TRIBUTES have been paid to one of the North East’s most successful businessmen, Dr Alan Reece, who has died at the age of 85.
Widely recognised as an inspired mechanical designer and entrepreneur, Dr Reece died on New Year’s Eve after battling a heart condition most of his life.
He is responsible for creating two of the region’s best-performing engineering companies – SMD and Pearson Engineering – which have brought more than £400m worth of business into the North East economy.
Brought up in London, he came to the North East at the age of 17, where he studied mechanical engineering and agricultural engineering at Newcastle University.
After teaching at the university for nearly 30 years, Dr Reece embarked on his career as a businessman at the age of 55.
He launched Wallsend-based Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD), which was one of the very first university break-out businesses at the time. SMD quickly became a world leader in innovative subsea vehicles and, in the 1980s, Dr Reece expanded his business portfolio by acquiring Gateshead-based Pearson Engineering.
Replicating the success created with SMD, Pearson became one of the region’s greatest manufacturing success stories – winning the 2012 Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation for its SPARK mine rollers, which have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan and are responsible for saving hundreds of soldiers from death and injury.
The firm was also a winner of The Journal Fastest Growing Business Award last year.
Remaining enthused with the engineering sector, Dr Reece created The Reece Group in 2012 as a holding company for Pearson Engineering Limited, Pearson Engineering Services, Velocity UK and Responsive Engineering Group.
The Reece Group has a turnover in excess of £211m and more than 450 employees. His son, John Reece, is chairman of the group.
Dr Reece’s obsession with engineering and his success in business allowed him to build The Reece Foundation, which has given millions of pounds of donations over the last few years to support engineering education in the North East and beyond.
Last year, he donated £250,000 to set up bursaries for young people in Newcastle wanting to pursue careers in engineering, and then £500,000 to help buy his local Post Office in Wylam, Northumberland, and set it up as a community-run venture after it was raided by armed robbers.
In 2011, he was named by the Sunday Times as the third biggest philanthropist in the UK.
Chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC), James Ramsbotham, said: “Dr Alan Reece was a remarkable man and a true pioneer in his field of agricultural engineering.
“His enthusiasm, charisma and passion for innovation will be sorely missed and my thoughts are with his family and friends at this very sad time.
“He was a passionate advocate of the NECC and we had the pleasure of working closely with him on many occasions, where his insight, experience and intelligence proved invaluable.
“A distinguished spell working in Newcastle University’s Department of Agricultural Engineering was followed by the creation of Soil Machine Dynamics in 1984. To date more than £400m worth of business has been brought into the Tyneside economy by Dr Reece’s businesses, providing hundreds of jobs ... a fitting legacy for an inspirational man.”
Dr Reece leaves his long-term partner Margaret, two sons, John and Simon, a daughter, Anne and seven grandchildren.