Wednesday 21 May 2014

How raise your company from the ashes - Forward Composites

Executive summary.

Paul Jackson’s inspirational story. Beginning with a career through the successes and decline of Lola. The dark days of receivership and redundancy. Paul’s tireless efforts and belief in the company’s values and people. A new company, Forward Composites, rising from the ashes with Paul Jackson and Ed Collings at the helm. Finding new clients, surviving a fire and looking forward to a prosperous future. A summary of the story as I heard it at the Cambridge Network event at the Hauser Forum on 20 May 2014.

Paul Jackson, MD Forward Composites  
Networking before Paul Jackson's presentation


Paul Jackson was the last man left in a building in 2012, after having made everyone else redundant. Curious potential buyers might see the solitary figure as they peered through the door with just another lot number on it.

Paul had left school at 16 to become an apprentice pattern maker. He joined Lola, and worked his way through the ranks and engineering into management at Lola Composites, based in Huntingdon. He was still passionate about what the composites part of the company and a highly trained workforce could offer, if only given a chance. Even when three sales fell through and company was put up for auction, he was looking for potential business contracts.

Rising from the ashes

On the very day that the company was supposed to be auctioned off in April 2013, Paul took the critical step to move from employee to managing director of his own business, and bought it at the very last minute. He used his own money and finance from an equally convinced colleague, Ed Collings, and an investor brought on board.

Forward Composites was born.

Presentations to potential clients had paid off. The existing machine tooling facility for carbon fibre composites appeared convincing to Thales, producers of the Watchkeeper UAV. Forward Composites secured a winning multi-million UAV contract.

Paul had kept in touch with former highly skilled employees, they returned on his invitation to build the new team.


Within the first year the company was success, having a turnover of £4.2 million. Forward Composites now employed 92 people.

In addition to Thales, clients now included Bombardier; B/E Aerospace, for whom they provided plane interiors; BAE Systems, building large-scale models; and a demo show car for Hyundai.

With a twinkle in his eye, Paul Jackson commented that their carbon composites in the new Mercedes F1 engine contributed towards Lewis Hamilton’s success in the current season.


Yet it could all have gone up in smoke, when the company was hit by a major fire on 31 January 2014! Paul dashed over with the keys and building plans for the fire crews so that they could enter and deal with the fire as fast as possible.

Determined to keep the company going, Paul redirected the staff to an affected parts of the site to continue the work. For once, the delay in receiving a major piece of machinery destined for the fire damaged hall was a godsend, it wasn’t in the building at the time.

Forward Composites managed to survive an event that would have put many other companies out of business.

Community, family.

One of Paul’s key visions was to create a feeling of community, even family, amongst the team of now 92 employees. This is not just through consultation, active involvement and contribution to the running of the company. There is also a large social element and the company even has its own band.


Paul also worked hard to build strong relationships based on trust, with clients and external contractors, persuading them to come back on board. Products were delivered on time and Forward Composites believed in prompt payment. As many businesses in our area know from their own experience, such practices build a high degree of positive trust in your client.


The prospects for Forward Composites look promising, with an expected annual turnover of over £7 million for the second year.

The audience at the Cambridge Network event gained a great insight into how a positive conviction in the ability of one’s company, equipment and skilled staff, and trust, can lead to success.

Paul Jackson was undoubtedly the driving force that led to the birth of Forward Composites. Having built a team, the organisation has been transformed from a one-man company to a business that can continue in its own right.


Paul Jackson’s inspirational story gave us an insight both on his personal development as an employee through the successes and decline of Lola, and as the current managing director of Forward Composites in Huntingdon. We were taken through the dark days of receivership and redundancy to a new company, Forward Composites, rising from the ashes with Paul Jackson and Ed Collings at the helm. In addition to Paul’s enthusiasm and commitment, we were also reminded of the real value of building trust with your clients and suppliers and a great relationship with your team. This was a summary of the story as I heard it at the Cambridge Network event at the Hauser Forum on 20 May 2014.

If you, your company or organisation has a story to tell, please get in touch with me, Dr Chris Thomas, Milton Contact Ltd, 01223 440024,

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