With more than 170 years of export pedigree, the Fothergill Group supplies performance glass fibre, aramid and carbon fibre to a number of industries across the world, including the aerospace, defence and automotive sectors. CEO Pat Brennan tells The Parliamentary Review that the firm has pioneered, invested and created through three separate centuries. He talks about his background and sets out the Fothergill structure of 2020.Growing from idyllic beginnings on a farm in the west of Ireland to the heights of ownership of the companies that make up the Fothergill Group is something I am very proud of. The challenge of shaping the future was something I dared to dream of throughout my formative years. Following the completion of my Irish Leaving Certificate examination, I spent three years training for the Roman Catholic priesthood. Following my departure from there, I studied accountancy and qualified as both a certified accountant and a chartered accountant.
CEO: Pat Brennan
Founded in: 1847
Located in Littleborough, Greater Manchester
Services: Weaving, knitting, rubber compounding, rubber coating and conversion of high-performance synthetic and natural textiles, PTFE coating, fire and thermal protection, EMI shielding and fabrication
No. of employees: 300
I joined Chemfab, an American corporation listed on the New York Stock Exchange, in Kilrush, County Clare, Ireland, in 1985 as financial controller. While at Kilrush, I played a pivotal role in the acquisition of two UK distribution companies. In 1990, following the acquisitions, I relocated with my family to England, where I assumed the position of managing director of the newly acquired businesses, which I renamed Chemfab UK and consolidated into one company.
Due to my background in finance, I became involved in identifying acquisition opportunities at Chemfab UK. In 1995, through a complex deal, the performance fabrics division of Courtaulds Aerospace was acquired.
The division encompassed two subdivisions: Tygaflor and Fothergill Engineered Fabrics. Chemfab acquired Tygaflor, and together with a business partner, Gay O’Gara, I acquired FEF, which had origins as a cotton weaver and had been trading for 150 years.
I continued to work for Chemfab for three years as the managing director of Tygaflor while also assuming the position of FEF CEO. In that period, I merged Chemfab UK with Tygaflor; at the same time, I separated FEF from Tygaflor.
Since 1995, FEF has been determined to maintain and develop its role as a leading supplier of woven and knitted high-performance textiles produced from its weaving looms and knitting machines. FEF utilises many fibre types, including glass, carbon and aramid, to manufacture its fabrics. At its finishing plant, it applies a huge variety of water-based chemical treatments to enhance the fabric properties.
FEF’s fabrics are used by the aerospace, defence, thermal protection, hot gas and molten metal filtration, and automotive industries, among others.
Such is FEF’s expertise in developing new solutions for sensitive problems through its continuous programme of research and development that it can design fabrics to match customers’ exact requirements.
In 2000, we purchased two companies: AO Ferguson and Polycom. These businesses have subsequently been incorporated into one company – Fothergill Polycom. This business had been trading successfully for 100 years and is a world-renowned producer of custom rubber compounds and speciality elastomer-coated fabrics.
Among others, it uses glass and aramid fabrics woven at FEF as its substrate raw material. This strategic alliance further enhances the external perception of the Fothergill Group as well as its ability to provide customers with effective solutions to their problems.
FP has three divisions: AOF, Superide and Polycom. Polycom manufactures rubber compounds in slab and strip,which are both supplied to external customers and used by the AOF and Superide divisions.
It also serves many diverse industries, including those producing seals, gaskets and moulded products for automotive market sectors. AOF manufactures specialty rubber- coated fabrics for industrial, leisure and sportswear applications, where reliability and technical performance are required to meet rigid customer needs.
Superide produces single and double-side rubber-coated fabrics for high-performance industrial applications.
In 2003, we established Fothergill Coated Fabrics on a greenfield site.
FCF specialises in PTFE-coated fabrics, tapes and process conveyor belts, using Fothergill Polycom.
In a quarter of a century, through hard work by a dedicated and proud workforce, we have grown this business into a conglomerate with 300 staff and a turnover of £50 million.
Just over a decade ago, I acquired Gay O’Gara’s shares to take full control and ownership of the business, marketing the organisation from that point as the Fothergill Group.
In 2012 we established Fothergill Australia Pty in Melbourne, Australia, which distributes the Fothergill range of products.
In 2017 we acquired TBA Protective Technologies – a business that has traded for 150 years – out of administration, together with its Australian subsidiary, which has operations in Sydney and Brisbane.UK production capabilities include carding, yarn dref spinning, doubling and coating, needlefelt, weaving, aluminising, and braiding. The CAC division expands TBA’s capability to fabricate TBA products while maintaining the quality of the final products, which include high- quality garments and fire-related protective products.
TBA’s products provide fire and thermal protection. The Firefly division specialises in non-rigid flexible fire barriers for construction and marine applications, which prevent the spread of smoke, flame and heat through walls and roof voids, providing compartmentalisation.
Manufactured from glass fabrics, they are easy to install horizontally and vertically. They help to contain fire, give building occupants extra time to evacuate and enable the fire service to enter safely. The Fothershield division was created to further widen the product offering, by providing a total electromagnetic interference shielding solutions package.
In a quarter of a century, through hard work by a dedicated and proud workforce, we have grown this business, in the Rochdale and Oldham district of the North West, into a conglomerate with 300 staff and a turnover of £50 million. We have moved on from being an SME and taken our place among the world’s large organisations.
We operate in an industry where competition is fierce, and yet through our innovation and research, we can attain world-class EBITDA and bottom-line percentages.
The European Union, with its open borders, has massively helped our success and improved the welfare of our workforce. Any interference with free movement of goods to and from the largest and wealthiest economic block in the world will have very serious consequences not only for the Fothergill Group but also for manufacturing throughout the length and breadth of Britain.
We unequivocally and respectfully emphasise upon the government the importance of the industrial sector to this country and consequentially ask that they tread carefully.