From his garden shed, Gordon McQuilton started with £300 to create a pioneering healthcare business responsible for helping thousands of disabled people live more comfortably.
As he prepares to finally leave Specialised Orthotic Services after 36 years, he shares his remarkable journey.
RETHINKING THE FUTURE
After leaving school at 15 with no qualifications, an apprenticeship with Rolls Royce had seemed a smart career move for Gordon McQuilton. Then one day, a new machine was loaded into place at the jet engine workshop in Derby, replacing the work of 40 men at a stroke. That’s when Gordon knew it was time for a rethink on his future. “There were 600 of us in a machine workshop, and we all learned on manual machines. When they showed us what the machine could do, I thought it won’t take many of them to replace all of us, and began to rethink my future career.”
A CHANGE OF DIRECTION
Within days an unusual job advert caught Gordon’s eye. An engineer was needed for a government-funded research project at Derby hospital into orthotics – supportive products to assist disabled people in everyday situations.
“I was shown around and there was no one else there,” says Gordon, “but I could tell from the machinery that my skills would be useful.”
The team’s first task was to research and test existing orthotics products on the market – they found hardly anything available. The project also had to find a way to assess patients for custom fittings without adding to their trauma.
Gordon says: “We were experimenting with a load of polystyrene beans in a beanbag, with a vacuum pump. Eventually, we worked it out, and this is the main method still used around the world today.”
The research completed, the Department of Health asked the team to prepare to publish the findings to encourage new commercial development, though he admits it was more a slow dawning than an epiphany.
GRASPING THE OPPORTUNITY
Gordon recalls: “I thought the government was mad to spend all that money researching this and then give it all away, offering it for free to the commercial sector. I realised that there was a significant opportunity to begin a business providing a service for this specialised form of seating, and launched in June 1981.”