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Turning up the heat on top 25

By South Wales Evening Post  |  Posted: August 18, 2014

AS part of the new Fast Track 25 business club launched by Swansea Bay Business Life and South Wales Evening Post, sponsors Santander and Bevan & Buckland have been visiting companies featured in the ranking.

The Fast Track 25 business club is an invitation-only business club comprising only the most ambitious and fast growing companies in the area. The first visit was to Swansea-based Unit Superheater Engineering. The 100-year old company was acquired in 2004 by Bill Ledwood's company Unit Engineers and Constructors.

Ledwood said he was attracted by the firm's long history and sound reputation. "The people that sold it were retiring. If nobody had bought it, it would have disappeared forever. I couldn't have let that happen to a company as famous as Unit Superheater. I wanted to grow the business and to keep it going," he said.

Unit Superheater's excellent reputation was built on a solid skill base, and on the work that the company did for mainly coal fired power stations. In Ledwood's hands the company has had to diversify, because the days of coal fired power stations are numbered.

"We've had to look elsewhere for work and we have to keep pace with technology," he said. "The equipment that we supply goes all over the world."

When Ledwood took over the company had a turnover of about £4 million. Over the past 10 years Ledwood has doubled that, and he aims to take it up to about £10 to 12 million.

The biggest challenge the company now faces is navigating the move from supplying equipment for coal fired power stations to supplying equipment for nuclear power stations.

"We're getting ourselves fit for nuclear, so that we will be able to provide our services to the nuclear industry and our skills base will stand us in good stead for that," said Ledwood.

The company is also diversifying into the oil and petrochemical business, providing items such as heat exchangers, vessels and fin fans to customers such as Murco, BP and Shell.

In the meantime, coal fired power stations have had a stay of execution and are currently being upgraded and refurbished, generating more work for Unit Superheater.

Part of the company's appeal for its customers is that it holds an important seal of approval, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers stamp. It's expensive to maintain but the accreditation is seen as a guarantee of quality.

As part of the continued efforts to uphold the quality of Unit Superheater's output, Ledwood is keenly aware of the value of his staff. When the company had to move from Morfa he could have taken it out of Swansea entirely, but the strength of his Swansea workforce was reason enough to stay. "We did look at areas that were probably more beneficial in terms of getting grants but we'd have lost some of our skills that are here in Swansea," he said.

"I'm passionate about the business and the people we've got — the people are the most important, if you've got the people at the top hopefully it cascades down but just passion for the business," Ledwood said.

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