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Iain Exeter – 50 years in the machine tool industry 

I intended to be a sports and modern languages teacher. Following a serious rugby injury sustained at Loughborough Colleges I went into my fathers machine tool rebuild company for a few months and stayed for fifteen years. During this time I developed a love of machine tools and manufacturing that has never wavered, no matter what I have been confronted with. It has also been the reason I have enjoyed having hundreds of good people working for me during this time.

Iain Exeter - Managing Director

1961 – 1989 trading machine tools.

1961 – 1976. K.E.N.T Machinery and Engineering
Machine tool trading and rebuilding – very successful
Subsidiaries – K.E.N.T Victor Ltd and Fairover Engieering

1976 – 1978. Exeter Machine Tools
Machine tool trading

1978 – 1982. Cevemex Group
Exeter Machine Tools was a great success and decided to invest in building a group. The group was called Cevemex and the subsidiaries were machine tool traders Exeter Machine Tools, Clyde Valley Machinery Glasgow and Central machine Tools Coventry. Cevemex acquired a company, Ardey Tools, manufacturing large components for the Chieftain tank, and set up CX Engineering to manufacture precision components for the Exocet missile. JBK Printing was a strong supplier of continuous stationery in the exploding computer market.

1982 – 1986. Exeter Machine Tools Midlands

The sudden and dramatic moratorium on defence spending in 1981 caused the ruin of hundreds of quality manufacturing and engineering companies in the UK. UK manufacturing would never be the same again. Cevemex was broken up and only Exeter Machine Tools remained. During the following years EMT enjoyed a spectacular trading period handling some of the largest machine tool sales ever seen in the industry, e.g together with Muller Machines of Bienne Switzerland 2500 machine tools from the closure of the Timex plant in Dundee.

1986 – 1989. Wickman Exeter
Wickman Bennett, one of the UK’s most famous machine tool builders purchased Exeter Machine Tools in 1986 to form a very successful machine trading division, Wickman Exeter.
Wickman Bennett had been formed when the group owning Wickman and Webster & Bennett moved Webster & Bennett into the Wickman factory in 1982 in order to reduce operational costs.
The wide product range covered the world leading Wickman Multi spindle automatic lathes, Webster & Bennett Vertical Lathes, Wickman CNC lathes (from 2 – 7 axis), Wickman Optical profile Grinders

1989 – 2007 an obsession to build machine tools

1989 – 1992. Wickman Bennett
I was able to take the opportunity to purchase 50% of Wickman Bennett in October 1989.
This company had a wide range of wonderful quality machine tools designed and built by several hundred design and production engineers of the highest quality and it was here that my obsession began, an obsession to do my part to help the UK retain a machine tool design and build capability.

Why this obsession? Very simple – “machine tools are the mother of all manufacturing”. Everything we look at or touch or listen to every day has been touched directly or indirectly by a machine tool

WB enjoyed great success during 1990 and 1991 but the company was killed in 1992 in the aftermath of the “machine tools for Iraq” scandals. Remember Matrix Churchill? We never had the same personal suffering as the Matrix Churchill directors but we suffered huge financial losses.

1993 – 1999. Webster & Bennett
Together with Muller Machines, Europes best known stockists of precision machine tools and major shareholders of Schaublin Machines, I purchased the Webster & Bennett business from Wickman Bennett and started Webster & Bennett Limited in 1993.

Rapid growth and development of the sophisticated Millennium range of Vertical Turning Centres, successfully launched at Mach 1996, saw growth increase faster.

In 1997 I was caught up in a very costly legal battle following the Wickman Bennett closure and was unable to fund the further growth in Webster & Bennett. Muller Machines and I had invested £millions. Venture Capitalists invested in the company and eventually took control in 1998 and changed operational procedures and priorities.

I could not accept their methods and left the company late 1999 believing it was heading for disaster, and it proved to be so.

Webster & Bennett and Wickman Bennett VTL’s designed and built under Exeter management

2000 – 2002. Tajmac-ZPS, Czech Republic
I was financially ruined by the legal battle that was finally set aside in early 2000 and gratefully accepted the challenge to manage the re start of the Czech Republic’s largest machine tool company after its acquisition by Tajmac, an Italian machine tool builder. Tajmac ZPS is one of Europe’s finest precision machine tool builders with huge, magnificent facilities and nearly 2000 employees, many are very well educated, highly qualified young engineers. Visit www.tajmac-zps.cz

2002 – 2007 Webster & Bennett International
In December 2001 Webster & Bennett was in ruins and was offered back to me. I had little working capital but set up Webster & Bennett International to purchase the old business and start the necessary action to recover customer and supplier confidence.

In October 2003 I was given the opportunity to sell the company to a large European group who were ready to fund the re growth of the company. This appeared to be the best opportunity for the people in the company and also those wanting to rejoin it. It seemed a good opportunity to recover my new loans.

The sales growth was spectacular, ultimately too spectacular, each year 200% the previous year. The speed of commercial growth and technical advancement outgrew the growth of resource support in 2007. My contract that was due to terminate end 2007 and being unable to agree a way forward with the group I resigned and left Webster & Bennett December 31st 2007, a very difficult thing to do after 19 years. I expected to concentrate on rebuilding but when approached by several of the engineers who had worked for me, some for many years, I decided on one last effort to satisfy the obsession I have for machine tool building.

2008 and on – To satisfy the obsession and more – Wickman Bennett.
“I admit to having an obsession for machine tool building in the UK. It has cost me fortunes but I have no regrets for what I have tried to do.

It is my firm belief that it is vital for the UK to retain the capability to design and build machine tools and to train young people for the future.

Wickman Bennett can never again achieve the levels of production it enjoyed in the 1980’s but this current team is going to design and build some important machine tools and provide some important engineering services and the young engineers in this company will build a quality sustainable business with a long term future.

  © Exeter Machine Tools Limited.
tel: 024 7669 2116    sales@exetermachinetools.com
Wickman Bennett