Mark Hutchinson, SJC Hutchinson Engineering

SJC Hutchinson is one of NI’s leading sub-contract laser cutting manufacturing companies

Mon, Jun 16, 2014, 01:00

Mark Hutchinson left school at the age of 18 and began to work in the family business started by his father Creighton in 1971. Now 36, Hutchinson has been at the helm of a successful manufacturing organisation for some 16 years. Under his leadership, the company has developed into one of Northern Ireland’s leading subcontract laser-cutting manufacturing companies.

SJC Hutchinson Engineering provide a complete metal manufacturing solution through laser cutting, folding, fabrication, kitting and 3D design services. The company now employs 85 people (there were four in 1997) across two sites in Kilrea and Antrim.

Through its increasing network of global customers, which include Bombardier, Sumo and McCloskey International, SJC Hutchinson is now providing laser-cut components that are utilised across Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, and Australia.

Part of the Hutchinson Group, H360, was formed to directly address the needs of customers looking to design, develop or enhance products. This innovative, full-service engineering design company offers in-house design, prototyping and full-scale production services.

The recently launched Hutchinson AeroTech operation focuses on bringing manufacturing and engineering solutions to the aerospace industry.

What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it? The back-to-the-wall moment was in 2009 when competition was fierce in the laser-cutting industry and I realised that the company needed to diversify if it was to survive. We invested in a tube laser which was new technology.

We either had to take a calculated risk and look at new sectors or see if we could weather the recession when the order book wasn’t looking as good as it should have been.

What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out? Best piece of advice: always pay your bills and listen to your customers. Reputation is key in any industry, so if you are known for not paying your bills, that can do untold damage.

Worst piece of advice: take each day as it comes. It is vital to plan and have a business strategy otherwise you have nothing to aim for. You have to spend as much time on the business as in it.

Has anyone acted as a mentor to you? Several people have acted as mentors, in particular my father. Also of late, Jim Collins, who is the former manager of Visteon (Ford), has been a great source of advice. Jim has a vast range of experience in managing a large company.

His expertise and knowledge is second to none and very pertinent to an SME.

When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for? A can-do, will-do attitude. Hiring engineering people has had its problems and getting the right people with the right qualifications can prove challenging, to say the least. I’m now finding that working with local colleges can be a great win-win but I also like to give people a chance. If they have the wherewithal and commitment, then I’m willing to train them accordingly.

If you were to invest in a sector, what would you consider the next “big thing”? I would have to say the aerospace sector. Northern Ireland, in particular, has a thriving sector. It directly employs over 8,000 people, generates annual revenues of close to £1 billion and contributes greatly to our exports. The Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP) industrial strategy is to further grow this high-value, high-technology sector.