It was just over 30 years ago that ReAgent’s Sales Director, Darren Wilson, joined the company. We talked to Darren about his time at ReAgent, the changes he’s seen, and his most memorable moments.
When did you first start working at ReAgent and what was your role?
I joined ReAgent in July 1989. I’d left school the year before with a good result in chemistry, so I’d decided to follow that route. I’d just completed a full time one year BTEC First Diploma in Science at Mid Cheshire College which I’d really enjoyed. At the end of the course, I came across an ad for a job as an employed trainee – like the YTS scheme – in the chemical industry that was also close to where I lived. It was ideal! I came for an interview at ReAgent, and I remember the quality manager asking me what the chemical formula for sodium bicarbonate was, and I got it wrong! Thankfully I still got the job…
What was it like when you first started at ReAgent?
ReAgent was a small company when I first started. There were only about 12 of us and it felt like a family. I found the work really interesting as I was learning new skills like titration, mixing, and blending. There were no computers of course – everything was analogue, written in notebooks and filed in filing cabinets.
My training was really well-structured. I learned how to do more analytical tasks from very experienced chemists who’d been in the industry their whole lives and were happy to teach me anything I wanted to learn. I loved coming to work (as I still do), and I look back on those times very fondly.
How has the company grown and changed since you started at ReAgent?
The change and growth have been dramatic! To put a few numbers on it: when I first started there were 12 people working at ReAgent and there are now over 50. The biggest batch of chemicals we manufactured was 1,000 litres, and we now have a 15,000-litre tank waiting to be commissioned. We’ve also moved from a 5,500 square foot factory to a new 38,000 square foot factory (although our actual space is closer to 120,000 square feet including our outdoor area and an additional unit, giving us great room for growth).
The changes really started when we got our BS5750 quality accreditation (the precursor to ISO 9001) in 1992. The whole company became more structured and we even got our first computer! This made a massive difference – everything suddenly became far easier, quicker, and we improved our quality control. I remember the local mayor even came in for a visit. Over the years it really has been our use of technology that’s made a massive difference, whether that’s internal systems for managing workload and resources or building our first website.
But ReAgent’s fundamental values haven’t changed, and that’s something that I particularly like. While the business isn’t recognisable today from where it was 30 years ago, we are still family-run and a very friendly place to work. There’s an open-door policy amongst the directors and we value full transparency and open communication. While we work at a much faster pace these days we’re still well-organised with great staff, a focus on quality, and pride in being the best at what we do. That hasn’t changed, and it shows in the number of staff who have been with ReAgent for many years.
How has your role changed over the years?
As you can imagine with the changes and huge growth that has happened in the business, my role at ReAgent has changed beyond recognition too. After completing my initial training and with a lot of new skills under my belt, I continued my education with the support of the company. Over a period of five years I went to college one day a week and completed an ONC in science, an HNC in chemistry, and an LRSC (Licentiateship from the Royal Society of Chemistry) in applied analytical chemistry.
By the mid-90s I worked in production and was able to generate new business and contracts for new products, looking after customers from end-to-end – in fact, one of my new customers is still a customer today.
Around 2000 I completed more qualifications as I wanted to progress, and ReAgent was really open to that. I completed an HNC in business and took on a newly-created role as technical manager, working closely with our MD on pricing, purchasing, setting up new products, and sourcing raw materials. I became operations director in the mid-2000s, and then sales director in 2012.
What have been your most memorable or proudest moments at ReAgent?
There have been a lot, but the ones that immediately come to mind as biggest achievements are winning the contract with an automotive company that’s turned out to be one of our most important customers. I put a lot of work into that over a number of years, and manage the relationship to this day.
I’m also really proud of helping to set up our bespoke business management system. It’s a robust, future-proofed system that has allowed us to cope extremely well with the large levels of growth we’re going through. I don’t think we could function properly without it!
One of my most memorable moments was my first customer visit to China. I would never have dreamed when I first started working at ReAgent that I’d one day be looking over the Shanghai skyline.