Business Journey: Inprotec
After an impromptu careers change in his early 30's Chris Oldroyd made the transition from IT to mechanical engineering and took over the family business from his father in 2010. Since then, Chris has rebranded the business and broke Inprotec into new global markets. This is his story.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
I’m the MD of Wakefield-based Inprotec, a family-run engineering business which specialises in the design and supply of pyrometallurgical process plant used primarily to recover precious and non-ferrous metals. For the non-initiated, this means furnaces and the equipment required to support a furnace. They are special furnaces as they are designed to recover, upgrade and refine metals that are locked up in more complex materials, such as industrial by-products.
We’re probably most famously known for our Top Blown Rotary Converter (TBRC), a furnace that has been successfully used in various applications over the years and adopted as an effective technology in the precious metals industry, mainly in Platinum Group Metals (PGM) and silver upgrade.
We operate globally, supplying customers across a range of industries including metal refineries, recycling and waste plants and manufacturers. Notable recent projects we have done include a six-figure commission to supply a new lead casting plant to NELCO Worldwide, a global leader in medical and industrial radiation shielding.
What did you do before you started this business?
Following the completion of my degree in Biochemistry at the University of Newcastle, I abandoned my dream of becoming a veterinarian and spent the first two years of my career as an IT recruitment consultant with Aerotek in Coventry.
I soon thought that a career in IT would suit me and managed to land a place with Barclays in Cheshire as a computer programmer. I spent the next 12 years working in IT in a variety of roles and companies, before deciding that I needed a change.
My father had spent a lifetime working as a consultant mechanical engineer and had amassed some valuable designs and solid clients. He was due to retire and offered to help me take over his work. It seemed like an odd decision to have such a drastic change in career in my early thirties, but I decided, probably out of blind loyalty, to give it a go. I returned to college and obtained a Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Mechanical Engineering and took over the business in 2010, rebranding it to Inprotec in 2013.
What inspired you to start up?
My inspiration for Inprotec Ltd has changed over the years. I took over my father’s business in 2010, so I am a so-called second-generation entrepreneur.
The company was small and completely revolved around him, but he had some great designs and great customers, so my inspiration was to make sure that we developed on the designs and increased the customer base, and broke into new global markets.
In 2013, off the back of some initial success, I re-branded the company to Inprotec Ltd. This was a key time when the world was starting to wake-up to the importance of businesses operating in a socially responsible way if we are to create a sustainable world for the generations that follow us.
Seven years on, and my inspiration is very much the circular economy, making sure that Inprotec Ltd is positioned as a company that can provide the best solutions for reclaiming valuable and scarce materials, and putting them back into the economy.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
With over 30 years’ experience operating in the industry, my father has been an invaluable source of advice and support, particularly when I first started out in the industry and was still very much finding my feet. I also work very closely with Dr John Whellock, who founded JW Technologies LLC, a company that licences its technologies to Inprotec, and he is a constant source of advice, support and help to me.
Additionally, I’ve found the Department for International Trade to be very helpful. They provided me with a small grant which contributed towards the cost of an important business trip to the USA. Any business that trades internationally at the level Inprotec does will incur significant travel costs. For a business of our size, such costs can be problematic and restrictive, so having access to grant funding is hugely helpful in enabling me to fully explore and take advantage of international trading opportunities.
How did you access any finance you needed?
The Department for International Trade provided a small grant, contributing £3,000 towards the £11,000 cost of the trip that I took to discuss new business opportunities and strengthen existing client relationships in North America. It was an essential trip but clearly expensive, particularly for a modest-sized business like Inprotec, so having access to the grant funding was hugely helpful and enabled me to explore and pursue new and exciting trading opportunities and cement existing client relationships.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Building a business and team that’s well respected within the industry, not just in the UK but all over the world. We’re a small team, with a relatively small base of clients who come to us time and time again because they know they can rely on us to provide them with the very best solutions and service. We take the time to really understand their businesses and requirements and, over the years, we’ve built incredibly strong relationships with our clients, which I’m really proud of.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
We specialise in a very niche engineering sector, and our counterparts/competitors tend to be large multi-national businesses who only focus on the really big net-worth jobs. At Inprotec, we work with major international businesses, but we focus on smaller scale, more specialist projects, drawing on our wealth of experience, intellectual property, and specialist skills to service these to the highest level. As a small company, our customers get to know us personally, and we repay their trust with a service that meets their timescale and technical demands exactly. We’ll always go the extra mile for our customers; for example, we put significant emphasis on customers witnessing the factory acceptance testing of everything we supply to ensure they have the opportunity to get to know and understand the plant and its operation at our facilities, before it is implemented at their site. As a business we never stand still, we’re always innovating our product and service offering to ensure it remains industry leading, with customer needs and requirements central to everything we do.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
It is an interesting phrase ‘to be your own boss’, as anyone who has started and runs a company will know that you are never really your own boss. I have to answer to my customers, the bank, government departments and standards agencies, and although I own the business, my employees also expect a lot from me to make sure that they can do their jobs efficiently and effectively. For me, being your own boss means swapping one boss for many.
Where do you see your business in five years’ time?
Even though it is a tough trading period now, I am optimistic that we have a great future ahead of us. I see the company having a physical global presence with representatives in North America, and the Far East. I also see our services expanding beyond what we can provide today, especially in areas such as toll refining and industrial technical education services
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Know your subject matter. People are inspired by those that are expert and confident in their expertise. That doesn’t mean being the technical expert in everything your business does, but you should understand your industry and all the parts that are important to that industry. In this way, you will understand the motivations of your customers and be able to react to, and even predict, their needs.