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Pennine hails change as company Hits 40

Pennine, who counted GM Buses as its first client, is now hailing change as it celebrates its 40th anniversary!

Founded as a two-way radio specialist in Heywood on 1 May 1976, it was appointed as the UK’s first Motorola service dealer and swiftly hit the road to success having won the famously orange liveried bus operator’s business.

Later the company supported both Manchester’s City and United, providing radios to the clubs security teams. Having since diversified to offer voice, data, networking, radio and mobile expertise, the company built an impressive client base which includes British Aerospace, Sellafield and the Lowry Centre and spans a broad range of sectors such as the nuclear and manufacturing industries, further and higher education sectors and professional services.

Now a £14m turnover operation which includes the analogue and IP handset businesses Interquartz UK and Yealink UK, Pennine is set to mark its milestone year by launching its own cloud-based hosted telephony service. The move follows a long awaited kickstart to this emerging market by BT.

“The cloud, which has developed very quickly in other countries once the leading carrier has entered the market, is clearly going to gain rapid traction in the UK now BT is fully on board. We’re ready for that, with our own hosted telephony proposition at an advanced stage of development,” says Andrew. He added growth in the market would also benefit Yealink which last May announced it had won a four year contract for supply of its handsets through the BT Wholesale Centrex hosted service.

The move into hosted telephony is a far cry from the day managing director Andrew Roberts joined the business from Bolton College as a radio service technician in 1978, two years after the business was founded and secured debut turnover of £114,000.

Andrew is one of many long-term Pennine employees to have witnessed and contributed to the company’s transformations over the past four decades.

The first was heralded by the 80s liberalisation of the industry brought about by the Telecommunications Act. Recognising the opportunity in 1983 Pennine Telecom started selling answerphones, £1,000+ fax machines, intercoms and single telephones.

“At the time you could only get a ‘phone through British Telecom on a £3.20 quarterly rental and we were selling them outright for £25. It was a no brainer,” recalls Andrew.

As the market was gradually liberalised the company began selling multi-extension systems. “We began by testing our new found expertise by installing systems in our friends’ businesses. You have to remember Pennine was a radio firm so we had to learn everything about telecoms from scratch – and we wanted to ensure we had a strong customer proposition from day one,” recalls Andrew.

Pennine quickly embedded itself in the telecoms sector, fuelling rapid growth which would see turnover breaching £1m in 1985 and £5m a decade later. A state-of-the-art business centre followed in 1999 when the company moved to its current base on Salford Street, Bury

A business constantly transforming itself underwent another major change in 2003 courtesy of a management buy-out from the company’s retiring founding directors. Andrew together with sales director Geoff King and radio communication director Steve Ryan – who retired last year – took over. Under their stewardship Pennine has anticipated and embraced technological change and captured and retained an impressive client base.

In addition, greater focus has been placed upon personnel development and training, with the company investing heavily in product related qualification pathways and apprenticeships, becoming a particularly vocal advocate for the latter. This is perhaps not surprising given both Andrew and Geoff rose from the ranks of apprentices to the Board. The company has also completed ground-breaking projects, including the first home broadband network for an English school, installed at Bury’s Broad Oak Sports College. That award-winning initiative was later extended to provide free wi-fi to local residents and grabbed national media attention.

Andrew says the business is far from complacent with the pace and impact of technological change greater than ever. “The key lesson learned over the past 40 years is that you have to keep moving, to keep identifying the technologies which will help us all communicate and work more effectively. Hosted is clearly among those but The Internet of Things will be truly transformative, presenting both challenges and opportunities to companies like Pennine.”