Mark Harrison had a background in manufacturing and then in corporate finance before starting to manage glass processing businesses. United Glass Group has grown out of small team of dedicated directors who spotted opportunities to buy and transform family businesses where the owner was ready to retire. The team are close with Mark’s Father involved. His brother introduced him to Mark Smith at Lloyds bank who were involved with financial support from the start. The first company acquired was Brownhills Glass Co, in 2012 as a management buyout team, followed by a part share in Tufwell Glass near Gatwick when this was divested by the parent company (a PLC orphan was how Mark described the company). In 2015, a further finance deal enabled the group to expand with the acquisition of PLG in the Northeast. In 2018 the latest refinance deal, with alternative finance company Duke Royalty enabled the group to acquire the remaining shares of Tufwell Glass to form the group as it is today.
Mark is a very modest capitalist, who doesn’t have a particular ‘grand plan’ for commercial acquisitions, however he has a good eye for spotting an opportunity when the time is right and is not afraid to be opportunistic. Going through some tough times with difficult market conditions has focused the new management teams on what matters to grow each company and realise commercial success. He is a big believer in transforming attitudes towards customers and proactively seeking new business rather than waiting for orders to arrive. Each business is committed to processing orders and confirming the supply date within a few hours. Integrating the businesses within their customers supply chains and trying to improve communication at all stages has been one of the keys to growth.
Much of this transformation has come from some good senior hires along with working hard to change the teams’ attitudes to be more customer orientated and focus on delivery. Some recruits have experience outside the glass industry as well as some from within it but all are prepared to knock on new doors and ask for an order rather than have a chat about the state of the local football team! As the group has grown, customers have also appreciated having more than one UK manufacturing site to call upon, which adds security and flexibility into their supply chain.
Having a larger market share has improved the commercial buying clout of the group and allowed specialisms to flourish. Tufwell Glass are market leading, through short lead-times, in the supply of partitioning glass for commercial applications. PLG is a market leader in over-size production capabilities providing bespoke glass for stunning structurally engineered pieces often in iconic construction projects. At Brownhills in the Black Country the business is split in half. 50% of the sales are made to measure, bespoke products for tradespeople, the other half comes from having large stocks of flat glass in standard stock sizes products, for example for double glazing businesses. As Mark explains “apart from printing and glass bending there is nothing we cannot do. We do everything else”.
The management team are unafraid to challenge traditional ways of working. “We are confident in taking a long, hard look at ourselves to see how we can make the most of our opportunities” says Mark. The way the group has grown has meant that, at times, we were very driven by decisions that would help manage the short term cashflow, and less focused on the longer term, strategic decisions. We have been fortunate to have good people around us. Mark Smith at Lloyds has been supportive at every stage and a non-exec board member has been invaluable in introducing us to contacts in the corporate finance arena.” The group is now successfully building a cash buffer and Mark has his expert eye on another related acquisition opportunity.
As the group success has grown, Mark describes how he takes satisfaction from being able to employ around 140 people “making stuff”. He believes there is always a fine balance to be struck between having group systems and processes that add efficiency and profitability but not losing sight of the unique character and flavour of the original businesses. Whilst they are building their reputation with larger customers who need products supplied across across the UK, many of their customers remain those who prefer to deal with someone they know, like and have trusted for many years. Black Country tradesman still phone up and ask for Rose or Linda at Brownhills, and many remember their fathers doing the same!
The competitive engineering streak is alive and well in this team. Mark describes how he joins his Father and his Brother in motorsport activates at the weekend, often racing around a circuit against other cars. As a child Mark’s hobby was Go Karting. Now his son, who loves Lego, is getting excited about a visit to Silverstone, his youngest, a daughter, seems also to be developing a no-fear personality. After buying Brownhills he says the family weekend conversations were mainly work related but they realised recently this has changed with work rarely being mentioned. Whatever their next project, the future looks bright!