One of the grand old men of Teesside industry has been looking back on an incredible life in business that sees him still working part-time at the age of nearly 83.
Barney Ord stepped back from day-to-day involvement with Northern Machine Tools and its parent company, Fairfield Industries, only two years ago after reaching his 80th birthday.
Now approaching 83, he continues to take a part-time interest in both NMT and Fairfield, where he is the long-standing chairman, with an overview for four thriving Teesside businesses that between them employ 200 people.
Along with NMT – one of the UK’s largest machine tool merchants – Fairfield own Stockton firms Boathouse Engineering, Press and Fabrication and Pioneer Procurement, along with a number of Teesside industrial properties and a large industrial estate on Tyneside.
It’s a far cry from his start as an apprentice mechanical engineer at South Durham Iron and Steel Company. He later studied at marine school before working as relief chief engineer on colliers travelling from Blyth to Southampton or London.
Born in Leeds but brought up on Teesside, Barney set up his first business in 1958. Working from a workshop in Stockton Street, Middlesbrough, he set himself up as a single-handed ship repairer and boiler engineer.
He says: “The real money was in working on bigger ships, so I approached the shipping agents and eventually obtained orders to carry out engine repairs on all carriers up to 60 tonnes. Because I hadn’t any staff, I went back to my old marine school to recruit under-graduates.”
When extra bodies were needed, he even employed Middlesbrough FC players to act as labourers, slingers and riveters!
He smiles as he recalls: “We got paid by the number of the boys we had on the job, rather than what work we did. The Boro players didn’t get much in terms of pay back then so they were always grateful to earn cash in hand. I well recall Ken Thomson, Dick Neal, Bryan Orritt and Mel Nurse – all Boro first team stars – in their white boiler suits, looking for all the world like engineers, which they certainly weren’t. The ship owners had no idea, they thought they were our staff!”
Expanding into general engineering, the business became so successful that, along with several other Teesside firms, Barney was bought out in 1968, and initially planned to retire on the profits he made at the age of just 33.
However, he quickly grew bored with a life of leisure, and enjoyed a highly successful spell as a sales agent for machine tools before setting up a new firm, Northern Machine Tools.
Overhauling and selling new and used machine tools, the business enjoyed great success, earning a reputation as the finest retail machine tool facility in Britain.
Further success followed when Barney took an opportunity to buy back the Teesside companies bought out along with his own firm some years earlier. As group chairman, he was responsible for more than 1,300 staff across the businesses.
Sadly, the decline of traditional industries resulted in several factory closures but much of Barney’s business continued to thrive. From 1983-86 he served as president the trade body, the European Association of Machine Tool Merchants, and was awarded their highest accolade when made an Executive Fellow.
Lifelong Middlesbrough fan Barney, who chaired the testimonial committees for Boro heroes Willie Maddren, John Hickton, Stuart Boam and Bill Gates, says he has not intention of retiring just yet.
“Retirement didn’t suit me at 33 and it wouldn’t suit me now,” he insists. “I haven’t been paid any salary whatsoever since I was 65, so I don’t work for the money. I do it because I don’t know any better and because I love it.”