Nationalisation and diversification
GKN emerged from the war as Britain’s biggest steel producer. However, it was soon embroiled in a battle against the Labour government’s determination to nationalise the steel industry – and so began a move into new areas of engineering and technology.
Labour first nationalised the steel industry in 1951 – paying GKN compensation of £18.7m for its assets. Four years later, the group bought them back for just under £12m from the Conservative government. But in 1964, Harold Wilson’s Labour government was elected with a mandate to renationalise steel. When completed in 1967, this left GKN with some steel interests, but led the company into a gradual withdrawal from its traditional industry over the following 20 years.
The drawn out nationalisation saga encouraged GKN to explore new business avenues. It expanded its involvement across the newly independent countries of the British Commonwealth and became involved in a host of steel-related businesses, including vehicle components such as crankshafts and propeller shafts. Building on wartime experience, the company began production of the famous Warrior tank for the British Army.
GKN also expanded in the industrial services sector. In 1974, the group and the Australian company Brambles formed the GKN Chep pallet pool in the UK. Four years later, the venture expanded into mainland Europe and the group’s most successful industrial services business was on the road to international growth. The next major move was into waste disposal in 1981 when GKN and Brambles acquired Redland Purle (now known as Cleanaway) – a venture that also proved to be highly successful.
Chep and Cleanaway symbolised GKN’s growing diversification – a process that by the 1980s had led to involvement in a huge variety of industrial services ranging from plumbing and roofing to locks and window latches.