Building an award-winning manufacturing business chasing a turnover of £10 million, employing over 40 people and engaging a 20-strong subcontractor team of installers, is no mean feat. But that’s just the tip of the Alan Brayley iceberg, as we found out when we spoke with him about a working life that started out as a 16-year-old apprentice, progressing into management, before launching AB Glass, an architectural aluminium and access control specialist, in 1991 – and recently becoming a member of Manufacturing Wales.
“As you succeed and gain confidence, you realise you can do so much more than you first imagine.”
I started looking for work before my 16th birthday, knocking on doors around local industrial parks and securing an apprenticeship with Lyons Glass in Swansea. It was May 1976 – one of the hottest summers on record. I’d found a place where I felt I belonged, in a job I loved: glass-cutting, processing, glazing and fitting aluminium doors, windows and curtain walling systems.
I worked hard and moved into a management role which culminated in running a very profitable commercial and domestic aluminium department – learning so much from the people I worked with and the customers we served, realising that you get out what you put in; and that as you succeed and gain confidence, you can do far more than you first imagine.
“From a man with a van to a 15,000 square foot purpose built facility.”
At 31 I made the leap and became a man with a van – launching my own business, knocking on the doors of builders and asking if they needed any windows made. Today, that van has become a purpose-built 15,000 square foot site that enjoys long-established relationships with blue-chip contractors, architects and private commissions. We have helped build everything from the Liberty Stadium to state-of-the-art hospitals to the latest ergonomic and energy-saving schools to the 400,000 square foot Specsavers Head Office on Guernsey.
I’m also proud of the many one-off landmark installations that are architecturally innovative as well as sympathetic to their surroundings and that rounded perspective of working in the Welsh manufacturing supply chain for a few decades – seeing at first hand just how good we can be – is one of the reasons why I’m so excited about what we can achieve together in Manufacturing Wales.
“Manufacturing Wales is bringing together the people and ideas, who can – and will – make it happen.”
I’m a big fan of Ken Skates’ Manufacturing Plan for Wales. It’s inspiring – a well- thought-through balance of ambition and practical actions. But we can’t expect any government to build our manufacturing sector for us – and that’s why Manufacturing Wales is so timely. It’s bringing together the people and ideas who can make it happen. And I know from meeting with my fellow members that we will make it happen.
Why am I so confident about that? For 20 years I was an Army reservist with the Royal Regiment of Wales and later The Royal Welsh, rising to the rank of Sergeant Major. You learn a lot about people and collaboration as a reservist, because working together is the only way you can achieve your goals. Manufacturing Wales brings that sense of togetherness, camaraderie and helping each other win the end game through a shared vision. That can mean sharing problems as well as opportunities – and I’ve already experienced some practical help from my fellow members – with Oliver Conger at Rototherm showing me how the principles of lean manufacturing can refine my own operation; as well as sharing a fantastic insight into how we can embed ongoing training into the production team.
“The manufacturing whole can be greater than the parts, here in Wales.”
I believe the manufacturing whole can be greater than the sum of its parts here in Wales. We’ve led the world in many areas of manufacturing, and we can do so again. But we have to work together to maximise our potential – and that’s why I’m absolutely delighted to be part of this collaborative community. One area I feel very passionate about is the upskilling up of our people. We’re growing and we need to expand our team – and I must admit, it’s bothered me that the only training course that’s relevant to skill up in aluminium window manufacture is more than a few miles away, in England.
As a solution, I’d been thinking of creating an in-house training facility and when I shared that idea with my fellow members in Manufacturing Wales, I discovered that Daniel and Heidi at Modplan and Graham at Stately Albion had already made that decision for their businesses too. So, we can learn from each other, share the best practices and be confident that the investment is creating a win-win-win for the companies, the employees and the local economies.
“We need to sow seeds in schools about the great future people can have in Manufacturing.”
I also believe strongly that we need to change the perception of manufacturing amongst the current pupil population. I visit many schools and it surprises me that teachers and their students still hold on to a very outdated image of manufacturing. We need to do something about that, because our sector offers so many well-paid jobs and sustainable careers.
As an example, right now, AB Glass is looking for Architectural Technologists, Project Managers, Site Managers, a Factory Manager and a number of well-paid roles on the bench. In fact, we’re creating 35% more space to expand production – and that feel-good factor is shared by many other businesses I talk to around the Swansea Bay region.
So we need to get the world of education closer aligned to the world of work, or we’re missing out on fulfilling everyone’s potential. Realising all that potential is a huge personal passion of mine and it’s one of the drivers behind my work with the Lord Lieutenant’s Office and the Duke of Edinburgh awards – there is so much we can achieve if we put our minds to it.
“We have the platform to be the voice for Manufacturing – and a catalyst for change.”
I’ve seen from my time as President of Swansea Bay Business Club that we can meet the challenges of pandemic, Brexit and climate change if we share our knowledge, our issues and our expertise. The world has always changed and always will – but we can get ahead of the curve if we’re intelligent and decisive in what we do.
As an example, in 2006, AB Glass began experimenting with the use of recycling skips and then started to implement a more co-ordinated eco-friendly approach in 2007. By 2010 we had increased our recycling to more than 90% of our total waste. Now, just imagine if we shared our initiatives right across our manufacturing base. Imagine the practical impact we could effect on the plans to become carbon neutral. It shows the platform we have through Manufacturing Wales to be a voice for our industry – and also a catalyst for change too.
AB Glass has won many awards for manufacturing excellence, sustainability and our work in the community – but the one thing that gives me the most satisfaction is seeing how we have matured and progressed on all fronts, as a team, as a business and as a respected brand in our market. I know we can do that on a macro level with Manufacturing Wales – helping Wales become known as a manufacturing country with an agile and skilled workforce, innovative and resilient businesses and a world-class way of doing things. I’m looking forward to being an active part of that.