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Keeping it in the family: (L to R) David Williams with his nephew Stephen and son Sam

Creating a lasting legacy Sam’s dad David Williams pops in to chat, and gives me a potted history of the company’s different locations in inner city Birmingham: next to streets of back-to-backs on Angelina Street in Balsall Heath until the 1950s, then moving to premises in Small Heath, and finally to their current Digbeth base in 1970. I ask David what he feels is the magic ingredient in the company’s longevity, and I like his quick, three-point answer: “Putting yourself out; reacting to the market as quickly as possible; and building a reputation of trust and reliability.” David is 61, and still has many years at A.E. Williams left in him, but how does he feel about the next generation eventually taking over the company? “I know I can pass it on,” he says without hesitation. “I know that the people I work with are prepared to continue, and I know they won’t break it up.” It’s a family theme that’s picked up by the other partner, Stephen Johnson, who received his share of the company from his dad Barry in 1987. Stephen, aged 45, says: “With many companies, when times are good, they expand too much. When they’re busy, they just end up employing loads more staff. But when things get quieter, what do they do then? They find they’ve over-reached themselves.” The potential to over-reach yourself is massive in the pewter industry, where companies work with huge amounts of expensive raw materials like tin. I’m shown graphs charting the prices of commodities markets, and Stephen tells me about a crisis three years ago when tin shot from £4,000 to £24,000 a tonne. “We’re doing very well,” says Stephen, “and we seem to be steadily growing, but we can’t forget how the market prices can suddenly change things. “We’ve always been really, really conscious of our workforce, making sure there’s enough work for them. So when we’re busy, instead of just taking on more labour we prefer to give more hours to our staff to provide for them. “At times, that means some of them work six or even seven days a week, but it also means it’s easier to cope when times are slack, as we just cut overtime rather than jobs. We don’t over stretch, we don’t get too big for our boots. “The whole company’s like a big family, and we try to act like that. We like keeping staff secure in their jobs.”