Profile: Alastair Clayton - MD Seaglaze Marine Windows
When Seaglaze Marine Windows lost its glass supplier overnight, MD Alastair Clayton decided to set up his own toughened glass company.
Four years on and Specialist Toughened Glass has gone from strength to strength, putting SMW in a position that it’s not dependent on any other suppliers as it moves forward.
At the time however, this was perhaps Alastair’s best and worst moment in his career.
“It was a great opportunity, but I underestimated the amount of time and energy it would take to start a business from scratch.
“A building on the industrial estate was looking for a tenant so I seized the opportunity. It played to my weakness of not analysing things first.
“It was also a highpoint. We won the IT award for East of England which I’m very proud of.”
Alastair joined the marine window company full time when he was 28 having served 12 years in the Army and shortly afterwards took on the MD role in the family run business.
“I was lucky across the board; the Army knew about Seaglaze and was happy to share me - for me to spend my summers programming for the company. They needed officers with specialist computing skills and Seaglaze needed me to programme.
“I came on board as operations manager when I was 28 however three months’ in, my grandparents died in close succession and we agreed my Dad would step down from the MD role and I would step up within six months.
“It had its benefits and drawbacks. I’d worked on the systems and IT and knew about the business. I had the opportunity to write procedures and I knew the supplier names and details.
“Industry is very different to the Army, but I was very lucky in the training that I’d received.”
Alastair admits he was pretty ‘green’ when he first took over the business but says he has learnt from his mistakes and learnt fast.
“It’s been ten steps forward and nine steps back. In the Army, I hadn’t touched a balance sheet or had any experience of marketing.”
One of his learning steps was to apply for the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small business programme that provided five months’ worth of intense training and business support services.
“I’d recommend any MD to go on the programme. It’s very intense but the rewards are immense. It can only benefit the marine industry if more of us get involved.
“It was a massive effort but has had a big impact on the business, from recruiting to marketing.”
As a result, Alastair is now taking on more apprentices and stepping away from some of the day to day business operations while continuing to grow both businesses.
“We’ve now got 44 staff and have been adding to this for the last year. It’s the busiest year we’ve had across the board, this quarter in particular has been the most successful.
“We’ve registered more patents, particularly in relation to the use of new materials and have invested in equipment including a 3D printer that enables us to do things that we couldn’t have done 10 or 15 years’ ago.”
One of the latest ideas is a silicone sponge seal for different types of windows – ideal for the marine environment as silicone doesn’t break down.
“New materials across the board are creating opportunities, we’re expanding our R&D and always looking at new ways of doing something.
“Marine glass is very difficult to produce, glass has to be perfect. If you’re on a £1m boat, you don’t want to see any imperfections in the glass,” points out Alastair. “The requirement for framed windows has changed, we are not into production, we concentrate on one or two offs.”
He concludes: “I haven’t found the magic solution but am happy to try something new.”
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