Engineering firm Score Group, Peterhead's biggest private sector employer, is continuing to thrive under the paternalist aegis of executive chairman Charles Ritchie.

Last year, the firm created another 97 employee shareholders, took on 68 apprentices and opened offices in Aberdeen, London and Milan.

Score, a pipeline valve specialist servicing the oil and gas, aerospace and utility industries, has more than 500 employee shareholders, half of the entire workforce. Ritchie, the son of a Peterhead fisherman, founded the company 25 years ago and retains a controlling stake.

In the year to September 28, 2006, Score posted record pre-tax profits of £2.93m, a 10% rise on the previous year, while turnover increased by 23% to £83.2m. Staff numbers rose 7% to 983.

"The rate of change this year has accelerated over previous years and shows no sign of abating," Ritchie said in the annual report. "The petrochemical economy in which we operate is currently undergoing a boom and that greatly assists our performance. There are clouds on the horizon, one of which is local inflationary pressure on wage rates and material costs which are affecting the efficiencies of all the companies in the sector."

Score operates from more than 20 locations worldwide, generating 30% of its turnover outside the UK. Ritchie said the company enjoyed its best year in Scandinavia in 2006, while new Score offshoots have opened in Western Australia and Edmonton, Canada.

At home, the company acquired a Leeds instrumentation firm, Qualtec Control, to help it expand further in the chemical and power sectors. It has other UK operations at Cowdenbeath, Burnley and Daventry. One of Score's subsidiaries, Constant Systems, is a niche biotech involved in the design, development and manufacture of high-pressure cell disruption equipment.

That company, based in Northamptonshire, sold cell disruptor units to Harvard University last year and has made "major inroads" into the US, Ritchie said.