Romax Sets Its Sights on Huge Job Growth in Nottingham, UK
Seven years ago Dr Peter Poon made a judgement that renewable energy generation was set to be a big issue for business and society in general. So, he got his company Romax Technology to initiate two new and related areas of R&D (research and development).
One concerned the drive-train efficiency of vehicles; the other was about improving the design of wind turbine gear boxes – the mechanical box of tricks at the top of a turbine’s towers that transfers the energy of the blade rotations to the generator.
Today, a few business figures, and the sheer number of wind turbines that have sprouted up in countries all over the world, suggest that Dr Poon’s decision to specialise in wind energy was a wise one. The global demand for Romax’s turbine design, maintenance and analysis skills means the Romax now employs 250 people worldwide, more than half of them based in 11 offices in China, France, India, Japan, Korea and the USA.
The business figure behind this is 20 per cent – which is the steady annual rate that Romax has been growing in the past few years. Now further demand means that Dr Poon has confidently set a target of 40 per cent growth and he predicts that in Nottingham alone Romax will “easily” create another 150 jobs in the next three to five years.
The growth rate is based partly on the expected success of a new turbine software package called Insight which Romax claims can reduce the operational costs of wind farms, and so increase profits by three per cent to six per cent. But alongside that, Dr Poon believes that having the 40 per cent target dangling above will force a necessary rapid growth in a quickly growing and evolving market.
“Unless you set a target you don’t achieve it, so let’s free ourselves to think about how to do it,” says Dr Poon. “When you are rapidly developing in new areas you need to grow quickly to increase your footprint. So, you need to stake claims on those territories you’re moving in to. While 20 per cent growth rate is not fast enough for that, 40 per cent from all angles is achievable.”
Yet despite these impressive figures, Romax arguably remains a best-kept secret in Nottingham itself. The low-lying Romax offices on Nottingham Science and Technology Park can’t even be seen by passing motorists on University Boulevard.
Perhaps more importantly, since most big wind turbines are currently manufactured abroad, this is where most of Romax’s customers are.
But things are changing. Romax is poised to become involved with wind power in Britain via the third round of off-shore wind farm developments, expected to generate £75bn investment over the next ten years. Britain has far more installed off-shore wind capacity than any other country, and this and the Government’s efforts to decarbonise the electricity system means that Romax is set to “play a part in the supply chain”, says Dr Poon.
Next summer, his 120 people will be moving into the University of Nottingham Innovation Park, where a new £5.6m bespoke ultra-energy efficient head office is currently being built. The move will allow the company to bring all of its operations and staff under one roof.
And as well as slotting neatly into the university’s own low-carbon agenda, the move will undoubtedly give Romax a higher public profile.
“The UNIP park theme is low carbon so I think we will play a key part in growing companies around us,” says Dr Poon. “They’re building it to our spec and interestingly it’s on the Raleigh site.”
But mention of Raleigh and bicycles is a reminder that Romax, strangely, grew out of a terrible accident.
Indeed, the company was born from a desire to give himself something positive to work towards and aid his recovery following a collision in 1988 which left him in a coma for several weeks.
Dr Poon was self-employed at the time and his usual agenda was to get up early, shower and cycle to work in Newark. One day, a tractor pulled out on to the road in front of him, forcing him to brake hard. The road was slippery and he slid into a collision with the tractor.
“I went blind for a while and was in a coma for a good six to eight weeks,” he recalls. “I can’t even remember how long it was. I couldn’t walk very well for a long time. The only part of me that wasn’t affected was my hearing. I started the company after the accident because I needed to take my mind off my misery; so I had something to look forward to rather than feeling very sorry for myself and depressed. It wasn’t just discomfort – it was depression. If you have major trauma and you suddenly go from being a very active middle-aged man, a vigorous man in his 40s, to one who can hardly walk and see… well, it took three or four years to recover.”
His side vision is still affected and he needs strong light to see object before him.
This episode followed a long and creative working period which began when the young Peter Poon came to Britain from Hong Kong to study at university (Bristol, then Cambridge) in the early 1960s.
He went on to become a senior manager at a company in Chelmsford that designed and manufactured bearings for use in the automotive and aerospace industries. “I was probably one of the youngest executives there. And all through my early working life I was probably the only Chinese person working in the company, so I very quickly got noticed.”
In the 1970s it was decided that the business would benefit from a more central location and so Dr Poon moved the engineering and testing facilities to Newark. Later, hearing the call of self-employment, he resigned to do his own thing and became involved in carrying out due diligence work as part of major accident investigations. “I once investigated a tunnel near Manchester where one of the rail vehicles had derailed and caught fire and the tunnel burned for a week. TV showed flames shooting up a ventilation channel for a whole week. I also investigated motorcycle failures to find out why certain motorcycles were killing people. I worked for financial companies, for the United Nations, the UK government and the Korean government. I was travelling all the time and doing a great deal of very interesting work.”
Press release, Octber 25, 2012; Image: Romax