October 9, 2020: It is with sadness that Batteries International must announce that Vivienne Empson, long-standing group finance and HR director at TBS Engineering, and one of the driving forces behind the success of the UK headquartered company, lost a long battle with cancer on September 19.
David Longney, TBS group managing director said; “Viv and I worked closely together for over 30 years during which time Viv was undoubtedly a thoroughly professional board member and leader of TBS at all times. As such, Viv played a major role in building TBS to become the successful, world-wide operation we have today.
“Viv was an extraordinary person in many ways and her passing is truly a great loss to our company and to our community. She will be profoundly missed by everyone whose lives she touched.”
Kathrin Beckerleg, HR manager at TBS who worked with her, said: “Viv was much loved and much admired by all who worked with her. She will be missed by everyone — she was warm-hearted, kind and immensely generous with her time. She had an amazing sense of humour which she used to great effect to boost morale during difficult times.”
Mark Gardiner, group director for sales, said: “She was a colleague, teacher, listener, friend. Viv, you are sorely missed.”
Another employee said: “She was a kind and wonderful work colleague … she will be missed greatly. Viv always had time for everybody at TBS.”
Laurie Gardiner, former managing director at TBS said: “We built a solid and successful company at TBS and no-one — and I mean no-one — worked harder and was more committed and professional in their job than Viv.
“As MD and her boss I can truly say hiring her was one of the best decisions I ever made, she was a real TBS team player.”
Viv’s story really begins in the 1980s when she gave up her ambitions of working in criminal psychology and took a correspondence course in accountancy.
Tenacity, a good head for understanding what company numbers meant, and a strategic vision, were what she offered the battery machine manufacturing firm, when she joined TBS as finance manager in 1989. She little realised that the small engineering firm, then situated in a cramped factory in a terraced street in Cheltenham, some 100 miles from London, was to be a key part of her life for the next three decades.
Nor could she have envisaged that it would grow from a few handfuls of staff to become an engineering giant that exports to some 90 countries around the world.
Her talents were quickly spotted. Three years after joining she was appointed company secretary in April 1992. Two years later she became a board member and director and for the last 22 years she was a director of TBS, now part of MiTek Inc which took over the firm in 1998. (MiTek is part of the Berkshire Hathaway Group of Companies.)
But the early days of the firm were very different.
In an interview last year, she recalled “In those days we employed 30 or 40 people, we did very little exporting because the owner just wasn’t interested, it was a private company.
When the former owner retired and Laurie Gardiner took over as managing director, TBS’ fortunes turned around quickly and Viv was a major factor in the company’s expansion to a purpose-built, 26,000sq ft unit in Elmstone Hardwicke near Cheltenham.
“We thought back then it was amazing, but we continued to expand through products and exports,” she said.
The company strategy, which she helped devise with the other directors, was based on four pillars aimed at differentiating itself from its industry competitors.
These were: being a one-stop source of battery assembly equipment (a major part of this was achieved by the purchase of Tekmax and then Cominco); worldwide product availability and customer support; high quality machinery manufacture; and. a strong investment in design to provide high quality batteries and operating efficiencies.
In the early 2000s the company began to branch out into new markets, a strategy which increased turnover considerably with customers around the world, notably the US and China where it also has facilities. Its key sectors are the automotive industry, reserve power and motive power.
In the last five years Viv was one of the main drivers behind the company’s relocation to a bespoke 100,000 square foot facility on a nine-acre site at Gloucester Business Park. In addition to the strategic planning — she spent three years trying to find the perfect site — she was intimately involved in the design of the plant which cost around £15 million. TBS moved into the new factory in June 2018.
She stepped down from the firm that she had loved for 31 years at the beginning of August.
She leaves behind her husband and friend, Mark, of some 26 years and her son, Josh. Her son has organized a JustGiving charity page for —https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/vivienne-empson — for the Sue Ryder Hospice which supported her in her last days.
She was just 57 when she passed away.