Page last updated at 16:30 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 17:30 UK

The recession-proof business

Russell Luckock
Russell Luckock says firms must fight to survive

The engineering firm A E Harris was founded in 1880 in Birmingham and since then has managed to survive at total of ten recessions.

Russell Luckock, the current chairman of the company, reflects on how the company has survived during his 53 years at the firm.

The company was founded 128 years ago by my great-grandfather just near the same central Birmingham site that we occupy today.

The firm started out making hand made jewellery and tool making equipment and has gradually expanded to the company I run today.

I started out at the firm as a favour, helping out for a few weeks, but I stayed on a bit longer and have now been here 53 years.

It's important to realise that you get a recession about every 10 years and each and every one you go through will be different.

Job losses and factory closures

The worst of the recessions that I can remember was the one that hit us in the 1970s when we had an enforced three day week. That was grim.

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But we got through it and managed to come out the other end with the business intact.

The next recession was between 1979 and 1981 when we had to close down one of our factories, mothballing one of the factories and some of the machines.

Sadly we had to lose a number of people, mostly through natural wastage, a few through redundancy, but we were still able to trade through the difficult period.

Riding the recessions

During the recession that begun in early 1990s, we didn't do too badly because we had been expanding and were getting plenty of business.

The recessions that AE Harris has survived
1892 - 1893
1902 - 1903
1916 - 1921
1930 - 1931
1944 - 1947
1955 - 1956
1961 - 1961
1973 - 1975
1979 - 1981
1990 - 1992

We were making parts for the expanding television industry and we managed to ride the hard times by not allowing any overtime.

By the early part of this century, the company had grown to employ 175 people, but in the early 2000's we started to lose work to China.

We are now beginning to get some of that work back from the East and we are currently employing 40 staff with an extra six agency workers.

Staying positive

I sincerely hope that I will not have to reduce my workforce this time and I will be fighting tooth and nail to make sure that doesn't happen.

I think we have enough irons in the fires with our customers to make sure that we keep all our people in employment.

I don't believe that it will be a deep recession, I think it will be a shallow but I think there's a danger of talking ourselves into a deeper recession.

Some of my customers are very busy at the moment, but you can't sit on your hands at times like, you need to go out and get business.

The good times will come

My advice to companies that are struggling at the moment is to draw in your horns.

You have to cut salaries, remuneration and costs. However ruthless it may seem you have to stay in business. The good times will come again.

In my experience when there have been bad times, there have always been good and very lucrative times just round the corner.

You just have to survive and stay patient.


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