Geoffrey Durrans 1928-2017

It is with regret that we announce the death of past FESA council member Geoffrey Durrans, the former managing director and chairman of the James Durrans Group. Mr Geoffrey – as the workforce affectionately called him – had a long and accomplished career in the family business where he was instrumental in developing the company on an international scale.

James Durrans & Sons Ltd was established in Penistone, South Yorkshire in 1863 by Mr Geoffrey’s great, great grandfather as a carbon-related products manufacturer. Mr Geoffrey and his brother Richard took control of the business following the death of their father in 1960 with the then 34-year-old Geoffrey becoming managing director, a role he remained in until 1994, before giving another five years service as chairman until the age of 70. Even after he stepped back from the role of chairman he still popped into the company most days and never missed an AGM. During the four decades of his stewardship, the company grew through acquisition and developing its international standing by growing its overseas customer base. Although his keen business brain helped grow the business, so too did his dedication and immense work ethic which contributed to the James Durrans Group becoming the global enterprise it is today with sales of around £63m, two hundred employees and nine manufacturing sites worldwide putting the company at the forefront of carbon technology.

He made his first acquisition – The Standard Pulverised Fuel Company – in 1964 and his second – William Cummins – in 1966. Sites for both businesses are still owned and operated by the Durrans Group today.In 1968 he established a transport company and in 1970 built a new garage and operating centre near Barnsley.In 1974 he began his German company, in the small town of Willich near Dusseldorf. His final acquisition, in 1991, was also in Germany – Carl Dellman GMBH, which he then merged with James Durrans GMBH and today is successfully managed under the leadership of his youngest son, Nick Durrans, who moved there in 1992.

He travelled extensively building sales and seeking new suppliers throughout the world. He wasn’t afraid to put the work in as his son Chris explained: “One winter in the 1970s he was in China, graphite was in short supply so he boarded a steam train and for three days travelled north to Harbin close to the Russian boarder. Sleeping on hard wooden seats and eating whatever was available. It was pioneering stuff, as China was not the open country for travel it is now. He always remarked his father could earn a good living whilst never leaving Yorkshire, but he was visionary and could see the demise of traditional UK manufacturing and Germany was the place to be. I learnt that lesson well from him. The company now has subsidiaries in China, India, France and South Africa.

”Today the company is run by Geoffrey’s sons Chris and Nick who are working tirelessly to continue the family tradition of running a large enterprise with a ‘local’, family attitude.Although the business was at the core of Geoffrey’s life, he always found time to give back to the industry and had a long association with the Foundry Equipment and Supplies Association (FESA) where he was a long-standing member of council throughout the 1980s, 1990s and into the new millennium, retiring from FESA council in 2006 at the age of 77. During his time on the FESA council he rarely missed a meeting and was always on hand to offer words of wisdom and, equally useful, criticism when necessary.

As a former ICME member, he was well known throughout the industry attending many FESA and ICME functions over the years.On first meeting, Mr Geoffrey’s often fierce exterior could be misunderstood to those unfamiliar with this hardy Yorkshire man’s ways. He didn’t suffer fools, was both tough and complementary when needed and he wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion. He was, as you might call, old-school. Indeed he was full of character in a world where the importance of integrity and straight-talking is often lacking.

He was loved and respected by his workforce, his colleagues in the industry, his family and friends.As Chris Durrans explained, he understood people: “He always knew that it was the people who worked for James Durrans & Sons Ltd who made it what it was, not one man or one family. Look after the company he would say and it will look after you.”It is with sadness that his wife passed away just ten days before him and our sincere condolences are extended to their children, grand-children, family and friends and of course to everyone at the Durrans Group who will miss ‘Mr Geoffrey’s’ visits.Lynn Postle, Editor of FESA Member Company Foundry Trade Journal, told FESA: “I had the good fortune to know Mr Geoffrey and walk around the Penistone site with him on many an occasion, where everyone nodded their head and acknowledged him; even after he had retired he still knew everyone’s name and what they were working on. The mutual respect was unmistakable but what struck me most about him was his absolute passion for industry in general and the company he was so proud of. I always enjoyed being in his presence as although he wasn't afraid to voice his opinion – whether you liked it or not – he was remarkably humble. I am thankful for the encouragement he offered me and for his honest opinions. To coin a phrase ‘they broke the mould’.”

Geoffrey Durrans (right) pictured with his closest business friend and one of the company’s biggest customers, Brian Cook of Castings PLC at the opening new head offices at Penistone in 2013

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