Alistair Houghton meets MIKE PARKER, director of UKLED and founder of JPF Systems
IF YOU ever need someone to shine a light on the importance of UK manufacturing, then Mike Parker is your man.
Former police officer Mr Parker moved into business 16 years ago, setting up contractor JPF Systems before diversifying with the Automatic Door Company (ADC).
In 2009 he teamed up with father and son Tony and Colin Griffiths to launch UKLED, which manufactures LED lighting tubes.
And just last month that company took a momentous step by bringing the manufacturing of those tubes back to the UK from China.
UKLED offers a “relamping service” – replacing conventional and low-energy tubes and bulbs with its own LED equivalents.
Not only do LED lights use less energy – Mr Parker estimates the average client saves 75%on their energy bills – but they can be installed in existing light fittings.
UKLED is a small part of Mr Parker’s Bromborough business empire, employing some 12 people. But he lights up when asked just what its growth potential could be.
“The thing about this market is it’s got to be absolutely enormous,” he said. “There must be millions and millions of these lights, running 24/7, or 10-hour public domain lighting, for example in schools.
“The demand is never going to be satisfied in my years. It’s going to go from generation to generation now.
“We’re trying to change the whole dynamic of lighting use in the UK.”
Liverpool-born Mr Parker joined shipping line Elder Dempster as a trainee accountant after leaving school. But he soon realised that accountancy wasn’t for him, and moved to Merseyside Police.
By 21 he was one of the youngest traffic officers in the country.
As he moved up the ranks, the former international basketball player found himself doing community police work in Toxteth in the aftermath of the 1981 riots. He even helped create a basketball team, the Toxteth Scorpions
Later, he won a scholarship to the University of Liverpool, where he studied economic history.
But by 1994, as the force was restructuring its management, he felt the time was right to move on.
“I just wanted a change,” he said.
“Things were happening in the police and it wasn’t the force I joined. But they gave me fantastic training, and I loved it and miss it still.”
After leaving the force, Mr Parker joined a glazing firm. There he met Nick Judge – and the duo came up with the idea that in 1996 became JPF.
Police work may have been tough, but running a business was no picnic. The transition from policeman to businessman was, Mr Parker said with a wry smile, tough.
“Ambition drove me on,” he said, “and dogged persistence.”
“And business acumen probably came to me from my grandfather. He ran Wolf Construction in Liverpool, which worked on projects including the Mersey Tunnel, so it’s possible entrepreneurship came down through my genes.
“I did find it difficult at first. But I’ve never found it difficult to communicate with people and sell myself as well as selling products.
“Nick was technically astute and did pretty much everything on the engineering side. We just put ourselves about to all the councils as a professional outfit.”
JPF has breathed new life into pre-fabricated buildings throughout the North West.
Many schools and colleges put up prefabs as they expanded to cope with the post-World War II baby boom. Those temporary buildings became permanent fixtures at schools, but were often cold and energy-inefficient compared to the permanent buildings next door.
The cost of replacing them would be prohibitive – and that’s where JPF comes in.
JPF keeps the roof on the prefabs, but strips out all the old walls and windows. It then replaces them with long-lasting and well-insulated panels and double-glazed windows.
“It enhances the occupants’ quality of life,” said Mr Parker.
“ These buildings were never meant to be 40, 50 or 60 years old.
“We’re the main contractor for county councils in the North West and North Wales. It’s still a thriving business.”
In 2004, Mr Parker and Mr Judge founded ADC as a spin-out from JPF.
It works “north of Birmingham and south of Scotland”, though has clients across the UK. They include Tesco, Lloyds TSB, Odeon cinemas and county councils.
“It’s impressive when you reel them off,” smiled Mr Parker.
“We work extensively for ourselves, but also as a subcontractor for large facilities management companies.
“We’re probably one of the largest private companies in the country doing this work. It’s still going well and we’re seeing steady growth.”