Swann Morton is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of blades. Their history as a company, though, is one of the more interesting of modern times. As well as being pioneers of their industry, they are seen as one of the pioneers in employee ownership. Indeed, their founders, from the start, instituted a culture that placed huge importance on their employees. And their belief that empowered employees would make a successful business has been proven correct.
Despite being known for Swann Morton tools, from scalpels to craft knives, when the business was established its focus on razor blades. But it was at its founding, in 1932, that the primacy of the staff was formally documented. The directors wrote four founding principles, the original version of which is still displayed in their headquarters.
The principles stated, in short, that the people manufacturing their products were the most important people in the business, that they had the right to a fair reward for their labour, and if the management was unable to provide this, then a new management was needed.
It was a bold move at the time, although Swann Morton were not unique (John Lewis had also just embraced an employee-ownership model) most businesses were looking at cutting costs, and employee rights, in the very uncertain economic climate of the 30s. However, for Swann Morton, the policy was well rewarded.
Three years after their founding, the patent for the two-piece scalpel expired. Swann Morton took this opportunity to expand their range, and, over the next decade saw rapid growth. During the 40s, having outgrown their original site, they moved to a location that still forms their headquarters today. And, when Morton left the company, the remaining directors took the decision to give employees an even bigger stake in the business. Effectively giving away their share, they put 50% of the company into the employees hands and made the remaining 50% a charitable trust.
Again, the move paid off, and the company continued to grow. During the 60s they used their expertise, in partnership with the Atomic Energy Authority, to start offering sterilisation services, and become one of the world’s first manufacturers that was totally self-sufficient: Swann Morton were able to manufacture, and then sterilise, scalpels. Today, they now offer their sterilisation services to other manufacturers, helping to cement their leading position in the sector.
They have also continued to grow and expand. Adding more land and facilities to their premises, there are now purpose-built R&D and engineering departments just a short walk from their headquarters.
The business remains focused on the medical sector, specialising in the manufacture of scalpels. However, that specialism allows them to produce blades that are suitable for a range of purposes. From operations to cutting paper and items for crafts, whenever someone needs precision and control — whether sterilised or not — there’s a good chance they will reach for a Swann Morton blade.
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