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HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, visits high performance motorsport technology business Xtrac

12 Dec 2013

His Royal Highness Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, who has a keen interest in motorsport as well as science and technology, visited the hi-tech factory in Berkshire and global headquarters of transmission specialist Xtrac.The company’s first Royal visitor was introduced to managing director Peter Digby, recently named by the UK Institute of Directors as ‘Director of the Year’, and invited to present the ‘Darren Huttel Apprentice of The Year Award’ to final year apprentice Matt Booth, who is working at Xtrac as a trainee production engineer.

“Xtrac celebrates its 30th anniversary next year, so we’re delighted by the Duke of Kent’s interest in our motorsport business, which means a lot to our employees who are all shareholders in the company,” said Peter Digby.   “The visit follows our recent appearance on Top Gear and as President of the Engineering Council and President of the Royal Institution the Duke of Kent clearly has an equal passion for science and engineering.  We were able to discuss the transfer of our motorsport technology into the aerospace, automotive, defence and marine industries.  The Duke was particularly interested to hear about the latest hybrid and electric vehicle innovations as part of our work helping to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions for international carmakers.”

Peter Digby was able to introduce the Duke of Kent to a number of its 270 employees, the majority of whom participate in an award winning share scheme established in 1997, when Peter Digby led an inspiring management and employee buyout which included all employees.  Employees still make up 100 per cent of the shareholders today; each employee becomes a shareholder after an initial year of service through the company’s Employee Benefit Trust.  As Peter Digby informed the Duke: “Our employees, also being our shareholders, make them doubly important as our most valuable asset.”

His Royal Highness was also interested in Xtrac's consistency over the years in regularly achieving 60-70 per cent export sales.   Xtrac is now the world’s most successful motorsport transmission company with a turnover of £40 million – having recently achieved its best annual sales. One of the Duke's major public roles for many years was vice-chairman of British Trade International - now known as UK Trade and Investment and he still retains an interest in British business at home and overseas.  

Peter Digby consequently was able to inform His Royal Highness that since Xtrac won the Queen’s Award for Exports in 1992, it has had a long history of entering new export territories, initially with Europe, Japan and then North America – where the business has additional facilities in Indianapolis and at Mooresville in North Carolina. “I also mentioned that more recently South America has been delivering good growth for the company,” said Peter Digby.   “In the future, China, Russia, India and the Pacific region have also been recognised as largely untapped motorsport markets, where the car is becoming a more essential part of life.  This, ultimately, leads to increased levels of motorsport activity to support automotive brand awareness and showcase the performance of carmakers.”

As well as his interest in motorsport, science and technology, The Duke of Kent is of course no stranger to the Royal County of Berkshire, where Xtrac works closely with local schools and colleges, which are high on its agenda ensuring the on-going professional development of its entire staff.  And the company has a renowned apprenticeship training programme. “With hundreds of candidates chasing just a few positions each year, we have honed and developed our skills in selecting and training young, enthusiastic and extremely talented individuals,” Peter Digby said.  “Through our programmes, they attend colleges and universities collecting ONC and HNC engineering qualifications as well as engineering degrees and even doctorates - all with Xtrac’s full support and financial backing.”

Xtrac has actively encouraged and mentored almost one hundred young apprentices, trainees and undergraduates to successfully enter the world of high performance, world class engineering. It has other close links to the Berkshire community, especially local schools who regularly bring groups to visit the company, and Newbury College where it works alongside the Williams Formula 1 team (based at Wantage in Oxfordshire) to help deliver dedicated engineering courses for apprentices. “Not surprisingly, we enjoy outstanding employee retention, especially amongst our most experienced staff, many having more than 20 years of service,” Peter Digby added. 

In addition to explaining the many initiatives Xtrac has employed to encourage employee engagement across all levels of the organisation, Peter Digby noted that Xtrac is consulted by the Rt Hon Vince Cable at the department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), and other government departments, on how its experience can help the training needs of the UK’s engineering and manufacturing sectors. Peter Digby also highlighted the fact that Xtrac has been selected by the Motorsport Industry Association to represent this £6 billion UK industry on the strategically important Automotive Council Technology Group, sitting alongside all major UK automotive companies, helping develop new fuel saving and CO2 reducing technologies.

“In motorsport, we're continually striving for ever smaller, lighter gearbox designs using Xtrac engineering principles, which have been proven in all forms of motorsport and not just Formula One, which we’ve supplied since 1989,” said technical director Adrian Moore who sits on the Automotive Council Technology Group and accompanied the Duke of Kent on his tour.  “The downsizing and lightweighting trend is highly relevant to the packaging of an internal combustion engine and electric motor into a hybrid road car, where you have two sources of power to squeeze into the space available for the powertrain reflecting the benefit that the new regulations and relevance of F1 techno logy will bring to road cars.  In fact, many race formula regulations now actively reward efficient fuel consumption.”

Having presented the ‘Xtrac Apprentice of The Year Award’ to Matt Booth HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, completed his tour by signing the Xtrac visitor’s book.

For more information and images please visit http://www.xtrac.com/news/news.php?id=263&page=1 

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