Evolving to remain true to our values
Colt was born as a family business, founded by Jack O'Hea in 1931. Since then, Colt has been providing healthy, comfortable and safe conditions in industrial and commercial buildings, and contributing to the creation of a sustainable built environment.
The early years - Diversification and entrepreneurship
Business was Jack O'Hea's vocation. His flair for spotting opportunities and making the most of them led to a dynamic approach to running the company, which has remained a key characteristic of Colt throughout its history.
Colt's success during the early years came from diversification: from patented vehicle ventilators and Colt Cowl domestic chimney terminal to the Sondix poultry brooders and the Coltagraph, an early form of tachograph.
Aerodynamics laboratory, 1930's
Jack O'Hea believed that innovation would give Colt the competitive edge and from the very beginning Colt invested heavily in Research and Development, designing and installing at its premises a wind tunnel that was highly advanced for its time.
The Colt Chimney Cowl, which was patented in the 1930s, was designed to stop downdraft in the chimney of a solid fuel fire from blowing smoke back out into a room
Colt was one of the first companies to develop ventilation into a science, building an aerodynamics laboratory in London in the early-1930's.
WW 2 - Blackout ventilation for a country at war
Colt spread production over different subcontractors to secure supply against risk of factories being hit by enemy action.
By the end of the war, over 85% of Colt's sales came from ventilation.
Colt black-out ventilators ensured that blacked out buildings could be adequately ventilated
During the Second World War, the need for blacking out houses and factories created new dangers due to insufficient ventilation. Colt saw the need and designed an ingenious blackout ventilator that ensured airflow while blocking light.
Ship's blackout porthole ventilator
The Colt blackout ventilator was adopted by the government and public authorities, and variations of the original design were developed and installed in many types of buildings around the country.
Post-War - Ready for peacetime success
Colt was ready for the end of the war, having designed and made adaptations to ventilation systems for peacetime. Once again, Colt's capacity for identifying opportunities and for innovation ensured its success.
In 1945 the government started a massive rehousing programme using prefabricated houses with no fireplaces. An alternative source of ventilation was needed: Colt responded by designing the Constant Flow ventilator, which was specified in all prefabricated housing. Thousands of ventilators were required each week to meet the demand.
The reconstruction of the British manufacturing industry and the erection of new factory buildings across the country opened new opportunities that Colt was quick to identify. Colt designed the revolutionary Sloping Roof ventilator, which lay along the roof slope, dramatically reducing installation and maintenance costs.
Colt ventilation survey kit of the 1940's, showing a Filtrometer to measure pressure drop across air filters and an air meter to measure air velocity
Alongside the development of new products in the 1940s and 1950s, Colt introduced diagnostic methods for analysing customers' overheating problems. The Colt technical sales force was provided with an impressive range of measuring instruments to assess air flow, temperature and heat gains from plant and other sources.
Colt transformed ventilation in industrial buildings. Colt's Sloping Roof ventilator dramatically reduced installation and maintenance costs
Also, it was designed to stop downdraft from blowing smoke back into the building, with obvious benefits to the internal air quality. The Clear Opening ventilators transformed ventilation of industrial buildings such as foundries, providing cooler working conditions and natural daylighting inside the factories.
The Clear Opening ventilator was designed for hot industries
Area managers were trained in the skills of problem solving on site by means of a carefully constructed survey technique. The subsequent survey report to the customer detailed not only the conclusions reached but also the heat gain calculations and other relevant factors. The Colt survey remains a valuable diagnostic tool today.
The 1950s - The birth of fire ventilation
As the result of a disastrous fire at a General Motors plant in the USA, the world's first automatic smoke exhaust ventilator was designed and supplied by Colt to General Motors' subsidiary Vauxhall Motors in 1953.
The evolution of manufacturing, with the advent of large single-storey industrial buildings in the automotive sector, required a new approach to fire safety.
Colt introduced the concept of fire ventilation for this type of building, turning conventional wisdom on its head. Until then, the advice was to close all doors and windows to starve a fire of oxygen.
After a fire seriously damaged Jaguar's Coventry plant in 1957, Colt promoted automatic fire ventilation to British industry.
This, however, did not take into account of the fact that in anything larger than a room in a house, there is enough oxygen to keep a fire going to the point of destroying the fabric of the building, or the risk to the occupants from smoke inhalation and flashover.
Colt turned conventional wisdom on its head with the development of the science of fire ventilation
Colt has since funded much of the public research that is the basis for many National and European regulations, and participated in the formulation of the European EN standards.
The 1960s - Turning point: a decade of fast growth
Colt entered the continental European markets long before Britain joined the Common Market, through joint ventures in the Netherlands and Germany. Its approach, which relied on the local talent for a better understanding of customers and local business practices, was highly unconventional for the time. Colt set up companies entirely staffed by nationals and ran them as local businesses, rather than exporting its personnel and business model.
A joint venture, Braat en Colt Ventilatie NV, was established in the summer of 1960. Colt later bought out the partner
Colt provided the products and technical support from the UK, while the local management teams were encouraged to exercise their imagination and apply their own working methods.
Colt's expansion into the European markets, helped by an innovative approach to marketing, based on selling higher productivity through an improved working environment, led to fast growth. Sales increased from £2 million in 1960 to nearly £9.5 million in 1972 and in 1971 profits generated in continental Europe exceeded for the first time those generated in the UK.
The 1970s - Unity with decentralisation
Colt took its products to its customers in Germany by designing a movable exhibition, the "Expomobile"
Colt's continued strength in the 1970s stemmed from its approach to overseas expansion, which fostered entrepreneurship by giving freedom to the individual companies within the group while working together towards Colt's overall objectives.
Colt's expansion with the entry of new companies within the group led to a particular focus on training and development, identifying high potential employees and creating the conditions for talent to flourish throughout the organisation.
The 1980s - Fighting recession through change
The transformation of industry from labour-intensive manufacturing to high technology eroded Colt's traditional customer base. Once again, Colt's dynamic approach to business ensured its success in this period of economic recession throughout Europe.
Colt designed and manufactured the stainless steel pyramid that tops the Canary Wharf tower in London
Colt changed its business model to expand into new industries and technologies: it adapted its ventilation products for commercial buildings and entered the solar shading market.
By the end of the decade, the business environment had become much more competitive and Colt's management realised that greater central coordination was needed to ensure its continued success.
The 1990s - United for success
Colt started the decade by setting a new vision for the group: to be the best and most profitable business in its field in Europe.
Colt continued to evolve, anticipating the changes in the economy and the marketplace. To meet the challenges of the Single European Market and achieve its objective, Colt created a pan-European organisation and set up a new structure for its sales teams based on customer segmentation.
During this decade, Colt took its geographical expansion beyond European borders. It applied the marketing strategy successfully introduced in Europe to the Far Eastern and Middle Eastern markets, to make the most of the opportunities offered by these fast-growing economies.
Innovation remained at the heart of Colt's success. In the 1990s Colt invested in the product areas of growth, such as air cleaning, control of daylighting levels and solar power. This investment in R&D led to the development of Shadovoltaiccs, a combined solar shading, daylighting and electricity generating system for facades and roofs of buildings.
In 1993 Colt Virtual Reality Ltd is created to devise computer-based solutions to fire emergency plainning in buildings. The same year saw the launch of 'Colterra', an aluminium alloy for ventilators made from 100% recycled material.
Watertight motorised sun shading louvres protect this office block in Singapore from the elements
The 21st Century - Growth and stability through geographical expansion
Colt's growth in this Century's first decade has hinged on three key elements: continued geographical expansion, the exchange of knowledge and the development of new products and services, extending its customer base, geographical spread and offering.
Through a policy of controlled worldwide expansion, by 2012 Colt is present in over 75 countries around the world. In this expansion, Colt has maintained its approach that relies on locally staffed and managed companies backed by a strong global organisation.
Colt set up Colt China Manufacturing Company in Shenzhen in 2006
Articulated shutters provide solar shading at Potsdam University
Colt has continued to invest heavily in R&D to expand and advance its product offering.
Colt recognises that the transfer of knowledge has become a strategic priority, to ensure customers around the world have access to the best expertise and technological know-how Colt has to offer, and to maintain the company's capacity for innovation in the future.
Darwin Convention & Exhibition Centre, Australia
The Colt Academy provides training on fire security, climate control, daylighting technology, acoustics and relevant legislation.
Colt's training programmes are delivered both in the classroom and by video conferencing.
These resources ensure that Colt teams around the world are always up to date on the most recent technologies and regulations.
Colt CFD modelling verifies scheme designs, in this case for a car park