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GKN plc
Type Public limited company
Traded as LSEGKN
Industry Automotive
Founded 1759 (Dowlais)
Headquarters Redditch, Worcestershire
Key people Roy Brown
Nigel Stein
Products Vehicle and aircraft components
Revenue £7,136 million (2013)[1]
Operating income £560 million (2013)[1]
Net income £407 million (2013)[1]
Employees 44,000 (2013)[2]
Divisions GKN Driveline
Website www.gkn.com

GKN plc is a British multinational automotive and aerospace components company headquartered in Redditch, Worcestershire. The company was formerly known as Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds and can trace its origins back to 1759 and the birth of the Industrial Revolution.

GKN is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.


1759 to 1900[edit]

Dowlais Ironworks by George Childs (1840)

The origins of GKN lie in the founding of the Dowlais Ironworks in the village of Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, by Thomas Lewis and Isaac Wilkinson. John Guest was appointed manager of the works in 1767, having moved from Broseley.[3] In 1786, John Guest was succeeded by his son, Thomas Guest, who formed the Dowlais Iron Company with his son-in-law William Taitt. Guest introduced many innovations and the works prospered.[4]

Under Guest's leadership, alongside his manager John Evans, the Dowlais Ironworks gained the reputation of being "one of the World's great industrial concerns".[5] Though the Bessemer process was licensed in 1856, nine years of detailed planning and project management were needed before the first steel was produced. The company thrived with its new cost-effective production methods, forming alliances with the Consett Iron Company and Krupp.[5] By 1857 G.T. Clark and William Menelaus, his manager, had constructed the "Goat Mill", the world's most powerful rolling mill.[6]

By the mid-1860s, Clark's reforms had born fruit in renewed profitability. Clark delegated day-to-day management to Menelaus, his trusteeship terminating in 1864 when ownership passed to Sir Ivor Guest. However, Clark continued to direct policy, in particular, building a new plant at the docks at Cardiff and vetoing a joint-stock company. He formally retired in 1897.[5]

1900 to 1966[edit]

On 9 July 1900, the Dowlais Iron Company and Arthur Keen's Patent Nut and Bolt Company merged to form Guest, Keen & Co. Ltd.[7]

Nettlefolds Limited, a leading manufacturer of fasteners, had been established in Smethwick, West Midlands, in 1854 and was acquired in 1902 leading to the change of name to Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds - (GKN).[7][8]


These mergers heralded half a century in which the name GKN became synonymous with the manufacture of screws, nuts, bolts and other fasteners. The company reflected the vertical integration fashionable at the time embracing activities from coal and ore extraction, and iron and steel making to manufacturing finished goods.


After the First World War it became apparent that Britain was likely to follow France and more recently the United States in developing a large scale auto-industry.[9] GKN acquired another fastener manufacturer, F. W. Cotterill Ltd., in 1919: Cotterill already owned a subsidiary named J. W. Garrington, which specialised in forgings, and it was the forgings produced at the Garrington Darlaston plant, later supplemented by a large plant at Bromsgrove, that enabled GKN to become a major supplier of crankshafts, connecting rods, half-shafts and numerous smaller forged components to the UK auto-industry during and beyond the period of massive expansion between the two world wars.[9]

Pressed steel wheels[edit]

The next year, in 1920, GKN purchased the steel company John Lysaght and their subsidiary, Joseph Sankey and Sons Ltd.[9] Joseph Sankey was an orphan from Bilston whose career had started with an apprenticeship to a manufacturer of steel tea trays. When he went into business on his own account, Sankey himself became a major tea tray producer. He was also a pioneer motorist and a personal friend of car manufacturers in the area including, notably, Herbert Austin, becoming a supplier of sheet steel components to the industry.[9] By 1914, the company's customers for sheet steel bodies included Austin, Daimler, Humber, Rover, Star and Argyll.[9] Sankey's most substantial contribution was probably in respect of wheels, however, and was a response to complaints from pioneer car-makers about the propensity of the wooden wheels on early cars to disintegrate on the slightest encounter with any roadside kerb.[9] Sankey developed a pressed steel wheel, applying some of the techniques already mastered while producing pressed steel tea trays.[9] Sankey's steel wheels went into production in 1908: early customers included Herbert Austin and William Morris.[9] In addition to his original factory at Bilston a new plant was established near Wellington, Shropshire, which was devoted to wheel production.[9] By the time the business came into the GKN fold, the plant was supplying wheels to many UK manufacturers: within GKN the business continued to grow with the industry, so that by 1969 the by now highly automated Wellington plant was turning out some 5½ Million wheels a year at a maximum rate of approximately 30,000 per day.[9] Nevertheless, the Sankey business was never exclusively devoted to wheels: in the 1960s they were supplying the chassis for the Triumph Herald and its derivatives.[9] They were also at this time building the versatile GKN developed GKN FV432 armoured personnel carrier, which would continue in production long after the disappearance of the Triumph Herald and its ill-starred manufacturer, BLMC.[9]

In 1951, a new subsidiary Blade Research & Development (BRD) was formed at Aldridge, Staffordshire, to produce aero-engine turbine blades. Following a fall in demand for turbine blades in the late 1950s, the BRD factory switched to producing constant-velocity joints and driveshafts for vehicles.[10]

1966 to 2000[edit]


In 1966, in a programme of diversification, GKN acquired Birfield Ltd, a company that since 1938 had incorporated both the Sheffield based overdrive manufacturer, Laycock Engineering, and Hardy Spicer Limited of Birmingham, England, a manufacturer of constant-velocity joints.[9] Historically, such joints had had few applications, even following the improved design proposed by Alfred H. Rzeppa in 1936. However, in 1959, Alec Issigonis had developed the revolutionary Mini motor car which relied on the Hardy Spicer joints for its front wheel drive technology. The massive expansion in the exploitation of front wheel drive in the 1970s and 1980s led to the acquisition of other similar businesses and a 43% share of the world market by 2002.[7]

On the death of founder Tony Vandervell in 1967, GKN acquired the lucrative Maidenhead based Vandervell bearing manufacturer which was at the time already exporting more than 50% of its output to overseas vehicle manufacturers.[9] This was part of a larger trend for GKN which during this period, under its Managing Director Raymond Brookes, was working to reduce its dependence on UK auto-maker customers at a time when the domestic industry was seen to be stumbling, in response to bewildering "Government interference and fiscal short-sightedness", with British new car registrations in the first four months of 1969 a massive 33% down on the corresponding period of the previous year.[9]

As a result of the large number of mergers, Abram Games was commissioned to developed a new corporate identity in 1969 when the distinctive angular GKN symbol was created and the new company colours of blue and white introduced.[11]

In 1974, GKN acquired Kirkstall Forge Engineering, a manufacturer of truck axles in Leeds.[12]

During the 1980s, GKN sought to invest its earnings from constant-velocity joints in developing other nascent technologies. However, little success attended these efforts and in 1991 the company resolved to abandon further research and to redivert its development efforts towards its constant-velocity joint business in which it was facing increasing competition from Japan. During the same period, the company finally withdrew from the manufacture of fasteners and from steel production. Changing its name to GKN plc, it diversified into military vehicles, aerospace and industrial services.

In 1994, GKN acquired the helicopter manufacturing business of Westland Aircraft.[7] In 1998 the armoured vehicle business was sold to Alvis plc,[7] and subsequently incorporated into Alvis Vickers Ltd. In July 2000 Finmeccanica and GKN agreed to merge their respective helicopter subsidiaries to form AgustaWestland.[7] In 2004 GKN completed the sale of its 50% shareholding in AgustaWestland to Finmeccanica.[7]

From the late 1990s, the company built a major global business in powder metallurgy, which operates as the GKN Powdered Metallurgy group.[7]

2000 to present[edit]

In 2002 GKN acquired a significant stake in - and subsequently by 2004 took over the whole concern - the Japanese manufacturer of differentials and driveline torque systems Tochigi Fuji Sangyo K.K, based in Tochigi-shi, prefecture Tochigi.[13]

GKN went on to acquire Monitor Aerospace Corp in Amityville, New York and Precision Machining in Wellington, Kansas in 2006,[14] part of the Airbus plant at Filton near Bristol for £150 million in 2008[15] and all of Getrag's axle business and axle manufacturing facilities in 2011.[16]

In July 2012 GKN agreed to acquire the Swedish aerospace components manufacturer Volvo Aero from AB Volvo for £633 million (US$986 million).[17][18]

Following Kevin Smith's retirement at the end of 2011, Nigel Stein took over as Chief Executive on 1 January 2012.[19]

In 2011 GKN Aerospace Engineering division is acquired by QuestGlobal. [20]


The company is organised as follows:[2]

  • GKN Aerospace[21]
    • Aerostructures
    • Engine Products
    • Propulsion Systems
  • GKN Driveline
    • Driveshafts
    • Freight Services
    • Autostructures
    • Cylinder liners, Sheepbridge Stokes
    • Emitec Joint Venture
  • GKN Land Systems
    • Power Management
    • PowerTrain Systems & Services
    • Wheels and Structures
  • GKN Powder Metallurgy
    • Sinter Metals
    • Hoeganaes


  1. ^ a b c Preliminary Results 2013. (PDF) . Retrieved on 9 March 2014.
  2. ^ a b GKN: About Us
  3. ^ Owen (1977) Page 13
  4. ^ Owen (1977) Pages 15–16
  5. ^ a b c James (2004)
  6. ^ Owen (1977) Pages 57–58
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h GKN Heritage
  8. ^ Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds Flight Global
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Making the most of it Or – are you driving a GKN?". Motor: pages 58–60. 10 May 1969. 
  10. ^ Lord Brookes The Telegraph
  11. ^ Design 1969, issue 243 page 82. None. Retrieved on 17 August 2011.
  12. ^ Grace's Guide: Kirkstall Forge Engineering
  13. ^ GKN Acquires Stake in Tochigi Fuji Sangyo (TFS) of Japan; Together, GKN and TFS will be world's largest independent suppliers of advanced torque management devices
  14. ^ GKN Buys Stellex to Position Itself in Titanium. Defenseindustrydaily.com (7 August 2006). Retrieved on 17 August 2011.
  15. ^ GKN to buy Airbus Plant for £150m. Thisismoney.co.uk (10 August 2008). Retrieved on 17 August 2011.
  16. ^ "GKN to acquire Getrag’s Driveline Products Business". 28 July 2011. 
  17. ^ "GKN agrees to buy Volvo's aero engines division". BBC News. 5 July 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  18. ^ "GKN buys Volvo Aero for £633m". The Telegraph. 5 July 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012. 
  19. ^ "GKN plc Chief Executive". GKN. 24 March 2011. Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  20. ^ http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-12-02/news/30468067_1_engineering-design-quest-plans-engineering-services
  21. ^ GKN Aerospace capabilities and products. Gknaerospace.com. Retrieved on 17 August 2011.


External links[edit]