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John Swinfield began his career in newspapers. He was an indentured reporter for three years on a weekly paper, The Bedfordshire Times. At the end of his training he joined the Fleet Street News Agency, in Fleet Street, run by the  legendary crime specialist, Tommy Bryant. From the FSNA he joined the London office of United Newspapers, one of Britain's biggest provincial chains, as a general reporter and writer, becoming the group aviation correspondent.

This was followed by the Daily Mail, first as a reporter in the paper's pioneering TV monitoring unit, and later as a general news reporter. After the Mail he went to ITV and later BBC television.

Since those early days Swinfield has been widely published in a diversity of publications around the world. The following are articles chosen at random from his column Breaking Through which he wrote for the London Evening Standard financial pages and which focused on small companies and their proprietors. Later, the London office of Business Link, the government agency which advises small businesses - and several major companies such as ARM, the electronics high-flier, BOC and Forte hotels, beccame clients of Swinfield in his capacity as a media consultant.

 

Evening Standard

Byline: John Swinfield Apr. 26

While the world's car industry is bogged down with overcapacity -- making too many cars for too few buyers -- Andrew Barber and Robin Hall are convinced they have found a niche for their Census sports car. Two business angels are backing them with UKpound 240,000 which will get the duo from concept car to production model. The first two cars -- yet to be built -- have already been sold. With a Ford V6 engine producing 170 brake horsepower, the Census will top 130 mph and have a UKpound 25,975 price-tag. Barber, 35, says: "The gross margin on one car is UKpound 6000.

We're aiming to make a car a month by the end of this year, rising to six a month by the end of 2002. Seventy cars a year is the most we could cope with. After that we'd need more people and bigger premises." He and Hall, 34, set up on a part-time basis before going full time a year ago. Barber, who has a degree in aeronautics, has worked for Lotus and Prodrive, famous for Subaru rally cars. Hall's degree is in mechanical engineering and he used to run a car restoration business. They have known each other for 15 years and both worked on the new BMW Mini. Barber was a project manager and Hall a designer on the Mini's front suspension.

They set up FBS Ltd to make the Census and recently moved into a 2000 square foot workshop at Brackley, Northamptonshire. Most of the car industry is in crisis. Specialist car makers come and go, Lotus has just laid off 250 people and Vauxhall is closing its Luton plant. But Barber remains optimistic. "We've got our niche," he says. "In price, we're below TVRs, which start around UKpound 33,000. And the Lotus Elise is in the skateboard class -- minimalist. The Census has a proper hood and doors. It's less of a toy. "Even in mass production there are success stories. Peugeot can't make enough 206s. It's because it's what people want. The UK sports car market in 1994 was 30,000 cars.

Now it's 70,000, but the overall market is the same at two million." He is also pinning his hopes on the Census' design. "It has a glass fibre body over a steel monocoque, the same technique used in mass production. In specialist cars, it's more usual to have glass fibre over tubular steel. Our method makes for maximum use of weight, cost and space." Inquire why his company is called FBS and Barber laughs. "When we were young we had a variety of old British sports cars that were clapped out because we had no money to do them up -- old frog-eye Sprites, Austin Healeys, MG Midgets. Somebody coined a phrase which summed them up -- work it out for yourself!"


Hole lot of potential John Swinfield,
Evening Standard 1 March 2002


IN THE shell of a former engineering company that made products for Britain's once-mighty mining industry, Steve Fisher has set up a business teaching people how to dig holes in roads. He has also built a £12,000 road to nowhere, just to make sure his students are getting their excavations right. Utilities Training (Northern) in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, is another example of a company that has cashed in on changes in the law. Since 1997, it has been illegal to dig up a highway without at least one member of the gang being properly qualified.

Fisher, 55, set up five years ago, having been in the construction and public utilities industries for most of his life. 'When the law began to tighten up, I saw it as an opportunity to train people properly. It has the potential to grow into a sizeable business,' he says. 'My wife Liz were looking for something that would help provide for us in the future.' But what can you teach somebody about digging a hole in a road? 'Quite a lot. If a fella has been doing a job all his life, he tends to do it the same way that he was taught in the first half-hour or the first morning he was at work. And if that's the wrong way, he merely replicates that throughout his working career.' So there's a right and a wrong way to dig a hole? 'There is a right way to set up a barrier, cones and signs to protect yourself and the travelling public, right through to digging the holes, removing your materials, to back-filling and reinstating,' says Fisher. 'It has to be done to a strict pattern, and to very strict standards, otherwise the fabric of the road doesn't stand up, and you and I - and the local authority - are having to pay more and more to keep the roads in a reasonable condition.' His school also boasts a length of sewer pipe for students to crawl through. 'People must be trained to work underground in unpleasant, confined spaces,' he says. There is also a partly built house, clad in scaffolding, where building skills are taught.

Fisher employs 11 people. Most of the tutors are self-employed, often from the utilities sector where there have been big shake-outs. 'Students come for about four days at a cost of about £500. They get a City & Guilds certificate and a plastic card which they must carry at all times, because if they don't the local highways inspector can ask them to pack up and go,' he says. 'Our turnover is about £650,000 which, from a standing start, isn't bad. In the early days, we were making ridiculously good profits of about 55% before tax. Now we are looking at around 18%. That's just under £130,000. 'My investment originally was about £12,000 so that's not a bad rate of return. But we've put another £80,000 into building up the school. And it takes a little while to get that sort of investment back. 'In the next five years, we could build a half-reasonable little business that will either be of interest to our staff - we might let them buy it out - or we might sell it and let somebody give us a pension.'


Surviving on a wing and a prayer John Swinfield,
Evening Standard 7 January 2002



IT HAS been a long, hard winter for Phil Gooden and his little band of birdmen and women who have struggled to succeed with their three-acre enterprise, The English School of Falconry. From the outset it was hit by problems. The 58 year old, his wife and family, with backing from their local bank, scraped together the best part of £130,000 - their life savings - to build a bird-of-prey centre featuring 300 species. No sooner had the site at Shuttleworth, in Bedfordshire, been opened than it was hit by the foot-and-mouth outbreak. The countryside was closed, there were no visitors or gate money and flying the birds was banned. His estimated turnover of £100,000 in the first year vaporised.

But the bills kept rolling in - veterinary costs, maintenance of 30 aviaries and gardens, vehicle leases, wages for four non-family workers, feed bills of £750 a month. Every month, 300 birds of prey gobble up 20,000 dead day-old cockerels, 600 rats and 2,000 mice. The falcons are partial to 100 quail a week and the odd shin of beef. The birds, which should be flown daily, were growing fat and listless, beautiful but costly and redundant assets. Several birds are valued at £6,000 each. Kim, a nine-year-old king vulture, from South America - they live for 70 years - is worth £10,000. Gooden cursed his luck as the problems mounted. 'It has been a nightmare,' he said. A farmer's son, he has been enthralled by the mystique and regal history of falconry since he was a child. 'You can see why people in business have breakdowns. We were almost at our wits' end. 'Somehow we've managed to cling on, even through Bin Laden, which again knocked the overall number of visitors a place like ours could have expected. The bank has helped, extending our overdraft. Though there's always that worrying thought at the back of your mind that it has got to be paid back.

The local chamber of commerce and Business Link were fantastic, even helping us get an £8,000 grant for a new eagle aviary which will be a major attraction.' Gooden was formerly a falconer at nearby Woburn Safari Park. Shuttleworth is a former ancestral home, run as a trust, in grounds that include a famous collection of vintage aircraft. Instead of Gooden paying rent, the trustees had agreed to take a share of the gate money. 'Thank God they did. It seemed at the time a great chance to have my own show. The trustees have been very understanding. If I'd have been paying rent I'd probably have gone under,' he said. There are other aspects of his business providing crucial streams of income. He gives displays around the country, organises hawking parties locally and, in Scotland, there is an educational and environmental aspect with school parties visiting the centre.

He also provides pest deterrent services for companies: 'Pigeons carry diseases. A hawk's presence scares them off.' Good and bad luck came when Sid the vulture went on an unscheduled flapabout last year, becoming a media star and brooding for a while on a vicar's roof. 'Sid was ours. He'd got nosy and wanted a look round. The publicity was great promotion,' Gooden said. 'But it was distracting while we were coping with other problems. People kept ringing up saying 'Sid's in our tree scaring the living daylights out of us' and we'd tear across the country to see if he was still there.' Gooden is looking forward to visitors at Easter. 'It is impossible to talk now about profits - we just don't know. We'll never recoup our losses,' he said. 'I hope we've weathered the worst. With luck, we'll soon be flying high. I think we deserve a bit of luck.'

 

The Blackpool Gazette - Article about Airships and John swinfield