Entrepreneur Interview: with Andy Stephenson, Ardmore Craig

Posted on the 23 April 2019

Entrepreneur Interview: with Andy Stephenson, Ardmore Craig

Established in 2010, chartered engineer Andy Stevenson has built up a reputable and fast-growing engineering company in the North East.

Ardmore Craig advises on and manages projects across the globe for its cohort of clients, delivering a wide range of engineering services from its headquarters in Darlington.

Andy Stevenson, founder and CEO, gives an insight into the development of Ardmore Craig, the creation of its sister businesses and how he plans to grow the firm further in the latest Entrepreneurs’ Forum member interview.

Tell me about your background in business

I studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Edinburgh and went on to my first role in the industry as a design engineer at BAE Systems.

I then moved to the North East to work for an engineering firm involved in the offshore sector, where I became a chartered engineer and progressed to become a company director. I enjoyed a lot of great experiences in the role, especially in design and consultancy, as well as exposure to the commercial and business side of it.

During my time there, I actually set-up a consultancy department, which was successful, and that gave me the appetite for business and setting up my own company.

How was Ardmore Craig formed?

About four to five years before I established Ardmore Craig, I had the thirst for business. I enjoyed going out, winning the work and seeing it through to completion. I had my own team, budgets, responsibility, and targets and enjoyed supporting the development of the company and making money for it.

It was then when I wanted to go it alone and take on the risk myself while reaping the rewards.

In your own words, what is it that Ardmore Craig does?

Ardmore Craig was established in 2010, and we are an innovative design solution and consultancy business. Our clients range from multi-nationals in the oil, gas and renewables sectors through to manufacturers and smaller supply chain companies and contractors, who use our equipment. We also work with local fabricators in the North East, particularly in Tees Valley.

We’re currently in the process of a rebrand, with two sister organisations that each complements the services of Ardmore Craig. Copeland Clyde was set up when the oil price crashed as we recognised that we needed to diversify and deliver a range of onshore solutions. We work with a wide range of sectors, including construction, mining, automotive and petrochemical. 

Our other sister business was formed in 2017, which involves the development of its own products. Laytrix is now a venture capital-backed enterprise and we’re currently in the process of commercialising our first product for offshore pipelines.

I am now hoping to create an alliance between the three business as there are great synergies between them.

What is your proudest moment with the company?

When I first started out in business, a lot of my existing clients followed me which was a big vote of confidence.

To date, Ardmore Craig and Copeland Clyde have completed around 300 contracts all over the world and our team has been involved in the design and supply of more than 2,500 tonnes of bespoke equipment.

Our expansions have also been inspiring for me and very proud moments to look back on.

Is there a particular mistake you have made while in business? And how did you overcome/learn from it?

There isn’t any one in particular that jumps out. I suppose it is how you overcome mistakes what matters most.

I am a big advocate of mentoring and coaching, though. I didn’t buy into it when I first set off on my business journey, but I now encourage it and it is one of the major lessons I have learned in business. Running a company can also be quite lonely, so having a third party to talk and bounce ideas off is really helpful.

No matter how good you are, you can always learn from other people.

What is Ardmore Craig’s USP?

Our speed of response to clients’ needs. We have a very quick turnaround time on projects - once we receive an enquiry, we can have proposals turned around in hours, with purchase orders prepared on the same day. Our team possesses a can-do attitude, which shows in our work. 

A lot of our clients come to us at the last minute when they’ve got issues in their projects - perhaps something has changed, and they need something engineered quickly, we’re able to get an engineered solution to them as soon as possible. We’ve developed quite a forte for this!

I’m also proud to say that we’ve had repeat business from each of our clients, with the exception of one. However, that is only because we turned into a competitor!

I am also keen to support and invest in the development of our staff. We run an accredited professional development scheme with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and we give our team dedicated time each week to allow them to work towards their chartership.

How has the firm grown and what do you attribute this to?

The company grew year-on-year when I first set up the business and when the oil price crash hit in 2014, we adjusted the size of the team to get through the turbulence while maintaining our profitability. We quickly grew our team back and found ourselves with too little space for the team at our previous offices.

Ardmore Craig soon scaled-up and in 2018 we moved into our new offices on Lingfield Point, Darlington, to meet our growing demand, as well as expansion into new markets having recently expanded into the naval architecture sector.

We have 15 engineers at present, all from a mechanical and structural engineering background, and we are able to call upon a comprehensive network of various engineering disciplines to support our projects.

Do you live by/do business by a certain motto?

Not so much a catchy phrase, but to operate with a can-do attitude.

What is the best piece of business advice you have been given?

To ask for help and appreciate that everyone needs it. I am keen on mentoring and coaching and reading books to enhance my own continuous professional development.

I am also a firm believer that if you put your mind to something new, you can get an understanding of things and apply them to your business.

What are the future plans of Ardmore Craig?

To continue growing the business in a sustainable way, first and foremost. Our sister organisations are continuing to expand and diversify, which is enhancing our service range.

I am also keen to bring in more new people to the business, particularly more senior, technical roles to build on our recent investment in new sales engineers and business development.

I’ve got an eye on further expansion across the UK with the launch of regional offices to support the sales process, with international expansion on the horizon too, as we tap into new, emerging sectors.