When Jimmy McGhee first set foot in the workshops of John Pollock Farm Machinery in Mauchline, taking on his first job as a young lad fresh from school, he had no idea that 50 years later he’d still be there, and sitting in the boss’s chair!
Jimmy joined the agricultural engineering company two days after the company celebrated its 100th anniversary, working for the late John Pollock, grandson of the founder Andrew Pollock, whose talent for inventing labour saving farm machinery in the days before widespread mechanisation had led to the initial success of the firm. His potato graders, zig zag harrows, ploughs, hay presses and horse drawn mowers were such high quality, that some of the original implements, including some of the sturdy carts, are still in existence today.
From its foundation in Cowgatehead in 1867, the firm’s early move to a purpose built location in Station Road Mauchline proved ideal, enabling the company to service its worldwide markets including Ireland, Canada, France, Taiwan and Japan by train. It was here that Jimmy’s career took shape.
For Jimmy, a childhood spent “working about farms” had led to an interest in machinery, so an apprenticeship at Pollocks was a dream come true. He had a thorough grounding in the firm. He started off in the workshop, spent time in the drawing office, then the stores and finally went on the road as a salesman in 1976. Now, as the firm celebrates its 150th anniversary and his 50th year at the company, he is as enthusiastic about his job as ever. But one day in 1998 his career with the company nearly came to an end.
“John Pollock was an absolute gentleman, but he’d decided to retire and shut the company and sell the buildings and ground. So I was facing redundancy. But overnight I came up with a plan. I came in the next day and asked John ‘is redundancy the only option? I’d like to try and take over the company.’ To his credit he was delighted, promised to make it easy for me and stuck true to his word.
“I engaged the services of a retired bank manager, George Pollock and he guided me through the process, helped me raise finance, and we moved the entire operation and stock to our current premises at Lugar on the site of former Coal Board offices.
“Of course I had a lot to do, and it was George who introduced me to East Ayrshire Council. And I’ve had support from their business advisers ever since. One of our first successes with them was when we needed help to develop a prototype for programmable electrical controllers for our automatic scrapers. They introduced us to an innovations counsellor who helped us work out the software and develop the prototype for the controllers which we still produce today. We’ve always trained our own apprentices and the first people I talk to when I’m looking to take on an employee is the Economic Development Team at East Ayrshire. They’ve helped us source manual handling, forklift training and other courses for our employees. I believe in having everyone trained to do everything. With 14 employees we need to turn our hands to everything. And with the Council I know they’ll help me recruit and train new employees. I believe in paying back too – I’ve helped them as an ambassador for entrepreneurs, explaining to other businesses what they’ve done for us.
“Shortly after I took over the firm we won the John Logie Baird Award for Innovation and a Silver Medal from the Royal Highland Society for our scraper systems thanks to help from our Council Business Mentor – although sometimes he was more of a tormentor! He pushed me, found the things we were weak on and got me thinking about everything I needed to do. They’ve been a big help to our business every step of the way since 1998 and I’ll be phoning them again shortly to arrange the recruitment of two new apprentices and a time served person.”
A spell of illness two years ago gave Jimmy some time to sort through the Pollock archives. Typical of a man whose enthusiasm for the business shines through, he put the time off to good use, compiling and writing a book about the history of the company. It’s a fascinating record of innovation, skill and entrepreneurship which pays tribute to the endeavours of the generations of hard working and dedicated who have made the company what it is today. And they’re not resting on their laurels just yet. Explains Jimmy:
“Since I took over in 1998 we’ve turned a profit every year, and East Ayrshire Council’s Business Support and Business Gateway have been there with us every step of the way, ready to help us with advice, grant funding and access to specialists and training. The last two years have been the hardest, dairy farmers weren’t getting their payments, but things have eased off and we’ve got a very healthy order book. That’s why we’re now talking to their employability team to help us recruit some new apprentices. We’ve had a great 150 years at Pollock’s and we’re very much looking forward to the next 150!
Depute Provost Claire Leitch, visited the factory on their 150th anniversary Open Day. Admiring a display of restored historic farm implements, including many manufactured by John Pollock, she said: “It’s wonderful to be here celebrating the 150th anniversary of a firm which has a proud record of innovation, long standing employee service and whose products have travelled all over the globe. That many of the first tools they made are still in existence demonstrates the quality of manufacture and design which comes from the passion and drive of all who work here. East Ayrshire is home to an amazing number of small to medium size businesses serving specialist markets all over the globe and our Economic Development team is very proud to have been there over the past 20 years lending support and encouragement to help them build on their success.”
For more information about how Business Support and Business Gateway provided by East Ayrshire Council’s Economic Development Team can help your business, contact:
East Ayrshire Council
Johnnie Walker Bond
East Ayrshire Council
89 King St, Kilmarnock
01563 576 987