Talking Business: How ITS rose to the Covid challenge

Malcolm Knott, managing director of Middlesbrough-based Industrial Technology Systems (ITS), is the very epitome of Northern grit.

When Covid hit, he was determined that a little thing like a global pandemic wouldn’t destroy the busines he has been passionate about for 30 years.

Speaking on the Thirteen-sponsored Tees Business online chat, Talking Business, Malcolm said: “ITS have been through recessions and ups and downs – we’re well versed in that.

“I took the view right from the beginning that we would aim to retain all the staff we had.

“My team have never just been numbers on a spreadsheet to me. They’re people I know and care about.

The plan was not to lose anybody because of Covid and to come back bigger and stronger.”

And come back stronger they did!

Despite huge challenges ITS, who employ 56 staff, rose to the occasion – pivoting the way they worked so successfully that they took on new clients and five new staff over the last few months, with plans to recruit ten more.

Boro-born Malcolm said: “While we did have to furlough some people who would usually work on site, the rest of the team found ways to work on projects remotely – a transition they found relatively quick and easy.

“We then we set about advertising and making plans to keep in regular contact with as many people as we could, whether that was via Teams or Zoom.

“The efforts worked because while some people inevitably disappeared, we actually picked up new customers along the way.”

Solving business issues is something that has always excited Malcolm, who began his working life at ICI Wilton’s process development section in an analytical lab, developing new products and processes.
His ICI career would span 20 years and take him around the world.

“ICI trained me as a chemist, as an engineer and then moved me into computing in its infancy which was really exciting,” reveals Malcolm.

“They were superb. To leap into the unknown and set up my own company was a scary prospect, but I wanted a new challenge and more autonomy.”

Malcolm formed ITS in 1991 with a business partner who had worked alongside him at the Teesside giant.

Today, the company specialise in the design and implementation of systems and services including management information systems, process control systems, regulatory compliance services, project management and engineering services and vision systems in sectors such as pharmaceuticals and nuclear power.

“Most of our customers have one thing in common and that is they have some regulatory body from outside of their own business which looks after what they do and compares them to what is happening in their industry sector,” explained Malcolm.

Thirty years on, while he is happy to share in the glory of being a successful MD, Malcolm is at the stage where he would be happy to hand over the reins to the next generation, with one caveat – that ITS doesn’t cease when he stops working.

“If I’m honest I don’t run ITS now, I just bring people on,” he said.

“The team who work with me, the other directors and the senior managers, do 90 per cent of the work – they keep me around as a trophy.

“I want to go back in five or 10 years and have a cup of coffee with the people who work there and see the company flourishing.

“I want to go back to a bigger company than the one I leave. I want to think I wasn’t holding it together, more holding it back!”

With ITS going from strength to strength and light at the end of the Covid tunnel, there is one goal that Malcolm has yet to achieve – tying the knot with his partner, Carol.

“We’d arranged out wedding date, invited our friends and booked hotels, but then we went into the first lockdown,” explained Malcolm.

“So we arranged it again and went into the second lockdown. Then we arranged it again just before Christmas, thinking all would be well – and, of course, we went into third lockdown!

“We are waiting with fingers crossed that June turns out what we expect and then we’ll get on with it!”

We wish you the best of luck Malcolm.