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Stanlow Oil Refinery, Cheshire.  One of Fircroft`s first clients in the early 1970s
Stanlow Oil Refinery, Cheshire.
One of Fircroft`s first clients in the early 1970s
Inaugural meeting of Fircroft CEO, Johnathan Johnson, and founder John Johnson
Inaugural meeting of Fircroft CEO, Johnathan Johnson, & founder John Johnson
Northenden Road, Sale: The site of Fircroft`s first office.
Northenden Road, Sale: The site of Fircroft`s first office
Fircroft experienced early growth supplying engoneering professionals to the North Sea Oil & Gas industry.
Fircroft experienced early growth supplying engineering professionals to the North Sea Oil & Gas industry

The beginning

When the phone rang in late-1967 little did John Johnson realise that the ensuing conversation would lay the foundations for a multinational, multimillion pound turnover business.

In the late 1960s Britain was a prosperous nation. Harold Macmillan’s comment of July 1957 that the nation “had never had it so good” still resonated through the collective consciousness of the people. The Beatles were yet to pull the plug, the Summer of Love was a recent memory, the Profumo Affair had rocked the establishment and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were soon to land on the Moon.

Oil majors such as Shell were experiencing a veritable golden age. The beginning of the decade had seen the discovery of the Groningen gas field in the Netherlands, closely followed by the discovery of gas in the North Sea. Driven by consumer demand, Britain’s petrochemical industry was experiencing an enormous period of growth. New plants had been springing up across the country since the war; Carrington, Stanlow, Easington, Fawley were just a few of the new oil and chemical refineries powering Britain’s consumer boom.

As the Baby Boom generation was reaching maturity, so too, in many ways, were Britain’s Oil, Gas and Chemical industries.

But back to the phone call...
Dave Maloney on a client call, late 1980s
Dave Maloney on a client call, late 1980s
Fircroft office
Fircroft staff at work in the company's second Sale office, mid 1980s

John had been working as a Cost Engineer at Shell’s Carrington facility on the outskirts of Greater Manchester for several years. He’d spent much of his career in the burgeoning petrochemical industry, first at ICI before moving to Shell. As a result he was well connected and knew a great many people across the industry.

So the phone call from the Hiring Manager came as little surprise. He was often asked if he knew of suitable people who’d be able to fill positions. And so John duly went and found several professionals to fill the positions within Shell’s Cost Department.

But what started off as an initial call from one Hiring Manager soon become a trickle, and eventually a flood. Before long Shell asked John if it could outsource its entire Cost Department to him.

With that request, Fircroft was born in May 1970.

But not before some naming difficulties...

John had been working freelance from a small office in Stockport. In order to fulfill the ever greater number of hiring requests from Shell however, he’d need to set up a Limited Company. Straight forward you might imagine? Not quite. Shell sent John his first payment in the form of a cheque and they’d addressed the cheque to Fircroft Engineering Services Ltd… assuming that John’s address at the time Fircroft, Washway Road, Sale, was also the name of his company.

After a fraught couple of weeks negotiating with his bank and Companies House, John had officially established Fircroft; with thanks to Shell for de facto selecting the company name.

Worldwide Human Resources

Growth came quickly.

The energy market was buoyant and with the discovery of gas in the North Sea, the majors were crying out for engineering professionals. "Everyone involved in Fircroft had an engineering background, so we were able to relate to the needs of our clients," says John. "It was engineers talking to engineers. We knew the guys they wanted, so it all came together quite quickly."

Once the majors had committed to production from the North Sea fields, things progressed rapidly. With the Oil crisis in 1973 these developments were accelerated further as the UK sought to secure energy sources outside of the hands of OPEC.

"It was like the Wild West"

Aberdeen airport, little more than a shack during this period, bristled with stetson-toting, cowboy-boot wearing Texans who had sought out the next ‘crude rush’. "Aberdeen was such a hive of activity that there was little accommodation to be found. Old ladies were renting out their spare rooms to oil workers at exorbitant rates."

Staff at Fircroft’s Aberdeen office were working around the clock to find engineers to staff the almost innumerable projects that were going live during this period.

The remainder of the 1970s saw a concerted drive amongst the oil majors to nurture a UK talent pool to supply the offshore fields and to reduce reliance on US expertise. By the close of the decade the North Sea had firmly established a UK offshore Oil & Gas industry staffed by homegrown engineering talent.

The cold-war was all but at an end and walls were falling both literally and metaphorically. De-regulation and the advent of a renewed commitment to global free trade became a hallmark of the 1980s. Governments in both the US and the UK were eagerly pursuing economic growth through privatisation and the North Sea continued to be a centre of importance for the global energy industry.

By the mid-1980s Fircroft had three UK offices and was undertaking work in Norway, the Netherlands and several other European countries. "There were five of us Recruitment Consultants based in the Sale office," says Dave Maloney, a Director who has been with Fircroft since 1986.

"When we reached 500 contractors, we had special celebratory glasses made"

"It was a busy time and it was clear that Fircroft would be expanding beyond Oil & Gas and Petrochemicals. Already we had major businesses from other industries knocking at our door for our services."

John johnson meets former Prime Minister John Major
John Johnson meets former Prime Minister John Major

Dave's statement proved to be prescient.

The mid-to-late nineties saw Fircroft supplying engineering professionals into the automotive, power and nuclear industries. John recalls how Fircroft began to win major clients within these new industries:

"We’d been supplying the occasional engineer into Bentley, but by the late-nineties we were their main supplier of personnel. It reached a stage where they wanted an ongoing relationship with a single-supplier, and we were their supplier of choice." John reflects further on this:

"We were seeing this development across an increasing number of industries - that businesses want a single, global, supplier for their engineering professionals."
Exterior shot of Trinity Chapel, Fircroft`s second office in Sale, Greater Manchester. Founded in 1875 & was previously a Wesleyan Chapel
Exterior shot of Trinity Chapel, Fircroft`s second office in Sale, Greater Manchester. Founded in 1875 & was previously a Wesleyan Chapel

To many the late 1990s were the era of “Cool Britannia”. A young, new Prime Minister had entered office and there was a renewed burst of optimism throughout society and the economy. In many ways the atmosphere of the period felt like a revival of the ‘Cool Britannia’ of the late 1960s when Fircroft first got its start.

As the economy and governance of the UK was being reinvigorated, in 1997, Fircroft was going from strength to strength with the entrance into the business of John’s son, Johnathan.

"I began working from the London office, taking over a desk and hitting the phones as a recruiter from day one." Johnathan had trained as a Surveyor and had worked for another recruitment business prior to joining Fircroft. Johnathan’s entry into the business came at an opportune moment. As John says, "We needed a bit of a shake up. The clients were looking for it, and Johnathan came in with fresh ideas and it all just occurred at the right time."

Before long Johnathan had progressed to become the Director of Fircroft’s Oil & Gas division and with the departure of Fircroft’s then Chief Executive in 2007, Johnathan took the helm of the business.

It was then that things went truly global.
People Working
People Working
People Working
People Working
People Working

The world had never been so connected

Techno-optimism was reaching its zenith as the internet increasingly broke down borders, enabling a new wave of global communications. Fircroft was playing its part in connecting people by opening a succession of new offices in multiple locations and by 2010 Fircroft was established in countries from the former Soviet Union to the Americas, Asia, Africa and Australasia.

The spread of Fircroft’s footprint was accompanied by a growth in its client base as more and more engineering companies recognised the benefits of working with a single, global supplier.

Part of the reason for Fircroft’s growth during this period was its willingness to take on risk on behalf of its clients, operating in areas that presented complex challenges regarding compliance, recruitment, mobilisation and contractor logistics. The globalisation of the business wasn’t the only major development for Fircroft though.

"As the business matured, it became clear that the time was right for a radical transformation of our core processes and structure"
Fircroft employees in the current HQ, Lingley House
Fircroft employees in the current HQ, Lingley House
"It’s been the worst collapse in prices that I can remember."

John’s comments on the oil price collapse in 2014 are not confined to himself. It’s been almost universally agreed across the industry that the most recent recession has been one of the worst in living memory. It was in this context that Johnathan and the Board of Directors took stock of the business’s standing and expounded upon a transformation program that would revolutionise the way Fircroft operates for the benefit of clients and contractors alike. 

"We’re more than just a recruitment company. We’ve been empowered by our clients to take care of their contractors because they trust us to deliver the service, to take care of those contractors, to service their needs, the compliance, to pay them, to mobilise them, and to provide all the services, which is why I don’t say we’re a recruitment company. We’re a professional workforce solutions company."

But what does the future hold for Fircroft? What sort of transformation can clients and contractors expect to see?

"We’re investing heavily in becoming a lot more efficient at what we do. Clients can expect to see more automation, more accuracy, more services, with client and contractor portals. It boils down to Fircroft providing significantly more value for money."

"Fircroft is also adapting to demand from clients and nation states to shape more balanced workforces. By this I mean a more proportionate balance of expatriates and locals and other country nationals."

Johnathan’s comments provide an indication of the future direction of Fircroft. Acquisitions including One Key Resources, Australia’s leading provider of managed workforce services to the mining industry, plus service additions Tier 2, Fircroft Oilfield Services and Ingenier have further strengthened Fircroft’s ongoing drive to diversify into new industries across the globe. Industries that are keen to work with a truly global supplier of workforce solutions.

Fircroft`s current interational headquaraters located in Warringtion, UK.
Fircroft`s current international headquarters located in Warrington, UK

While engineering industries of all stripes, be it Oil & Gas, Automotive or Mining have had their ups and downs since the late 1960s, one name has remained a constant: Fircroft.

But now we are entering a period of history that has no known precedent. Far from the predictions of the early 1990s that we had seen the ‘end of history’, we can observe the rise of a new paradigm; globalism versus economic protectionism. The emergence of these two drastically divergent world views will create challenges for global engineering businesses like never before. Fifty years after John Johnson first officially formed his company, Fircroft is well prepared for the future. Engineers can help us to not only face the challenges of this new world order but to forge its direction.

"Engineers can change the world. Without engineers modern civilisation would not be possible. Without engineers science is just a philosophy. Engineers explore the unknown and make it a concrete reality. Engineers take what others think is perfect, and make it even better. Engineers challenge the boundaries of human limits and reshape the world for the benefit of humankind. Anything is possible when engineers are given the support they need to do their jobs well."

"We've been supporting engineers for 50 years - and we're only just getting started..."
Johnathan Johnson, January 2020.

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