‘Does making things matter anymore?’, MT wondered last month. While our emotive attachment to manufacturing may be at least partly irrational, what’s clear is that a stronger industrial base would be a welcome foil to Britain’s lopsided, financial services reliant economy of today. We can’t all be bankers and ad execs.
With that in mind, here’s the crème de la crème of the industrial world – Britain’s 10 Most Admired industrial companies. We created the list by combining several of the sectors from our Most Admired Companies research (Chemicals, Heavy Construction, Engineering & Machinery and Oil, Gas & Extractive.)
Whether they’re sucking oil from the ground, laying roads or making catalytic converters, these companies are keeping the lights on and the nation (and world) moving. Most are big exporters with operations all over the world - exactly the kinds of companies we need to see more of post-Brexit.
1. Royal Dutch Shell, 96.3
Shell’s £35bn acquisition of rival BG Group attracted a lot of negative attention. At a time of crisis for the sector, which has had to slash costs in response to the plummeting value of oil, some feared Shell was paying too high a price. But things seem to have worked out ok thus far – its quarterly profits were up 18% in its most recent market update and its shares are gradually returning to pre-slump levels.
2. Johnson Matthey, 93.9
The overall winner of 2014’s Most Admired Companies put in another good showing this year. A manufacturer of catalytic converters, Johnson Matthey is now branching out into batteries – a field that’s bound to become increasingly important as more of us switch to electric cars.
3. Spirax-Sarco Engineering, 93.6
Steam system engineering may not sound the most glamorous of industries to be in but as Spirax-Sarco proves, it can be very lucrative indeed. Adjusted pre-tax profits were up 16% to £76.2m in the first half of this year.
4. Rotork, 90.0
It’s been a challenging year or two for Rotork, which makes valves and actuators (devices that open and close said valves). The Bath-based company was hit hard by the downturn in the oil and gas sector, but it has benefitted from the post-referendum slump in the pound.
5. Melrose, 88.5
Melrose isn’t an operating company in its own right but a turnaround vehicle that acquires industrial businesses. The newest in its portfolio is Nortek, a US-based manufacturer of ‘lifestyle innovations,’ including heating equipment and security systems.
Read more: Britain's Most Admired Companies 2016
6. Victrex, 88.2
Victrex makes plastic, but not any old plastic - ‘high performance aromatic polyketone solutions’, used to keep planes in the air, cars on the road and other companies’ manufacturing operations in business.
7. Croda, 85.8
Another chemicals firm, Croda produces a wide variety of substances used in everything from ice cream to pesticide and paints. Its latest quarterly sales soared by 20% to £325.3m and the company is on the march in Asia, having recently opened labs in Indonesia, Korea and China, and an office in Tehran.
8. BHP Billiton, 85.4
The only mining company to make the top 10, Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton puts in a good showing despite the controversial fall-out of the Bento Rodrigues dam disaster in Brazil. The company says it wants half of its workforce to be women by 2025, a bold aim in a sector that remains stubbornly male.
9. BP, 85
BP has been dogged by echoes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster ever since the oil rig exploded way back in 2010. There was some light at the end of the tunnel this year as a federal judge approved its final $20bn (£15.8bn) settlement – though it will take 16 years to pay it all off.
10. Kier Group, 84.2
Bedfordshire-based Kier was founded by a pair of Danes in Stoke on Trent way back in 1928. Today it dabbles in everything from civil engineering to house building and facilities management. It has completed work on London’s new Crossrail project and has been shortlisted (along with Carillion and Eiffage) to work on HS2.