BQ Interview: Mike Matthews on the success of Nifco and the future of the business

Hush Digital     16th December 2014

Here’s a sneak peak of an interview with Mike that appeared in BQ Magazine, discussing leadership, apprentices, and the skills gap, as well as his history with Nifco and the future of the business.


Mike Matthews isn’t short of words about apprenticeships or about competence of British workers vis a vis their German counterparts. And his company’s figures prove his theories can bring enviable success in practice. Brian Nicholls reports.

An hour with Mike Matthews MBE is 60 minutes of humour, frank opinion and sound reflection, leaving a lasting impression of someone who knows in his business exactly where he wants to be.

Stepping down after 12 months from his honour as North East Business Executive of the Year, his final duty is to assist in finding his successor. So what makes a North East business executive outstanding, in Mike Matthews’ view?

He has no doubt. ‘Number one, good communication,’ he says. ‘It’s at the heart of any good leader. They can have fantastic plans and ideas. But if they can’t impart and share them with their organisation, their customers – shareholders too if they have them – theirs won’t be a successful company.’

With his group Nifco at Eaglescliffe a high climber up 29 places to 118th in the latest North East Top 200, and turnover up £19m in less than two years through the contracts held with almost all UK car builders, we can safely assume he himself communicates well. A walking tour of Nifco’s two immaculate factories (a second royal visit is expected soon) confirms he knows by name every passing employee.

And one topic he’ll readily opine on is the quality of the British worker vis a vis his German counterpart who is sometimes upheld as the paragon of productivity.

Being European operations officer of Nifco as well as managing director of the Teesside operation, Matthews can make close comparisons, since he oversees also two operations in Germany, two in Poland and another in Spain. He cites examples of how his Teesside team are setting group benchmarks in productivity.

‘We see a lot of myths being exposed,’ he says. ‘Things are changing. Probably German customers have realised it. That’s probably why medium size privately owned enterprises there are now being encouraged to put themselves on the market. Like it or not, the way forward, particularly for large scale global products, is globalisation. They’ve got to work with outfits that can offer a global footprint. We can.

‘We’re doing about €150,000 per person a year here. The German companies are doing about €100,000. We’ve invested much more in automation and flow, such as sales per square metre, and now have a factory half the size of that in Germany, but which has 130% of the sales compared with the factory twice the size.

‘It’s a very efficient layout, a very efficient flow. Very effective in use of space. We’re saying to the guys in Germany and elsewhere ‘we don’t want to change everything you’ve done but take a look at what the other companies are doing and you might see something you can use in your factory.’ That gives them opportunity to take on more sales with the same overhead and, hopefully, improve the bottom line.’


Read the full interview on BQ here.