Born in Carolina, Mpumalanga, 86 years ago, the founder of Allied Machinery Equipment Warwick James was one of five children. With a father as station master, the James family spent most of Warwick’s earlier years posted to one or other country outpost. In fact, his high school years were spent at the Free State border town of Ficksburg, where he matriculated. This was a period of his life about which he spoke with much nostalgia.
A short term followed at university, when the young James turned his back on subjects academic and headed for the tough training ground of the machine tool industry.
“Probably the best decision I have made in my life”, reminisced Warwick at the time when asked about the abrupt ending of his university career. “For it was then that I served my apprenticeship the hard way”.
A twelve year training period followed with firms such as Drury Wickman, Koppel Engineering, Reunert and Lenz, B Elliot & Co.
“In retrospect, I am deeply grateful to these firms and to all the individuals I came into contact with during this period,” Warwick reminisced.
Warwick James’ entrepreneurial prowess may never have surfaced had it not been for the fact that B. Elliot and Co, a British machine tool accessories and small tool company decided to reduce its presence in South Africa to agency status, in 1960. This enabled James, then 32, to acquire the agency and to “go it alone”. The first office and store was in Discovery and was called Selecta Engineering.
Warwick then established Allied Machinery Equipment at Johannesburg’s Fordsburg’s dip, where he shared offices with the then machine tool company, P. Bruniau & Co.
Assisted by his wife Yvonne, he set about selling the Elliot range of bench grinders, metal shears, boring heads and machine vices. Around this time he also acquired a sports shop in Roodepoort, his home town. Always a keen sportsman, Warwick continued active sport until his forties.
In 1964, he realised however, that running two totally diverse businesses was not on, so he disposed of the sports business to concentrate on the field he knew best — machine tools. Two years later, the decision was vindicated, and the machine tool agency had grown to such an extent that the leasing of 400 m² premises in Bata Building, Fordsburg, was justified – space which was to be augmented not much later by the 2nd and 3rd floor of the same building.
By this time, Allied had acquired the Italian agency, Felisatti, in South Africa. It was their bench grinders, sharpening machines, portable electrical tools and cut-off machines, which truly put Allied firmly on its feet.
“We won a defence force order for 22 Felisatti drill sharpening machines and the late Norman Gilbert of Koppel Gilbert bought 40 machines for stock and then doubled his order,” Warwick recalled at the time.
The company never looked back and before long was representing more than 60 overseas companies. The largest agency at the time was Pratt Burnerd, the British lathe chuck manufacturer.
Until the mid-seventies, Allied concentrated on the accessory field and boasted the most comprehensive range of items to meet the needs of the industry. Warwick then found that there was a gap in the market to provide merchants with a range of small machines which would complement their own products. A close examination of overseas markets proved that Taiwan had much to offer. Allied thus became a pioneer in developing this market.
The Allied catalogue, which was the brainchild of Warwick, was widely called for by the trade and the last publication accounted for over 20 000 copies, many bearing the merchant’s own symbol and logo.
Warwick built up the business on the basis that no borrowings should be made. “My initial capital was a month’s salary and for years I never borrowed a cent.”
In 1980, realising the company was on the threshold of rapid growth and that the country was entering a growth phase, James took a decision to build up his management team. Dennis Rutter and Hugh Hopkins joined him as partners when they purchased shares in the company.
The company was one of the founding members of the Machine Tool Merchants Association of South Africa and both Warwick and Dennis would serve as Chairman of the Association.
In the 1980’s Warwick and his business partners established the Amhold Group and they acquired B Putziger, Green & Sons and Forest Engineering. Later, Allied Machinery merged with B Putziger to form Allied Putziger and Forest/ Green & Sons merged with Holmach to form Forest and Holmach. In 1998 Tool and Equipment merged with Allied Putziger to form Toolquip and Allied.
Warwick retired to Somerset West in the Cape Province. He was married to Yvonne for 60 years and they were blessed with five children, 10 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Warwick sadly passed away on the 28th January 2014. Our sincere condolences to his wife Yvonne, family and friends.
Dennis Rutter – long-time friend and business partner – pays tribute to Warwick James
“I first met Warwick nearly 60 years ago when I was still at high school and he was actively involved in the Rand Leases hockey club. Together with his brother Les they built Rand Leases hockey club into the second largest in what was then known as Transvaal province.
His success in administration and fund raising was legendary and this was later to benefit the local Lions club, where Warwick received a top international award for service.
While studying at university I began preparing the accounts for the businesses that he had started, namely a sports shop and Allied Machinery. This started a very close and rewarding relationship. From the outside I witnessed the machine tool business growing rapidly and after a few years of discussions, I joined Warwick as a partner. A few years later Hugh Hopkins, a colleague of mine from auditing days, also joined the partnership.
Another of Warwick’s strengths was his ability to see opportunities and he was to pioneer the importation of small machine tools and accessories from Taiwan. Many in the industry saw this as a “stupid” move but it was after this venture that the business skyrocketed. Today Taiwan is a leading machine tool supplier to all four corners of the globe.
During those early days of importing from Taiwan much had to be done to improve quality standards and by working closely with our agent in Taiwan, John Huan, suppliers were quick to learn and cooperate. In this regard I must say that John Huan was invaluable and became a great friend of Warwick and all at Allied.
Even today I meet retired members of the machine tool industry who speak of Warwick’s (and as a result Allied’s) integrity and what a pleasure it was doing business with him. In the same vein, Warwick was loved by his staff as a great employer.
I remember, in the early days when I was doing the books on a part time basis, that Warwick paid bonuses to his staff (seven if I remember correctly) more than six times during the year, as new sales records were set.
Warwick will be sorely missed by all who knew him and his farewell at the Warwick wine estate (no association but very appropriate) was a wonderful send off for someone who was a generous lover of a good party.”
A message from Danie Delport, Managing Director of Toolquip and Allied
“We have learnt with sadness, of the passing of Warwick James, the founder of Allied
Warwick can be classed as a doyen of the Industry and he was instrumental in shaping the Machine Tool Industry in South Africa, along with people like Bobby Skok, Burkhard Herrmann, Tubby Berkeley and others.
Over the years Warwick served as Chairman of the Machine Tool Merchants Association of South Africa. He pioneered Taiwanese Machine Tools in the South African market and was instrumental in building the Amhold Group in the 1980’s, which included Allied Machinery Equipment, B Putziger, Green and Sons and Forest Engineering.
Warwick was a kind gentleman who always cared about the wellbeing of others. He was involved with a number of charities and community projects during his lifetime. He struggled with his health for many years but never gave up.
Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones in these difficult times.”