Has a ‘sleeping giant’ of industry awoken in Steyning?

SME has been based in Steyning since 1946
SME has been based in Steyning since 1946

Has a ‘sleeping giant’ been woken in Steyning?

Engineering company SME has been based in the village since 1946, but its new CEO thinks residents might not know the company, that is on their doorstep, is a world-leader.

Newly-appointed CEO of SME, Stuart McNeilis at the company's Steyning factory

Newly-appointed CEO of SME, Stuart McNeilis at the company's Steyning factory

After 34 years in aviation, it seemed strange to some that Stuart McNeilis would leave British Aerospace in Cheshire to head up a company 200 miles away that makes tone arms for record players.

But sitting in his office holding an example of the tone arm that made SME famous, he said it makes perfect sense.

He said: “This is acclaimed to be the best pickup arm in the world, it is a masterpiece.

“This was one of the attractions.”

It is a traditional, humble company with the fantastic DNA of Steyning.

Stuart McNeilis, CEO

SME was started by Alastair Robertson-Aikman and initially made model cars.

But when he designed a new tone arm that shook the industry, the company’s direction changed forever.

Now it also makes precision engineered parts for Formula One cars, hospital equipment and the aerospace industry.

“It is a traditional, humble company with the fantastic DNA of Steyning and Mr Aikman.”

But Stuart faces challenges growing the ‘sleeping giant’ SME due to its aged workforce.

To fix this he wants to get young people interested in engineering to join as apprentices, hoping to hire four by the end of the year.

But will Brexit hurt SME, which trades to 52 countries?

Stuart said: “We do not anticipate it impacting us at all, the demand for precision engineered components is still there.

“British engineering is among the best in the world, we are still cutting edge.”

Stuart, 51, is keen to boost SME’s role in Steyning: “We want to engage the community with the SME family.

“We started out with local schools, raising awareness of precision engineering.

“Steyning is a wonderful village, it is important SME has a community presence.”