It was April Fools’ Day 1974 and the country was battling through the aftermath of the Winter of Discontent and the three day week. With power cuts hampering daily life and rubbish lying uncollected on the streets, few people would have thought it was a sensible time to launch a new business.
Rob Magill, then a director of Waterloo Ozonair, wasn’t put off, however, and decided that April 1, 1974 was the perfect day to open the doors at what was to become the UK’s leading smoke and fire damper manufacturer Actionair.
He certainly had his doubters, but swiftly proved them wrong as his Kent-based firm went from strength to strength. It introduced the country to the concept of smoke protection in buildings with the development of its motorised SmokeShield range in 1980 when it became clear that smoke was the biggest killer and threat to property in the event of a fire.
In 1986 Actionair pioneered the first intelligent damper control system that brought a whole new level of sophistication to the smoke and fire protection market. That year also saw it move into expanded manufacturing facilities close to its original home in Whitstable.
In 1994 it was acquired by the Baxi group of companies becoming part of Baxi Air Management in 1998 before moving to the global Tomkins Group in 2000. Today it is part of Ruskin Air Management alongside other leading British ventilation equipment brands Air Diffusion and Naco.
40 years on Actionair now employs 123 people and has an annual turnover of £12m. Late last year it opened the Ruskin Air Management Development Academy (RAMDA) test centre and product development facility on the Whitstable site.
While Mr Magill is sadly no longer with us, four employees have been with the company for over 30 years, including site manager Tony Munt (36 years’ service); production supervisors Dave Morris (36 years) and Boris Coleman (34 years); as well as marketing manager Charles Shillitoe (30 years).
Managing director Kevin Munson – a relative novice at just 27 years’ service – said the whole company, but also the wider industry, owed a debt of gratitude to Mr Magill.
“He had a vision for the business and a deep understanding of the damper market,” said Mr Munson. “We were all made to feel part of something significant as providers of life critical solutions in buildings and I’d like to think we have preserved Rob’s ethos despite the various changes of ownership over the years.
“Actionair remains a strong and widely recognised brand today and has emerged in good shape from the recession. That is thanks, in many ways, to the values and resilience our founder instilled in the company back in those dark days of the early 70s.”