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Schoolhill Hydraulic Engineering receives Northern Star Business Award for Family Business

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22 May 2023

Schoolhill Hydraulic Engineering, based in Aberdeen, has received the Family Business Award at the recent Northern Star Business Awards. 

Established by the Whyte family 74 years ago, the company owes its success to a combination of high quality and diversification. Initially, the company focused on producing precision replacement parts for agricultural machinery in the 1950s. However, it has now expanded its operations to serve various industries, including oil and gas, whisky, agriculture, and industrial process control systems.

In 2016, when the oil and gas industry experienced a significant downturn, Schoolhill Hydraulic Engineering Ltd faced a challenging period. The company was forced to downsize its workforce from 44 to 18 employees.

To counter the revenue loss and reduce its dependence on the oil and gas sector, the company made a strategic decision to prioritise its legacy products for the whisky industry. These products include hydraulic-powered machinery used in the manufacturing and repair of oak whisky barrels.

This visionary move paid off, as 70% of Schoolhill's current revenue comes from whisky barrel working machinery, while the remaining 30% is derived from oil and gas operations. The company's machines are now widely used in cooperages across Scotland and are gaining traction in the rum industry in the Caribbean and Central America, as well as in wine barrel and bourbon cooperages in the USA and Australia.

Notably, Schoolhill Hydraulic Engineering Ltd has also made significant contributions to the North Sea oil sector. Many of their innovative products have become the industry standard and are utilised in oil provinces worldwide. Locally, the company has designed and manufactured specialised hydraulic equipment for Aberdeen City Council, including a hydraulic stage for the Beach Ballroom.

As the company approaches its 75th anniversary this year, Ronald Whyte, the managing director, continues to lead the business. During his frequent trips to meet suppliers and visit customers, he is often accompanied by his son David, the drawing office manager, underscoring the enduring family legacy at Schoolhill Hydraulic Engineering Ltd.