 next year and then imploding, we’d prefer to support 25 jobs over 100 years. That sort of long-term vision is far more important to us.