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323 Made in Britain: Queen’s Award winners


Te ceramics success that’s top of the table


Based in Stoke-on-Trent, Steelite International is firing The Potteries’ reputation for high-quality tableware


by all accounts a relative rarity: a British manufacturing success story. In a sector that has lost dozens of companies and shed thousands of employees in recent years, Steelite has held firm and bucked the trend. Today Steelite is one of the world’s leading


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manufacturers of tableware for the hospitality industry, making its products exclusively at its factory in Stoke-on-Trent. While it sells top-quality glassware, cutlery and other tabletop items, Steelite’s core business is its internationally renowned tableware. Kevin Oakes joined Steelite in 1977 and worked


his way up to become CEO in 2006. “We have always been driven by making profit, which is reinvested back into the business,” he says. “Our investment in product innovation, manufacturing, customer service and —most importantly—our people allows us to be competitive and generate profits for reinvestment in the firm’s long-term future.”


Investing in people Steelite’s Stoke-on-Trent factory employs more than 1,250 people, who Oakes feels are very much the key to the company’s healthy status. “I want to build a hugely successful and, just as importantly, sustainable company,” he says, “and that means employing and supporting great people, and investing in developing their skills.” To this end, Steelite has established a number of apprenticeship programmes and has also set up a foundation degree with Staffordshire University. “Wherever you look we are investing in the people that make up the company, and that pays huge dividends,” says Oakes. “Te greatest selling assets we have are our factory and our people.” Te continuing success of Steelite has allowed


the company to take over one of the most iconic names in British ceramics, Royal Crown Derby, which has been operating since 1750. “Our aim is to make this wonderful, traditional company relevant to today’s


he ceramics and tableware producer Steelite International is an example of something that is


“Wherever you look, we are investing in the people that make up the company”


consumer,” says Oakes, “and to put it back on the highest pedestal in terms of artistic design.” While continuing to produce the rich, opulent


patterns for which Royal Crown Derby is famous, the company has recently launched new and imaginative designs after extensive research into current trends. Design innovation is also key at Steelite and is evident in its successful, internationally acclaimed Craft range, which Oakes describes as having a “warm, hand-spun feel and an eclectic mix-and-match flavour.”


International recognition Te business supplies such global names as Hilton, InterContinental and P&O Cruises, and, in 2012, won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade in recognition of the growth of the company’s international trade over three decades. In 2014, it was awarded Employer of the Year at the National Business Awards for being “an outstanding employer, whose holistic approach is transforming a traditional industry”, as well as the Made in Britain accolade at Te Growing Business Awards. When Steelite International plc was formed


in 1983, it had sales of £8 million. By 2014 this had risen to £94 million, 85 per cent of which was exported to more than 140 countries. In December 2014, when BBC Radio 4’s Today programme wanted to highlight an example of a flourishing business in an otherwise stagnant economy, it chose to present the show from Steelite’s Stoke headquarters. Above all, Oakes puts the firm’s success down


to the teamwork, commitment, honesty and creativity of those who work at Steelite and Royal Crown Derby. “People here work very hard,” he says, “but they do so with a huge smile on their face and I’m very proud of all of them.” — www.steelite.com


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