Name: Mark Robbie.

Age: 59.

What is your business called?

Robbie Fluid Engineering Ltd.

Where is it based?

Bathgate, West Lothian.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We’re experts in fluid engineering in all its forms and offer sales, service and consultancy to a vast range of clients. Fluid engineering is used everywhere – from the hydraulics in a forklift to massive hoists on the deck of an ocean-going ship – specifying at pressures as high as 10,000 per square inch (similar to a gun barrel!).

People call us when something goes wrong. It could be a concrete mixer truck that has stopped working with a full load of wet cement to a snow plough stuck in the snow, or a ship held up in port. Our clients range from family businesses to multinationals and very often we have to work out solutions from the ground up.

This might be fixing a machine in a factory that was manufactured in Japan 30 years ago – you can guarantee the correct parts are not readily to hand, so we manage our own comprehensive inventory and are able to machine bespoke parts which we can design from first principles.

We are also involved in research and development with multinational Danfoss and Artemis Intelligent Power who are based in Loanhead. They have a £22 million project funded by the UK Government to develop a super-efficient computer controlled hydraulic pump for off-highway machines such as excavators. It is called Digital Displacement and we think it’s a genuinely game-changing technology, which will radically reduce CO2 emissions worldwide, and we are proud to play a part.

What is its turnover?

About £700,000.

Although we officially “shut down” on the 25th of March, we have never really closed during the coronavirus lockdown because we are a service to many farm and forklift businesses (the backbone of the food supply industry) as well as marine, emergency services, refuse collection and community transport. We were also called on to help Plexus, a global electronics design and manufacturing services company, to procure thousands of components for new ventilators. Everyone did their level best to check every detail, while the rest of the world seemed to have closed down. It was a financially scary time. Initially I was the only one not furloughed but we’ve never completely stopped and are about 80 per cent back to normal now.

How many employees?


When was it formed?


Why did you take the plunge?

My younger brother Dave and I decided it was time to take responsibility for our own successes and failures. We had both travelled and been involved in some big business and projects. Fluid power was an area where we wanted to see better ideas made into reality.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was tired of travelling for work and was looking for an opportunity to allow my partner to restart her career. Dave was working in construction as a site manager; he'd come back from Australia and I guess we had both seen enough to want to make the leap.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

Personal cash and a ten-year small business start-up loan from the Clydesdale Bank, which we paid off completely on time! I recall getting a phone call from the bank to say well done and thank you – because so many people don’t make it from a completely open start-up and without any real backing in their chosen line of business.

What was your biggest break?

First, I think finding the right start-up support. We can’t thank the people in groups like our local Business Gateway enough. Then there were people at the Federation of Small Business and Chambers of Commerce and Gordon Gray, our previous Bank Manager from the Clydesdale Bank in Stirling. Getting the initial business plan right gave us stability.

In fluid engineering, the scope to improve efficiencies is significant, so there have been many “breaks” in our time so far.

I would say that about once every six months to a year, we get what I call a ‘nugget’. This is an interesting problem which can make a big difference to a customer and take us to a new place. We’ve been involved in very intricate system developments on a number of occasions, and saved people quite a lot of money on several others. It is a challenge assembling and testing pipework and systems with a bore of less than a millimetre. And when we come up with a system or service change that makes a big difference, well, this has gradually brought us to where we are today. It is a harder trick to make money from this, but it feels right.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

Making those differences and a sense of independence. Having created a good team.

What do you least enjoy?

The loss of family time; you don’t get that back.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To be recognised as one of the UK’s leading centres of excellence for fluid power, and to provide a stable platform for our employees and firms we work with. To make a difference.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Governments could take a serious and effective look at making science and technology a central part of our culture, alongside music, writing and art. In this way we might arrive at more considered and enthusiastic science and technology efforts in society, with greater long-term innovation. At the moment we see far too many concepts developed purely for short-term monetary return.

All things considered, all governments have done well in the UK in terms of support for business amid the coronavirus crisis. Without the furlough scheme I don’t know what would have happened to us. I think most of the national leadership have done well in an unimaginably tough situation. The small business grant fund was a crude tool, but was probably actioned as well as could have been.

There are going to be some very tough times in many aspects of life – restaurants, music and the arts – but I just think we have to keep moving, stay positive and give the government the space to do more good stuff.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Take plenty of counsel – but make your own decisions.

How do you relax?

Doing something that in some way is new. I loved diving and travelled with that a lot, I’ve got a great mountain bike, I cook, read, watch film and play a bit of guitar. But to relax, I rarely visit the same place or theme twice. To relax I always try to do something new.