Made in Britain: JJ Churchill

What does your company do? What products services does it provide?
JJ Churchill Ltd is a 76 year-old high-quality, precision-engineering business in aerospace, power generation, defence and high-horsepower diesel engine sectors, employing 124 highly-skilled and motivated people.

Where did the idea for your business come from?
After reading engineering at Cambridge in the 1920’s, my grandfather, Walter Churchill, made the unusual decision to undertake a full apprenticeship with Armstrong Siddeley; in the same period he also worked with Frank Whittle (Later, Sir) at the dawn of the jet age. After completing his apprenticeship and whilst PA to the Armstrong Siddeley Chairman he suggested the idea of setting-up next-door as an independent sub-contractor to deliver improved quality and cost (as you can see, there’s nothing new in sub-contracting!) and it was then that our company as born.

As an RAF fighter pilot and Group Captain with 605 Squadron, he didn’t survive the War and from 1942 the business was run by my Grandmother at the age of 28. Our company is his legacy.

When did you start up, and what support were you given?
We’re a third-generation, family-owned business started on Christmas Day, 1937. As for business support offered at the time – I’ve no idea. However, fast-forward to present day and we’ve received a wealth of government support; from the MAS and the Regional Growth Fund, which has helped facilitate our expansion here in the UK, through to invaluable and high-calibre assistance from UKTI, overseas.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?
In 2010 we won Rolls-Royce’s Global Aerospace Supplier of the Year award, against about 30,000 companies of all sizes across the world.

Our biggest internal achievement is consistently taking school-leavers from the age of 16 and mentoring them through their 4 year apprenticeship and subsequent training, to see them competing as best-in-class in our industry in just a matter of years.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?
To take the plunge and set-up our first overseas manufacturing venture, accessing the North American market from a new Mexican facility. Luckily, we had a lot of in-country support from UKTI and now we’ve been awarded a matched-funded grant from “Sharing in Growth”, which is designed to raise the capability of UK Aerospace workers through upskilling and continuous engagement over the next 4 years, in order to share in the anticipated growth of this global industry.

I would advise anyone else looking for this kind of support to use the Business is GREAT campaign, which offers information, inspiration and support for businesses to take the next step in their growth journey.

How would you say you differentiate yourself from the competition?
We are a people-focused business and our employees come first – before our customers – because if we don’t look after our people, we’ll never retain or win customers. Through our people we demonstrate an excellence in the application of technology to innovative process improvement.

What has been the best decision you have made to-date?
To have invested in advanced technology; driving innovation during a period of sustained economic recession. By being counter-cyclical in our investment strategy we were able to benefit from better equipment prices and shorter lead-times during a period when our competitors were pulling-back on investment – thereby ensuring we were appropriately tooled-up for the recovery.

Where do you see the business in 12 months’ time?
I anticipate that our Mexican venture will be up-and-running; the business as a whole will have continued to grow both in terms of revenue and profit and we will have taken-on about 14 new, full-time employees in the UK.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Having a clear vision for your business is important – and your employees must be able to articulate it. What’s more, having a statement of values that all existing (and potential) employees buy into will help create the desired culture of your business.

I’d recommend all prospective entrepreneurs to develop a long-term strategic business plan. Ensure (as far as is possible) that it is evidence-based and has the buy-in of your employees, customers and bank. Refresh this Plan and roll it forward every quarter ensuring continued relevance. Use it as the framework against which all business decisions are measured and to communicate well-managed risk to your bank. It will ensure you keep things on-track, help you focus on where you want to be and give you the confidence to invest against a pre-agreed plan.

What do you find most satisfying about running a business?
Without a doubt it’s the huge variety of day-to-day challenges – be they the prosaic, personal or technical, running a small business brings every conceivable ‘flavour’ of task and is different every day. Alongside this, I’d add that I gain immense pleasure seeing detailed plans coming to fruition, my employees managing the delivery of complex projects to our customers and in the process themselves growing and developing.

Why do you think British brands/products like yours appeal so much to overseas consumers? What makes them unique?
Although JJ Churchill is well-regarded as a brand inside the European industrial sectors within which we compete, it is more the excellence of our quality and delivery record as well as our investment in technology that catches potential overseas customers’ eyes.