How the Bamfords dig deeper to propel JCB clear of rivals; Family, business and politics are controversially entwined at the UK’s most successful construction equipment maker

How the Bamfords dig deeper to propel JCB clear of rivals

Family, business and politics are controversially entwined at the UK’s most successful construction equipment maker.


Digger history: JCB chief Sir Anthony Bamford with his son, Jo. Photo: David Marsden

By Louise Armitstead, Chief business correspondent

9:00PM BST 08 Sep 2013

While Sir Anthony Bamford is accused of using his JCB fortune to bulldoze his way into British politics, his father had precisely the opposite complaint. Politics, in the form of trade unions, burrowed into his digger company in the 1970s and ultimately drove Joseph Cyril Bamford to quit. The soon-to-be Lord Bamford, who was made a life peer last month, remembers the day his father stood on a trailer to address workers as a wave of union militancy swept the country.“He told them they would always be well-paid and looked after,” says Sir Anthony. “But they booed him. He tried again, and they booed him again. The advent of unions made him want to leave more than anything else.”

The original JCB left in 1975, aged 58. But at the engineering giant, family, business and politics have always been entwined.

Sir Anthony, who next year will have worked for JCB for 50 years, took over when entrepreneurs faced punitive taxes and British manufacturing was being all but mothballed by the Government. Aided by Thatcher reforms, Sir Anthony expanded JCB’s innovative digger designs into one of the world’s heavyweight industrial giants.

Right now, Sir Anthony’s success in the sector the Government is desperate to revive has led to David Cameron calling on his expertise in the House of Lords. But his estimated £5m in donations to the Conservatives, a tax row two years ago, and the weight of his £3.2bn family fortune have combined to make him a controversial choice.

Meanwhile, at JCB the next generation is coming down the line. Sir Anthony’s son and JCB’s heir apparent, Jo, 35, has quietly clocked up a decade at the firm. The elder son of Sir Anthony and Lady Bamford’s three children is now the managing director of JCB Compact Products.

In their first double interview, the pair insist there is no plan for change in the JCB driver’s seat at the moment. But although in Westminster the heat centres on Sir Anthony, at JCB’s World Headquarters in Staffordshire, it’s more of a double act. “Dad is 68 next month,” teases Jo. “Will you stop saying that?” says Sir Anthony.

More seriously, Sir Anthony says: “We can talk about the Conservatives, peerages, and donations if you want, but the reality is our business comes before anything. It is a family business – Jo is in the business with me.”

“I’m heavily involved,” adds Jo. “But Dad’s got a hell of a big job and I’m not sure I’ve got the experience to take over yet.” The Bamfords were historically blacksmiths who expanded into making farm machinery in the 19th century. Sir Anthony’s father started at the family firm but decided to go it alone when his uncle fired him. The late Mr Bamford, as he’s still known at JCB, sold his first trailer from a garage in Uttoxeter on the day Sir Anthony was born in 1945. His big breakthrough was the innovative JCB backhoe loader, which is still produced at the rate of 72 a day at the company’s vast headquarters.

Sir Anthony had a rather more charmed start: Ampleforth College followed by Grenoble University, where he says he did “more skiing than anything else”. He planned to be a photographer. “You did some DJ-ing too,” chips in Jo, which is acknowledged with a raised eyebrow from Sir Anthony. But, eventually bored by the lifestyle,
Sir Anthony decided to try his father’s tougher route and did two years apprenticeship at Massey Ferguson
in France.

Jo followed a similar path: Ampleforth, Edinburgh University and then a stint in fund management in London. He, too, decided to try the family firm, via the workmen’s entrance. “My first job here was on the line in the factory putting machines together: the shift started at 6am.” His view is that the best bosses, like most of those at JCB, are those who started at the bottom and understand the whole process.

Sir Anthony says his father was “an engineering genius”. He adds: “I couldn’t have done what he did, which was start a business from nothing.” Instead, he took over the financing and servicing parts of the business.

When Sir Anthony took the helm, JCB produced three different machines, had one manufacturing plant and a turnover of £40m. The company now makes 380 types of machine in 22 plants around the world, and generated a turnover of £2.7bn last year.

JCB accounts for 41pc of UK civil engineering exports and contributes £1.4bn to UK GDP. It has 10,000 employees, but a study by Oxford Economics estimated that JCB sustains 24,000 UK jobs. All this, as Sir Anthony points out, when jobs in UK manufacturing have fallen by 40pc in two decades. Little wonder, then, that the Bamfords, who still own 100pc of JCB, also have political clout. Both father and son have strong views on a range of broader business issues, from High Speed Rail to Heathrow expansion and education.

“I’ve always been active in the local Conservatives,” says Sir Anthony who says his support, like his father’s before him, is philosophical.

“I think they are better at representing business than Labour has been historically.” But are big businessmen able to buy influence in government?

“Not in our case,” Sir Anthony says firmly. Jo says: “If you’re talking of buying influence, the funny thing is we’ve never met the Business Secretary. And we give far more to other things. We’ve given a lot more money to the NSPCC than we do to the Conservative Party.”

Sir Anthony, who was knighted in 1990, was first put forward for a peerage in 2010. “There was a black mark next to my name with the Revenue,” he says. “But PricewaterhouseCoopers, who had not been my personal accountants, did an in-depth and complete review of my accounts going back 10 years. And actually found that the Revenue owed me money. [The allegations were] completely wrong.”

So the Prime Minister offered him a peerage again. “He’s asked me to contribute in the areas of manufacturing, engineering and exports,” he says.

Last week, official measures showed the outputs and new orders in British factories grew last month at their fastest pace in almost 20 years. The Government was quick to claim victory: George Osborne once declared that the UK economy would be “carried aloft on the march of the makers”.

But Sir Anthony, who engaged with Lord Mandelson’s “industrial activism” as well as the Coalition’s “industrial strategy”, is less impressed.

After all, the manufacturing sector is still 10pc smaller than it was before the credit crisis. “They may have talked about it a lot, but I don’t think either party has been that bothered by manufacturing,” he says. “In the main they are looking at tomorrow’s press, and manufacturing isn’t something that is instant. The UK lost its foundries, for example, and many millions are needed to invest in a new one and it would take many years after that to build one up.”

Last year, Sir Anthony wrote a manufacturing review for the Prime Minister, calling for a greater focus on smaller manufacturing companies.

He says: “When politicians talk about manufacturing, they talk about Rolls-Royce or JCB or Dyson, yet there are thousands of smaller manufacturers who need support.”

The key, he argues, is low taxes and consistency of policy. “Germany has had consistent policy for 50 years, it’s not been stop-start, stop-start. Politicians, unions and businesses are geared towards wanting manufacturing to work. And Germany is the biggest exporter in the world.”

Education is Sir Anthony’s other major focus, to provide the UK with an able workforce. The Government has made promises, but in Staffordshire the Bamfords have already made a start.

On top of its long-running apprenticeship scheme, two years ago JCB started an academy for pupils aged 14-18. “We have 500 pupils and they spend half the day in overalls learning engineering,” he says.

He adds: “It’s common sense to me. But the economic part is that it’s providing people who are properly qualified for our business, or other people’s business, in the future.”

They will be in great demand at JCB, which is expanding its product range by another 38 variations of its machines by Christmas. And with UK politics finally supportive of manufacturing, the growth is expected to continue. Even so, Jo says he’s not complacent. “I can be confident about the future but at the same time we could go out of business tomorrow,” he says. “It’s about long-term sustainable investment, keeping doing what we’re doing and looking out for the risks.”

Sir Anthony Bamford CV

Age 67

Family Married, three children

Home Gloucestershire

Education Ampleforth College; Grenoble University

First job Engineering apprentice for Massey Ferguson

Current job Chairman JCB

Hobbies Shooting, cars and horseracing

Top tip to self Have a go

Charity NSPCC

Jo Bamford CV

Age 35

Family Married, two children

Home Staffordshire

Education Ampleforth College; Edinburgh University

First job Fund manager

Current job Managing director JCB Compact Products

Hobbies Being a dad, riding and reading

Top tip to self Nine-tenths of life is showing up, so show up

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