Visionary businessman who sold one of Lancashire's biggest companies to his workforce has died aged 92

Philip Baxendale
Philip Baxendale
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Tributes have been paid to “Mr Baxi”, who has died aged 92.

Philip Baxendale was the great-grandson of Richard Baxendale, whose foundry would grow into one of the foremost names in domestic and commercial heating.

Philip Baxendale, pictured in 2001

Philip Baxendale, pictured in 2001

Philip joined as general manager in 1955, and under his leadership, grew the workforce from just 55 to almost 1,000.

Known as a visionary, he revolutionised the way the company ran and even inspired an Act of Parliament, after his decision to sell the company to its employees.

His daughter Jennifer Ouvaroff said: “He was way ahead of his time in his views on industrial relations, and in order to benefit the workforce, instigated various initiatives such as profit sharing, job rotation and a single-status canteen. He valued every member of the company.

“Consequently he believed that he had no right to sell the business to the highest bidder as it belonged as much to the workers and was not solely his to sell.”

The Brownedge Road headquarters of Baxi, which has since been demolished

The Brownedge Road headquarters of Baxi, which has since been demolished

In 1983, Mr Baxendale and his cousin Joan Caselton turned down offers of £50m for the company and instead allowed staff to buy a majority shareholding in a cut-price deal.

Jennifer added: “It was his proudest moment. He worked long and hard to achieve this and even had an Act of Parliament, The Baxi Act. The Act benefited many companies in the future who also turned to the employee share ownership model.”

Mr Baxendale, who lived in Goosnargh before moving to Somerset and then retiring to the New Forest, was awarded an OBE “for services to industry in the North West, particularly in employee-ownership in Lancashire".

Outside of work, he was a keen sailor and golfer, and helped many good causes including the Tavistock Institute, a charity which applies social science to contemporary issues and problems.

He was at one time the chairman of the Preston Post-Graduate Medical Centre and spearheaded their fundraising campaign to provide local doctors with essential medical equipment.

He also helped raise funds to build a swimming pool in Blackburn.

Jennifer said: “He was kind and generous. He loved his work, but also loved spending time with the family. He was also gregarious, and enjoyed meeting and chatting to all sorts of people.”

He leaves wife Florence, children Greta, Robert, Alan and Jennifer, and nine grandchildren.

Jennifer added: “He was a devoted grandfather who had just spent Christmas with his entire family by his side. It was great time and the memories will never be forgotten. It was a very fitting farewell.”

Mr Baxendale died on April 8. A private funeral service is to be held in his home town.

The story of Baxi:

The company was established by Richard Baxendale, and a fellow foundryman, Joseph Heald, as a railway carriage business in Chorley in 1866.

1935 sees the launch of the first product bearing the trade name Baxi - a controllable underfloor draught system for solid fuel heating, developed by Richard's son, John.

Philip Baxendale, born in Rylands Road, Chorley, joined the company as General Manager of the Albert Street Works in Chorley.

The company grew rapidly and in the early 1960s the headquarters were established in Brownedge Road, Bamber Bridge. The workforce grew from 200 to 800 within a decade on the back of the popularity of the Baxi Bermuda, a boiler system fitted behind a fireplace.

In the 1970s, with a staff figure fast approaching 1,000, the Baxendale business acquired a site at nearby Club Street, formerly the home of lorry company Atkinsons, and built a new foundry on the land.

In 1983 Philip Baxendale and his cousin Joan Caselton sell the company to the workforce at a fraction of its true worth, thus forming the largest employee partnership of its kind in the country.

Throughout the 1980s Baxi continues to develop and innovate, and in 1989 produces the Baxi Solo, a low weight cast iron boiler, suitable for one man to lift while installing.

In the nineties Baxi begins acquiring a number of high-profile European companies, including the £410m purchase of Blue Circle Cement heating interests.

Baxi was saddled with mounting debts and was forced into a deal with a rival company, Newmond. The workers had to sanction the deal and they did, many grudgingly, in November 2000.

Today Baxi is the lead brand of BDR Thermea, and one of the largest boiler manufacturers in Europe. Although the Brownedge Road headquarters was closed in 2006, the company retains a manufacturing site in Club Street, Bamber Bridge.