Recent group restructure sees AV Dawson, one of Teesside’s largest family businesses, primed for further sustained growth

AV Dawson’s industry leading reputation in automotive metals handling and storage make it the partner of choice for some major manufacturers in the automotive sector.

From starting the business in the 1930s with a horse and cart to rebranding its site as Port of Middlesbrough, AV Dawson has demonstrated significant resilience and a clear focus on delivering multimodal logistics services to its worldwide customer base.
At the start of 2023, the business underwent a restructure of its board of directors to enable further sustained growth and long-term succession.

New to the role as Group Managing Director Designate, Charlie Nettle tells us more about this exciting transition, his ambitions for the business and why AV Dawson has made a significant investment in its people development programme.

Can you tell us more about AV Dawson and the Port of Middlesbrough, and how you support the automotive sector?

AV Dawson is the owner and operator of Port of Middlesbrough. We are a multimodal port and logistics facility based on the south side of the River Tees in Middlesbrough.

The business is a third-generation family business, founded in 1938 and is one of the largest family businesses in Teesside.

Port of Middlesbrough was launched as part of a site wide rebrand of our port facilities in September 2020, however the history of the site and it’s name go back much further. After the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 1825, the railway was extended to Middlesbrough in 1830 to export coal across the world. The Middlesbrough Branchline, which terminated at Port of Middlesbrough, marked the beginning of the growth of industrial Middlesbrough. Port of Middlesbrough is therefore often credited as the birthplace of modern Middlesbrough.

The port was initially called Port Darlington, before the name changed to Port of Middlesbrough in the mid 1830s. It has had a number of names since then, before AV Dawson rebranded as Port of Middlesbrough, bringing back a name from almost 200 years ago.

Today, the site plays an integral part in the North East’s automotive supply chain and we work closely with a global automotive manufacturer based in the region.

Our award-winning automotive metals warehouse opened in 2015 and revolutionised the game for us and the automotive sector. The climate-controlled warehouse is used to store automotive metals and carry out quality control checks before onward distribution to the end manufacturer and the wider automotive supply chain.

You were the former Commercial and Marketing Director and in January were promoted to Managing Director; how are you settling into this new role and working with the restructured board?

It’s a big step and I have big boots to fill. Many people initially reading this may wonder what ‘designate’ means. So, to stop the imminent Google search, for me, it effectively means, I’m ‘in training’.

Gary (Dawson), is still very much part of the business and will continue to support the business in his role as Chairman – he has a vast amount of knowledge about the inner workings of the business and this will take time to pass over.

My previous eight years in the business and my role as commercial and marketing director have given me a broad view of the business and although it feels slightly daunting to take on this role, I know I have the full support of the team at AV Dawson.

Ultimately a large part of my role now is to protect what we’ve built over the last 85 years and inspire the next generation of leaders to take the company forward and create a lasting legacy. To do this, I’ll be reinforcing a strong values-driven culture that we have been actively embedding in the business over recent years.

We’ve actually been planning this chapter of AV Dawson’s evolution for some time. This year marks the final year of a four-year programme to create a group structure – launching four subsidiary companies under the AV Dawson parent company. The last of these companies is Port of Middlesbrough Limited, which in October will evolve from simply being the brand name for our site, to becoming a trading company.

Moving to a group structure was about creating more opportunity for individual colleagues, while also reducing business risk – by not delivering the diverse portfolio of port services, rail logistics, onsite logistics, ships agency, road haulage and property through one company.

The priority in my new role will be to enable each of these subsidiaries to be successful, sustainable businesses in their own right, while supporting the wider group.

As a family grown business, still owned by the same family that started the business over 80 years ago, how will you ensure the culture and family values are nurtured alongside the planned growth of the business?

We are massively proud of our values, it’s part of the business’ DNA and without these values we wouldn’t be the company we are today.

We try to ensure that everyone in the business lives and breathes our values. The values underpin all strategic and day-to-day decisions colleagues make.

We ensured all colleagues had a say in what the values were going to be when we formally defined them in 2016 and from there, all colleagues have stood by them and continue to embrace them. Maurice, Gary’s late father and former chairman of the business, also played a huge part in finalising these values so they’ve had approval from at least two generations of the family.

All new starters attend a values workshop when they first start in the business, to ensure they fully understand what they mean.

We are just finalising an online values refresher course, whereby colleagues are reassessed against the values, to check they still understand what they are and are applying them in their day-today work.

We use our values as part of our recruitment strategy, this helps us decipher whether candidates would be a good fit for the company.

Our people make the business, having clear values that everyone buys into is absolutely key to ensuring the right culture.

We look after and support our colleagues and reward them where we can. I feel it’s important to look after and nurture the workforce you have, it’s vital for colleagues to feel valued and part of something.