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Peter Atterby: Pushing the boundaries in plastics technology

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Name: 

Peter Atterby

Role and company: 

Managing Director at Luxus Ltd, a UK leading technical plastics compounding and recycling business.

Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric):

Luxus Ltd is a £25m turnover business.

Employee numbers:

140 staff based at its technical recycling and compounding plant in Louth, Lincolnshire.

Growth forecast for the next three years:

12 per cent year on year

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

Luxus manufactures highly specified technical thermoplastic compounds with a recycled content to meet the environmental and legislative needs of companies in the 21st century. Our aim is to constantly push the boundaries in plastics technology by creating light-weight compounds that are able to reduce both CO2 and landfill.

What’s the big vision for your business?

Our vision is to move with increasing global demand from our customers and to increase our reach into European and Asian markets by continuing to develop highly innovative solutions.

In the automotive sector for example, we’re achieving improvements in our compound design through a collaboration project with plastics additive manufacturer Milliken that focuses on the technical aspects of recycled polymers in car interiors. It has recently led to the development of Hycolene ™ a new compound that significantly reduces vehicle component weight and therefore CO2 and can also improve scratch resistance for a quality interior finish.

We’ve also recently invested in a new ‘state of the art’ Technical Centre which provides a true ‘hub’ right across the business enabling us to accelerate our development of high performance thermoplastic polymers and to maintain our competitive edge.

This means we can stay five years ahead of the competition, currently there is no other UK based prime producer or compounder that has a similar facility. Our aim is to continue to improve our position as a leader in technical prime and recycled polymers.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations:

Around half of our business is currently from exporting and we’re aiming to increase our global reach further still through new partnerships. A year ago for example, we formed a partnership with India based global distributor KPL International to build our presence in the Indian auto market.

In 2014 we hope to start manufacturing our product in India based on intermediate materials from Europe while we create the infrastructure in India for home market supply. This we believe will help us to maintain our leadership in this sector.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:

The recession and its continuing impact as we move forward – businesses need to be able to forecast with some degree of certainty, but today we’re still unable to do so due to global challenges that present more variables than we’ve ever seen before. This has lead to the banks being over controlling and reluctant to invest at a time when we need funding to secure a future for UK PLC in the world market.

What makes you mad in business today?

Over regulation, lack of understanding from the government and dishonesty in the way they claim to be helping the manufacturing industry today. Plastics recycling should be a highly regarded sector in the UK economy but in reality the government plays only ‘lip service’ to our needs!

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

The announcement earlier this year of China’s decision to ‘ring-fence’ the imports of plastics waste that it will accept will no doubt place the ‘spotlight’ firmly on domestic recyclers such as ourselves to help tackle the UK’s waste problem.

China’s acceptance of waste that wouldn’t be received here had created a situation in recent years where the reusable percentage now of a typical baled polymer has dropped to a low of just 40 per cent or 50 per cent per bale.

Our heavy reliance on exporting to other economies simply can’t continue, we need now refocus on the UK’s collection infrastructure to deliver the quality of sorted at source product which was originally intended by the Government.

This situation could be better addressed by ensuring improved segregation of waste, which means higher grade materials are easier to achieve. It’s my view that comingled waste is a major problem that’s been encouraged by the acceptance of lower quality waste by exporting for far too long.

We desperately need a national policy on the collection of recyclable waste and the required quality standards from all stages of the process so that we can recycle as much as possible ourselves to meet national targets with minimal exporting in the future.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

We are lucky as we’ve been a strong performer. We were successful in becoming a regional winner of the HSBC Business Thinking Award in 2011. This win enabled us to benefit from up to £6m in funding for the business allowing us to invest in new manufacturing equipment and our Technical Centre for polymer testing and analysis. But most importantly, it has enabled us to really validate our business thinking and support our future growth strategy.

The problem we currently all face is at a time where heavy investment is required the banks are insisting on a high security to loan ratio. We all take risks everyday to be a successful SME, but the lenders driven by the need for financial control become so risk adverse that the next stage of future investment and replacement for the UK may stall the economy now by ten years!

How would others describe your leadership style?

Fundamentally, I believe in involving the team at all levels to ensure that we achieve the best results for the business and commitment from all individuals. I want committed people who enjoy working for the company and to do this they have to understand what we are trying to achieve and be involved.

Your biggest personal extravagance?

On a daily basis special coffee made in a very precise way, other than that Salmon fishing!

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

I’d explain to him how much of my day is actually spent complying with the needs of government legislation rather than doing what I need to for the company and UK PLC. It has to start looking at what is best for the UK first and this will result in their re-election rather than looking at what will re-elect them, these are two very different approaches.

The government must also re-engage with the banks because things like quantitative easing introduced by the Bank of England and some of its other initiatives have not filtered down to SME’s, but have instead been absorbed into the banks and large corporate balance sheets.

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