Tomlinson Ltd – Crisis, Culture, Cohesion & the Bottom Line

In 2021, Leicester foiling and embossing die-maker, Tomlinson Ltd, proudly celebrates four years of being an Employee Owned company. Formerly privately owned, the move to becoming ‘EO’ came about following the retirement of the firm’s Managing Director of many years, Lynne Tomlinson-Hands.

Founded in the 1920’s, Tomlinson Ltd was already a well-established and successful company known within the print finishing industry for its high-quality, specialised products and friendly, professional and responsive service. However, a change of leadership due to Lynne’s retirement heralded a new era for Tomlinson, and the company’s three new directors had a clear and exciting vision for the firm’s future.

“Tomlinson’s workforce have always been dedicated and enthusiastic,” states Finance Director, Jim Littler, “with many loyal staff members staying with us for decades. On recognising this it became obvious that no-one could be better equipped to help steer the company to even greater future success than the skilled individuals who work for the company – those who physically create our bespoke products.”.

With almost one-hundred-years’ trading under its belt, Tomlinson is no stranger to navigating stormy seas but the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 presented the company – as it did the world – with an array of colossal and sobering new challenges which no business, however large or small, could possibly have predicted or completely prepared for.

“The Prime Minister’s briefing on March 23rd announcing that Britain would go into lockdown came as a huge blow,” recounts Jim in a serious tone, “although we all completely understood why it was necessary. We held an urgent company meeting and, together with our co-owners, agreed that we should temporarily close Tomlinson’s to protect the safety and wellbeing of all who work here, and our families.”.

Soon after, the phone lines abruptly fell silent, the production machinery was powered down and the entire workforce headed homeward. Tomlinson’s doors closed for a period of three weeks.

“Tomlinson’s doors may have been closed but our mobile phones were alight all hours of the day and night!”, divulges Business Development Director, Ginger Singh-Kauldhar, “We quickly discovered that all twenty-four company co-owners were equally determined to find a way through this unprecedented situation. It was so encouraging.”.

Tomlinson’s Production Director, Jon Colburt, wholly agrees acknowledging, “Yes, the contribution of suggestions from everyone on how we could make the working environment safe to return to was deeply heartening and inspiring.”.

During the closure, Tomlinson’s premises was thoroughly deep-cleaned and a meticulous analysis of working areas and practices carried out. Closely following government advice and guidance, Directors facilitated the installation of convex mirrors in corridors; fitted signage and perspex screens at workstations and in areas that were formerly communal; added automatic hand-sanitising stations, antibacterial sprays and wipes in every department; introduced the performing and logging of daily temperature checks as personnel arrived on-site; invested in branded face-coverings; adopted strict social-distancing measures; and implemented remote working wherever possible.

Finally, with all possible precautions in place, in mid-April 2020, Tomlinson’s factory reopened – initially operating at a reduced staffing level due to decreased demand and furloughing those unable to work from home in three-week-block rotation. “This situation was unavoidable,” explains Jim, “because, at first, the pandemic significantly reduced the volume of orders coming in. However, every one of our co-owners fully understood the circumstances and co-operated brilliantly and without complaint. In fact, a number of those on furlough rang in regularly to find out how soon they could come back to work! You could liken it to them wanting to make their own valuable contribution to the ‘war effort’.”.

A year on and Tomlinson have fully adapted to the so-called ‘new normal’ and are now operating at full capacity and with full staffing levels. “It’s a very different production environment these days,” confides Jon, “but it’s running smoothly and efficiently and everyone has embraced the changes and new procedures conscientiously and with immense positivity.”.

In addition, since the crisis of the pandemic first hit, some surprising and unexpected ‘upsides’ have come into view and Jon, Ginger and Jim can all identify positive outcomes.

“For me,” expresses Production Director, Jon Colburt, “it’s the way our team responded in very uncertain times and how everyone pulled together, offered practical suggestions and showed real cohesion. We’re even more of a close-knit team than ever and, without a doubt, having a vested interest in the business helped strengthen our collective resolve to turn a time of crisis into a triumph. Also, thanks to everyone’s excellent co-operation, our production workflow has actually improved.”.

Business Development Director, Ginger Singh-Kauldhar, wishes to verbalise his appreciation to Tomlinson’s loyal workforce, too. “It’s really impressed me how Tomlinson’s co-owners have supported the company’s latest marketing efforts since the start of the pandemic. Their ideas and input have helped us create some brilliant and innovative new online resources – which have proved to be a huge hit. We’re also now producing a quarterly newsletter where, in each new edition, we dedicate an article to a different member of our team – they all truly deserve to be seen and celebrated.”.

To close, Finance Director, Jim Littler, shares his poignant insight. “Every company is made up of people,” he says, “and so welcoming and embracing the input of those knowledgable and experienced individuals can only be a good thing. Since becoming Employee Owned, Tomlinson’s entire team has worked hard to establish a positive organisational culture in which every member feels valued, supported and heard. Practicing openness, approachability, honesty and transparency brings tangible benefits which are never more valuable than in times of crisis. Not only does this positive culture benefit the wellbeing of each person, but also benefits the business as a whole – which is evident in the bottom line. It’s good for us all to recognise that we’re a part of something bigger.”.

Tomlinson Ltd. Proudly Employee Owned.