Friday, May 23, 2014

News: Stewart looking forward as Millers do the business

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This Sunday, Tony Stewart, the owner of Rotherham firm, ASD Lighting, will be back at Wembley as chairman of Rotherham United, with the club one game away from returning to the Championship.

A lot of people, even Rotherham fans, thought that it might never happen again after the club dropped down the leagues with mounting off field problems following relegation from the second tier in 2004-05. But then, a lot of people never believed that the club would be back in town, playing at a purpose-built, iconic, £20m stadium.

Tony Stewart started in business aged 26 in a fast growing electrical contracting firm and his hard working nature was coupled with an enjoyment in being his own boss and being a manager.

Stewart was intrigued by infra red detectors and went on to combine them with lighting products which made them turn on "as if by magic" in 1981. After further design and development, and securing start up cash from the bank, it led to the formation of ASD Lighting, a Rotherham manufacturing success story.

The Barbot Hall company has had unrivalled success in the LED market and has invested heavily in facilities and R&D. It employs about 175 staff and the latest financial results showed that turnover was £21.4m and pre-tax profits were £3.7m in the year ending 31 December 2012.

Tony Stewart was one of a number of business people invited to the Town Hall with the aim of finding a way of resurrecting the borough's football league club after it fell into administration for the second time in 2008. He ended up going it alone and brought them out of administration via a Creditors Voluntary Agreement.

His sales people always talked about football and Stewart recognised the networking opportunities available with football as a common denominator, having previously sponsored Sheffield Wednesday.

After the takeover came the decision to play home games at the now demolished Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield, after working hard to get a deal to carry on playing at Millmoor, the club's home for over 100 years.

Stewart, who still considers himself a novice as a football chairman compared to his 30 years in business, said: "The people at Don Valley were great and I can't thank them enough. Our time at Don Valley was a learning curve for me and the other directors. Working on plans for our own stadium, we knew we had to fill in the gaps - the views and the acoustics, that sort of thing."
The club was charged with returning to play home games in its home town within four seasons by the Football League, which meant that the new stadium was being considered during the economic crisis, but as Stewart explained: "From bad comes good, because we had construction firms begging for work and with the tenders we put out we were able to get something iconic and unique, at the price we wanted to pay."

Stewart speaks with a great sense of achievement about the £20m New York Stadium (he came down "every day" during construction) and how he also approached it as a businessman. "With the new financial regulations coming in, we knew we had to look at our revenues and outlay as we are funding for the future. That's why we built in space for conferencing, hospitality, events, retail and office use" he added.

The next major piece of the New York regeneration puzzle is the future of the derelict Guest & Chrimes building next to the stadium.

The stadium hosted its first game in July 2012 and the Millers went on to secure promotion that season with an average attendance of just short of 8,000, the club's highest since 1982/1983. This season has seen a number of sell out games with famous wins over Sheffield Wednesday in the cup and Sheffield United in the league. The team worked its way in to the playoff positions scoring a bagful of goals and recently dispatched Preston North End to set up a playoff final against Leyton Orient.

The chairman added: "We are looking forward, we've been planning for the Championship. We need a bit of luck but we've got the skill and the plan. Good preparation and hard work are needed for success in business and in football."

Stewart admitted that he often asked himself if getting involved in football was "vanity or sanity" but concluded: "What an adventure I'm having. What an adventure Rotherham is having."

Held at the League One club's impressive New York Stadium, regular Rotherham United Business Club events give local businesses the opportunity to support each other and Rotherham United and cement the club's place within the business community. The club and ASD Lighting have recently become patrons of the Barnsley & Rotherham Chamber of Commerce to enhance their status with businesses in the town.

Rotherham United website
ASD Lighting website

Images: themillers.co.uk

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