Mike Saward celebrates fifty years in the recovery business this month, in fact when you sit down to read this issue, he will have just about put the champagne bottles in the recycling bin.
Mike and his wife Elaine, who has been at his side for over fifty years and married for 41 of those years will be taking a drink to celebrate his lifetime in the business and to be honest, has there ever been a nicer bloke to deal with – I think probably not!
Mike invited me down this his headquarters in Hertfordshire to talk about his business and it reads almost as a history of the recovery business in this country and across the water in the US. The two countries have been intrinsically linked for most of those fifty years.
The vehicle recovery industry has pretty-well invented itself. It is such a niche industry that the big manufacturers couldn’t see big enough margins in it so the industry has been left to sort things out for itself and build and develop its own trucks and equipment.
It has been quite a journey and Mike has had a front seat for most of the way.
He started work as a mechanic who helped out on recovery. On his first day he was told to shadow a member of staff called ‘Albert’ and learn on the job. That was with a company called Dial-Holmes who had the dealership for Ernest Holmes Recovery Equipment which was shipped over from the States. That happened on November 15 1965!
Albert Carter gave Mike a good education in using the very latest recovery equipment (a Diamond T fitted with a Holmes 750 twin boom) together with air cushions and Mike took it all in.
In 1976 the company became Wreckers International and so Mike’s education took a turn, working under the legendary Bill Jackson which he had done so at Dial-Holmes. Wreckers international designed and manufactured their own range of Bulldog twin and single boom Hydraulic Recovery Equipment.They developed the Bulldog Interstater, Recoverer and the Pioneer axle. They were also sole distributers for the Century range of recovery equipment. They were exciting times and laid the foundations for the modern bodybuilders we have today.”
Mike’s knowledge was growing so much that he got involved in the selling of vehicles after learning from the bottom up as sales manager. He then moved on to export sales mananger selling recovery equipment to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kenya to name a few through some excellent contacts with commercial vehicle manufacturers.
Distributers were set up in Germany, Rau, France, CEV and Holland, Van Driel.
He admits that he has had some good teachers along the way. “Bill Jackson was quite a man,” he recalls. “He started off in this country with a Ford Dealership but eventually moved over to the States to market the Interstater range, aptly named for the USA market. He is now peacefully retired in Florida.
“Whilst working under Bill, Wreckers International was first to the market with several innovations. Jumbo Air Cushions. Bulldog Dominator Twin booms, Hydraulic, Rotating Recovery cranes. They built the first Recoverers and sidewinders, the first Pioneer axle and many more launches. After the demise of Wreckers twenty five years later, Mike was asked to work with Mike Boniface to set up a sales and marketing division, Boniface Recovery Systems.
This was very successful and helped catapult Boniface to be of the leaders in the recovery industry.
Mike then left Boniface Engineering and helped set up Worldwide Recovery Systems as the sole distributer for the Century range of Recovery Equipment.
He then spent some time working for Ray Coleman at Worldwide Recovery Systems who are still operating from the old site of Wreckers International.
Eventually Miller industries acquired Boniface Engineering although Worldwide Recovery Systems were still able to offer the Century Range of Equipment.
Mike eventually set up his own company RecoveryVehicles.com and Vehicle Recovery Systems.
He also developed a free forum to assist the industry www.recoveryegroup.com.
He still operates that company today and is seen by many operators as the man to go to for advice when purchasing equipment. Mike will consult with the operator and then look round for the right supplier of the best piece of used kit at the right price.
He still uses Worldwide Recovery Systems for his new vehicles. They build vehicles from 3.5 to 17 tonne ton and when he needs to buy bigger he shops around for the best kit. But he likes using Worldwide for many reasons.
“Worldwide build good trucks and each vehicle is individual,” he told me. “All the vehicles are separately type approved which can add a bit to the price, but I am confident that the customer gets exactly what he needs.
“I’ve just supplied Mark Crawley at Roadrunners with an Isuzu Forward Crewcab Lo Slider, which is proving popular at the moment. It comes out with a great payload, even with a spec lift fitted.
One of the most popular vehicles at the moment is the Iveco 72C17 with a fantastic payload of 3.5tonne.
We have supplied police forces with the very popular twin decks, mounted on some 7.5tonne chassis give you an impressive two tonne bottom deck and 1.5 tonne top deck payload.
We pioneered the aluminium Lo Slider bodies at Hertford and the range of Lo Approach Midsliders.
There are many great men in the recovery industry; there are many successful men in the recovery industry and there are many people in the recovery industry who have an awful lot to say.
I guess Mike Saward would tell you he doesn’t really fit any of those profiles. His industry knowledge would suggest that he should be heading a successful company with a very high personal profile. He certainly cannot be accused of talking too much.
No, I think Mike is a bit of a one-off. He has quietly got on with what he does best – building recovery trucks and selling them. Many operators go to him for advice on their next purchase, especially if they require something bespoke. Mike quietly gets on with it and he has done that for fifty years, firstly learning at the technician level and then playing a major role in some successful companies.
He has a reputation as one of the ‘nice guys’ in the trade and celebrating fifty years in the business will not alter that. He intends carrying on supplying trucks to the industry and playing his part in influencing the recovery trucks of the future.