An interview with Gareth Barker

Published: 10 May 2023

You started your career with Sheffield Forgemasters in the early 1990s as an apprentice, can you give us an overview of your tenure at the company?

I began work at Sheffield Forgemasters as an apprentice machinist, aged 19. After six-years, I was promoted to Product Manager for the Roll-Manufacturing division, then going on to work as General Manager our 1/4-mile long South Machine Shop.

Five years later, I was promoted to become the youngest Operations Director in the company’s history, responsible for the South Machine Shop.

In 2008, I took a more strategic role as Forge Operations Director, responsible for more than 130 staff from apprentices to managers and technical to sales staff.

in 2011 I became Managing Director, Forgings Division, responsible for 450 staff across the Forge and Heat Treatment, North and South Machine Shops, Work Rolls division and Technical and Sales Support. Over 50 per cent of the company's total turnover comes from these areas.

Following stints as Customer Programmes Director with oversight of the Sales Department, in 2016 I became Group Operations Director taking responsibility for the entire group operations at Brightside Lane and reporting directly to the Chief Executive.

My appointment to the Board of Directors and role of Chief Operating Officer came in 2021.

What has been your most challenging role?

Every part of the company and the roles that I have held, presented their own challenges, from emergency repairs to critical plant, turnaround of loss-making areas to dramatic, costly and difficult recovery from two major flood events.

My current role is different to anything else that I’ve undertaken, requiring not only the immediacy of overseeing operational performance, but dovetailing that with a vast recapitalisation programme which will affect major parts of our site.

I also have to deliver against my board responsibilities and maintain strong links and dialogue with our stakeholders at UK Government and the MOD.

Can you share with us some of your greatest professional achievements to date with the business?

The recent challenges around recapitalisation are significant.

I’ve had to find solutions for the physical problems encountered when excavating a site which is layered with 200 plus years of industry, including battling water tables and creating site-wide flood-proofing, stabilising complicated, unstable substrate and removal of large Victorian structures – all of which had the potential to derail stringent MOD timetables or compromise on productivity.

The only way to manage this has been by bringing manufacturing and construction teams together to find ways to overcome each hurdle that they face, reconfiguring the construction and productivity schedules on continual basis to maintain schedules.

With each hurdle that we encounter, we have to plan for a different scenario and reach the best outcome for the business and its 600 plus employees.

The reward is seeing the new facilities taking shape and realising that we are creating something extraordinary for the future of UK manufacturing, here at Brightside Lane.

You have been with the business since the start of your career, how would you encourage new apprentices / graduates to join the industry?

What we can offer to apprentices is unmatched in any other engineering company, because the facilities that we are building will provide highly skilled, rewarding careers for decades to come in an environment which doesn’t exist anywhere else in the UK.

We have a unique skills-set which we need to pass on to the next generation of innovators, problem solvers and business leaders and my own career is a great example of how apprenticeships work.

We also recruit graduates across numerous departments and work closely with several universities on collaborative projects which are re-define what is possible in heavy forging and casting technologies. It’s a really exciting place to be.

What are you most excited about, for the future of Sheffield Forgemasters?

I’m most excited about the legacy that we are creating.

This company has supported the region’s families for hundreds of years and has always done so with pride in the Sheffield brand.

What we are creating now is building on history and on the skills of thousands of talented people who have passed through our gates and will provide even better careers and lifestyles for its employees for the foreseeable future and that’s a fantastic reality.