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World Pipelines Q&A with… Chris Winn

Winn & Coales International Ltd. Group Chairman, Chris Winn recently sat down for an exclusive Q&A session with Elizabeth Corner for the December 2023 edition of World Pipelines Magazine. In this article, Chris reflects on the company’s landmark achievement of 140 years’ service to industry and how the company has evolved in this period.

Let’s begin with the reason that this year is so important to Winn & Coales International Ltd. Founded in 1883, the company celebrates its 140th anniversary in 2023: tell me first, how have you been celebrating?

Planning for our 140th year began in early 2022 with the creation of a dedicated logo to mark the occasion, drawing inspiration from our 100th and 125th anniversary logos and leaning heavily into the long history of tradition which we are so proud of at Winn & Coales. This logo has been featured in all our 140th anniversary celebrations, from specially commissioned anniversary gifts to prominent positions in our exhibition displays this year. At the beginning of 2023 we also implemented a comprehensive communications campaign across both digital and print media to formally announce our anniversary.

We recognise the part played by our dedicated colleagues in helping us reach our 140th year of trading. As a thank you for their hard work and dedication, we hosted a special edition of our Annual Dinner and Dance this year at the prestigious Mansion House in London, marking the end of a week-long conference held for the Managing Directors of our subsidiary companies from around the world.

In addition to our colleagues working directly within Winn & Coales, we work extremely closely with our extensive network of agents and distributors operating across the vast number of territories where our products are available. Our biennial Denso Asian Conference – last held in 2018 due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – returned in August of this year, allowing us to extend our anniversary celebrations even further afield and affording everyone with the opportunity to reconnect and celebrate after so many years working remotely.

Through the work of Winn & Coales International Ltd. and the F.B. Coales No.4 (Family) Trust – founded by the late Frank Coales, our second company Chairman – we recognise the work of previous employees from the locale of West Norwood. On-going charitable donations allow us to give back what individuals have put into the business in the last 50 years that we have been operating from our Chapel Road headquarters.

Finally, we have launched the Winn & Coales 140th Anniversary Photo Competition to finish out 2023, as a thank you to our long-standing customers for their support over the many years we have been operating. It’s an exciting way for individuals to show us their best Denso™ product application shots to be in with the chance of winning a very special prize. It’s a fun way to bookend what has been a fantastic year of celebrations.

Can you talk us through the ways in which the company has grown and changed over the years? I want to understand the journey of your company from its inception to this significant milestone: what have been some of the key milestones and challenges along the way?

The international-scale operation you see before you today was first established as an import/export house in London. Originally specialising in the exportation of coke to Germany, the business later expanded into importing starches, sugars, soda crystals and waxes.

The first foray into manufacturing came in 1905, with continued growth in this area throughout the 1920s before we took on the agency for a petrolatum-based tape designed for the corrosion prevention of steel pipes, fittings and structures in 1929. The product was called Denso Tape, and following increasing sales in the intervening years, we started to manufacture it in London under licence from 1933. This would be a major turning point for us, and we have now been manufacturing petrolatum tapes for over 90 years.

From there, our continued success can be attributed to our focus on the corrosion prevention market, the development of our export markets, including establishing subsidiary companies and six factories around the world, and responding to the changing needs of our customers and meeting these requirements with expanded product offerings.

Running companies on different continents exposes us to unique regional challenges, yet we continuously manage for change. In recent times this has been demonstrated by the company showing amazing resilience during the pandemic, war in Ukraine and against global economic considerations. With our forward-thinking mindset, we continue to adapt and innovate for the future.

How has the energy industry evolved since the company was founded and how do you approach change at Winn & Coales? Tell me how the company is adapting to the new challenges in the energy space.

We have noticed considerable and far-reaching changes to the energy industry, particularly over the last fifty years. Pipelines are being installed at far greater depths than they were post-WW2 and running at ever higher operating temperatures. In terms of corrosion prevention, solutions need to work harder and be far more accommodating of the demands being placed upon pipelines.

Factory coatings have also seen substantial reforms in recent years with the adoption of a greater focus on the environmental concerns regarding pipeline construction and maintenance. The utilisation of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) applications is increasing in high consequence areas, meaning more pipelines are being exposed to ever more severe ground conditions.

At all of our sites we have research and development teams who are continuously researching and developing our products and systems to adapt to these new demands.

How has Winn & Coales embraced technological advancements and used these to the benefit of the sector?

One of our greatest strengths is utilising local and international knowledge acquired by our teams around the world to inform the wider group of companies through regular international conferences and meetings. We draw this experience from our subsidiary companies and use it to innovate and improve our products and systems.

We also continually assess customer feedback to continue to evolve and develop technologies to deal with new challenges – for example, transitioning from petrolatum to bitumen-based solutions, and most recently to meet the demands for visco-elastic products and subsequent new patented systems. Regularly communicating with our customers and using their feedback helps to inform our direction going forward and is firmly entrenched in our commitment to the BS EN ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management Systems standard.

Can you tell us about any notable achievements along the way? In what ways has Winn & Coales contributed to the pipeline industry?

Within the last 15 years, we have been recognised a total of three times for our exceptional export sales performance and were the recipients of three Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in International Trade (Winn & Coales International Ltd. in 2010 and 2013, and Premier Coatings Ltd. in 2017).

Winn & Coales International Ltd. subsidiaries have also forged long standing relationships with the major EPC and pipeline construction companies around the world offering them guaranteed quality, technical backup and service.

We have adopted a ‘technology neutral’ mindset at Winn & Coales. We believe that all coating systems offer different advantages and disadvantages, and that there is no coating method that surpasses all others. The acquisition of several competitors has bolstered the range of solutions we are able to supply to our customers. Our most notable recent acquisition was for the global Viscotaq™ business, including Amcorr Products and Services Inc. (‘Amcorr’). The addition of visco-elastic protective coatings to our product offering means we can continue to offer systems that employ all kinds of coating solutions from a single source. Helping customers make the right choices for their projects with our growing product range is at the forefront of what we are trying to achieve.

Other areas of the business benefiting from company acquisitions has been our subsea and splash zone coatings with the takeover of the Simpson Strongtie FX-70 range in 2021, and the acquirement of Barrier Industrial Marine Products LLC in 2017. These acquisitions further establish us as a leading supplier of corrosion prevention systems for a wide array of industries and application types.

Finally, we are keen supporters and contributors to a number of industry bodies on national and international levels, as members of ICORR (Institute of Corrosion), PIG (Pipeline Industries Guild) and AMPP. We are also Associate Members of IPLOCA with WCI Executive Director Andrew Stuart serving on the IPLOCA Board of Directors since 2021.

We know that sustainability and environmental responsibility are increasingly important in the energy industry. How does Winn & Coales prioritise and integrate these principles into its operations? How do you see this continuing into the future?

Greenhouse gas emissions caused by the energy industry are a significant contributor to overall global greenhouse emissions and corrosion exacerbates that issue. Efficient, long-lasting corrosion prevention systems mitigate this problem; by designing our products to last and protecting our customers’ assets for a considerable amount of time, we help to reduce the overall carbon footprint generated by the pipeline industry. We are therefore fully committed to reducing the environmental impacts generated by our production processes and our products, as evidenced by our BS EN ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management System (EMS) accreditation.

We have operated an EMS on site for over 10 years now and have implemented multiple energy management programs to minimise our carbon footprint. As recently as this year, we have made the transition to using 100% renewable electricity at our Chapel Road premises, generating solar power from the installation of photovoltaic panels to our laboratory and office buildings. Enshrined within our EMS is a commitment to the continual improvement of our environmental performance which will see us continuously assessing and refining our business operations in order to contribute toward a greener future for our planet.

What is it about Winn & Coales that ensures the company is thriving 140 years later? As the Chairman, what do you consider to be the company’s greatest strengths and differentiators in the energy services market? How do you maintain a competitive edge?

Our vision is to be the leading manufacturer and supplier of anti-corrosion, waterproofing and sealing materials and technology to the world. This is our company mission which lies at the heart of all our business-making decisions. We have an intricate focus on and understanding of our core business functions, and it is this focus that has guided us for the past 90 years.

Running parallel to our vision is our commitment to providing unrivalled high-quality service to our customers. One of our greatest strengths is our people; employing highly knowledgeable experts on the ground interacting with our customers daily in both domestic and overseas markets is crucial to good business performance, and never more so than when we gather our intelligence to inform the innovation of new technologies for the benefit of our customers.

To this day we remain a privately owned and independent business, which enables us to be extremely nimble and able to react very quickly to meet changing market demands. The strength of the ‘Denso’ brand name itself and our long-held reputation for quality products has helped to establish our position within our field. As we move forward from our 140th year, we believe the continuity of strong leadership across the group of companies, alongside an ongoing multimillion pound programme of investment in the group around the world, will see the company grow and prosper for many more years to come.

How would you describe the essence of the company? Do you have a company motto, or ethos you’d like to share with us? I wonder if there is an employee who comes to mind who particularly embodies the values hold dear?

At Winn & Coales International Ltd., we are firm believers in the power of people, people, people. The intrinsic value of the individuals who support our business to operate successfully can never be understated. The hard work and dedication demonstrated by our teams across the globe are crucial to our success and achieving our operational goals.

There is a great sense of family amongst our employees, and with that comes a shared responsibility and duty to work together as a team. With family, there is a shared respect for each other and the legacy of the company within which we work. Together, we strive for excellence and work towards a common goal.

Across the group we have many people who have served 20, 30, or 40+ years in all divisions – from the shop floor to the board of directors. Our longest serving employee to date dedicated 62 years of loyal service in total.

When it comes to your customers: how do you create and foster long-term relationships? What are the challenges in this space for pipeline manufacturing and service companies?

Endeavouring to provide the highest levels of customer service is paramount to us. It is extremely important that our customers are confident in the correct application techniques for our products and systems; in this vein, we offer free product application training that can be undertaken at our dedicated training centres around the world or at our customer’s site. Training and engaging with our customers in this manner can nourish those all-important relationships that are critical to good business relations.

As previously mentioned, we are fortunate to possess real experts with decades of knowledge and experience behind them. The continuity offered by long serving staff members plays a huge role in fostering relationships. The difficulties we can face are down to turnover in our customers personnel and losing the connection nurtured over many years of business.

Additionally, rising energy costs and the fluctuating price and availability of raw materials are some of our most difficult challenges to navigate. Proficient resource planning and maintaining a consistent eye on world events and markets means we can successfully navigate these issues.

Last thoughts then: what is planned for the big 150th anniversary? What else will Winn & Coales have achieved by then?

Our main focus is to continue as leaders within the field of corrosion prevention and sealing technologies, pushing for growth in all of our markets and managing the acquisition of more companies to complement our existing range of products and systems. We are two years in to a very ambitious 10-year growth strategy where we aim to quadruple the size of the business, which we are currently on track to achieve.

In the meantime, we will continue to reflect on our past and take what we learn to propel ourselves toward a positive and bright future. As for the big 150th – you’ll have to wait and see!

The original article can be found on pages 21-25 of the December 2023 edition of World Pipelines magazine. Alternatively, you can view the issue online by clicking here.