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Northern Stars 2023 winner spotlight: Schoolhill Hydraulic Engineering Ltd

Posted on 19 May 2023

Northern Stars 2023 winner spotlight: Schoolhill Hydraulic Engineering Ltd

Schoolhill Hydraulic Engineering Ltd picked up the Family Business Award at this year's Northern Star Business Awards, and were presented by title by sponsor Aberdeenshire Council.

High quality and diversification have been fundamental to the success of Aberdeen-based Schoolhill Hydraulic Engineering Co Ltd over the past 74 years and through four generations of the Whyte family.

In the 50's the company manufactured precision replacement parts for earth moving and agricultural machinery. The company's present area of operations covers several industry sectors, including oil and gas, whisky, agriculture and industrial process control systems.

Until the industry collapse of 2016, 80% of the company revenue came from subsea oil and gas, but the downturn forced the company to reduce its number of employees from 44 to 18.

A strategic decision to focus on its legacy products for the whisky industry to replace the revenue lost from oil and gas - and diversify away from its dependence on this sector - proved visionary.

These are a range of hydraulic powered machines for operations on either the manufacture of oak whisky barrels or for barrel repairs.

Staff levels are almost back to before the slump and 70% of Schoolhill’s revenue now comes from whisky barrel working machinery and 30% from oil and gas.

Schoolhill machinery can be found in every cooperage in Scotland and in most distilleries with their own barrel working operations. The company’s High Speed Hoopdriver is the main workhorse of whisky barrel operations in Scotland and has a reputation for reliability and longevity. The company is also supplying equipment to the rum industry in the Caribbean and Central America as well as wine barrel and bourbon cooperages in the USA and Australia.

Many of the innovative products Schoolhill has designed and manufactured for the North Sea oil sector have become the industry standard and are used in oil provinces around globe. Locally it has designed and manufactured specialist hydraulic equipment for Aberdeen City Council, included a hydraulic stage for the city’s Beach Ballroom.

Four generations have worked in the business which was founded in 1948 and will celebrate its 75th anniversary this year.

Ronald Whyte is the company managing director and on his regular trips to meet suppliers and visit customer at home and abroad he is now often accompanied by son David, the drawing office manager.

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