Wakefield-based Inprotec is a family-run engineering business which specialises in the design and supply of pyrometallurgical process plant used to recover lead and precious metals. It operates globally, supplying customers across a range of industries including metal refineries, recycling and waste plants and manufacturers. Notable recent projects include a six-figure commission to supply a new lead casting plant to NELCO Worldwide, a global leader in medical and industrial radiation shielding.
Earlier this year, Managing Director Chris Oldroyd, who has run the company since 2010, was awarded fellowship of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3), in recognition of the significant contribution he has made to the metals and processing equipment industry.
What was the inspiration for the current business path you are on?
My inspiration for Inprotec Ltd has changed over the years. I took over the business from my father in 2010, so I am a so-called second-generation entrepreneur. My life before that was quite different as I worked in software, but I took over the company as I wanted to my father’s legacy to carry on. The company was small and completely revolved around him, but he had some great designs and great customers, so my initial inspiration was to develop and build on these designs and grow Inprotec’s customer base, entering new markets all over the world. The company did well, and we realised these aspirations in a relatively short space of time. But as the world has changed, I’ve seen my inspiration change too. Social responsibility is something that all business owners now need to hold at the very top of their priority list if we are to create a sustainable world for future generations to enjoy. With this in mind, I’m now inspired by a desire to play my part in helping to create a circular economy, with Inprotec working with customers all over the world to help achieve this goal by providing the best solutions for reclaiming valuable and scarce materials and putting them back into the economy.
Is there one piece of advice you wish you’d been given before you started at Inprotec?
Don’t try to do it all yourself. You cannot be an expert in everything. You need to learn who to trust, and make them part of the plan, delegate the things that they can do much better than you. Also, do not overcomplicate the organisation, especially if it is small. It is easy to get obsessed with procedures. But only apply procedures where there is a real benefit or need for regulatory compliance, otherwise you risk reducing your company’s agility, flexibility, creativity and energy with overly formal administration when it simply isn’t necessary.
The one most important thing you’ve learned during the experience at Inprotec?
Your team is not just the people you employ. Your team is your supply chain and your customers. I have trusted suppliers that are now my friends. I have loyal customers that are now my friends. We all go the extra mile for each other, as we know what it means in terms of our collective success.
What do you see as your future business challenges?
Inprotec Ltd designs and implements pyrometallurgical process plant. For the non-initiated, this means furnaces and the equipment required to support a furnace. They are special furnaces as they are designed to recover, upgrade and refine metals that are locked up in more complex materials. They are relatively expensive to design and manufacture, each one being configured for the customer and their needs, and require a significant infrastructure to implement. Even though we are a small company, our customers aren’t. They tend to be the commodities, mining, chemical or specialist recycling companies working in the precious metals or non-ferrous metals industry. These materials are becoming harder to find or less economically viable to secure from primary sources such as mining. Secondary sources, such as waste products that contain these metals, are taking on more importance than ever before in light of this. With the advent of electric vehicles and the sheer pace of technological change and innovation we’re currently seeing, requirement for these scarce and valuable metals is soaring. At the same time, the process routes to recover such metals are also becoming more complicated. I want Inprotec to be a pioneer for change, introducing new process routes that make it easier to recover such materials. We can’t do it on our own though and it’s going to require a concerted, group effort, and joined-up thinking from companies big and small, along with government backing and support, to make this happen.
What would you like to leave as your business legacy?
That I have a sustainable business which is at the forefront of innovation in the circular economy.
What is your biggest business achievement / success so far?
Each project and new design is as important as the last one. We are blessed that we are constantly being challenged to provide customers with something that will revolutionise their business and their way of operating, with my talented team rising to these challenges every time. But I would say my biggest achievement to date is the internationalisation of Inprotec, with projects spanning the globe.
When you are not working, what do you do to relax?
I love to cycle, but I live in Holmfirth which is a rural area and seriously hilly. As I approach middle-age, I have noticed that climbing these hills is not getting any easier, so I invested in an eBike from Ribble Cycles, based in Preston, who are my new heroes. It’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
What is your biggest achievement outside of business?
I am so proud of my immensely talented wife Lucy, who is the best chef in the land – my waistline is testament to that. And my children, James and Emily, who are now teenagers and showing so much promise and talent in all the culture, sport, music and academic studies which they participate in.
What would you be doing if you weren’t MD at Inprotec?
I always wanted to be a vet when I was young, but wasn’t cognisant of the amount of dedication required, and the tough competition to get into veterinary college. If I had an alternative life, I would do something about it, and I would have made it as a vet.