Peter Cartwright, Commercial Motor Awards 2018 Service to Industry Award: Winners' Profile

George Barrow
September 6, 2019

Jump to: Challenges along the way, Winning the Service to Industry Award, Operations today.

Chairman of Cartwright Group, Peter Cartwright, has been with the company his father Stanley founded since 1960. Even at the age of 74 he still works five days a week (starting at 7.30am and knocking off at 5pm) and has a keen eye on the very latest trends in the road transport sector.

Peter was 15 when he joined the world of work, though he had little idea of what was to come. Just five years later he was in charge of day-to-day operations, along with brother Alan and mother Edith, when his father fell seriously ill.

“I was 20 and my brother was 26, we had my mother and only a handful of workers. You were going to see the customer and selling. You would speak to a customer, do the build, and if you made a mistake you would have to tell them.”

“We worked as a team,” he says of his relationship with his brother. “We talked about problems. He would go out and bring an order in, then say we have to do five or 10 vehicles a week.

“We used to have the board meeting every night in the pub. The problem is you live and breathe the job. The company celebrates its 70th year in a couple of years. There are not many people who can say that, and we’re still independent!”

Alan Cartwright died in 2011 and Peter became chairman of the Altrincham-based business. He now has both his children working alongside him – son Mark is group MD and daughter Lisa, also a board director, runs the property side of the business. Having the family involved is clearly important.

Today, Cartwright manufactures more than £82m worth of trailers from its 39.8-acre site in south Manchester. It employs some 940 people and achieved a turnover of £147.8m in the year to March 2018. It’s come a long way from specialising in timber frames.

Challenges along the way

The 1960s were undoubtedly a time of change. As Cartwright’s second generation settled in, trailer and bodywork manufacturing adopted new technology such as the advent of fibreglass and the introduction of demountables. However, it was the 1970s and 1980s that brought the biggest challenges.

The mid-70s brought high inflation and high interest rates, right up to the mid-80s, which made it very difficult to run a manufacturing business.

We used to body Scammell trailers and they went out of business in the mid-1970s. This forced us down the route of making our own Cartwright trailer,” he remembers. “You might think that was straightforward but it took us 10 years to get the brand recognised. You get a lot of doors shut in your face, mainly because they look in Glass’s Guide and see where your name is!”

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Winning the Service to Industry Award

Winning the Service to Industry award at the 2018 Commercial Motor Awards was something of a shock to Cartwright. “I was unprepared,” he says. “My daughter knew I had been entered and was sat on the same table as me! It was a surprise to be recognised really. It does make you wonder where those years have gone.”

On that same night Cartwright also picked up Bodybuilder of the Year 2018 and it also won at the MEN Business of the Year 2018 Awards, making it a hat-trick for the Altrincham-based company.

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Operations today

Twenty years later Cartwright had its foot in the door at Royal Mail, and counted a booming TNT as one of its customers. Fast-forward to today and its business has diversified from pure manufacturing; Cartwright.

Fleet Services manages more than 12,000 assets, supported by 50 mobile technicians, while Cartwright Rentals – which began in the 1980s – has more than 6,500 assets at 10 sites across the country. There’s also the van conversions division, Cartwright Conversions, which began in 2009, and Cartwright Finance.

“Fleet Services is picking up business in its own right,” says Cartwright. “We’ve just picked up an order for Culina. We’ve got the best part of 6,700 on our rental fleet. It opens doors to customers. They can see the product and we have a wide variety of products, such as double-deck fridges, urbans and so on, which help utilisation figures. I basically spend my time watching these figures.”

His self-deprecating claim to be “Cartwright’s oldest apprentice” underlines his support for the company’s extensive apprenticeship scheme. It was named as one of Britain’s Top 100 apprentice employers at the national Apprentice Awards in 2016 and Joshua Redfern won Apprentice of the Year at the 2017 Commercial Motor Awards.

“We’ve been employing apprentices for 55 years and some of them come and talk to me if they have personal issues,” Peter says.

It isn’t bad. A lot of kids who come in to work with their hands don’t really know what they are doing. You have to nurture them along a bit. Employees and apprentices come from all over the north-west. We are a major employer. It is a skilled workforce. It is not minimum wage.”

Cartwright says he cannot imagine retiring as chairman of the company that bears his family name. “I am 75 in January. There is nothing wrong with my memory. I have a very active brain. There is no point in packing it in to have a pipe and slippers. And I don’t smoke anyway! Manufacturing has its challenges, but I have enjoyed it. If somebody asked me if I would do it all over again, I would say yes.”

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The Service to Industry Award at the Commercial Motor Awards 2018 was sponsored by the Asset Alliance Group.

  • The Commercial Motor Awards return on Thursday 28 November 2019 at The Vox Centre, Birmingham, celebrating the best in new and used commercial vehicle sales and aftersales. The awards welcomes not only dealers, but also bodybuilders, finance, rental, leasing and contract hire providers. Enter now for free and have your excellence recognised by the industry.

About the Author


George Barrow

George has been writing about nearly anything with wheels for the past 15 years and is the UK jury member of the International Van of the Year and International Pick-Up Award.

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