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Updated: Alfie and Valerie Cheyne sell Ace Winches to Ashtead Technology for £53.5 million

Mr Cheyne hailed the deal as "a great marriage'.

Valerie Cheyne, Alfie Cheyne, Ingrid Stewart (Ashtead's chief financial officer) and Brett Lestrange (Ashtead's regional director for Europe).
l-r Valerie Cheyne, Alfie Cheyne, Ingrid Stewart (Ashtead's chief financial officer) and Brett Lestrange (Ashtead's regional director for Europe). Image: Bold St Media

North-east self-starter Alfie Cheyne and his wife, Valerie, have sold their Ace Winches business for £53.5 million.

The buyer is Westhill-based subsea equipment rental and solutions firm Ashtead Technology.

Mr Cheyne will stay on as an advisor for 12 months, helping with the handover and integration period.

He said Ace and Ashtead were a “great marriage”.

What’s next for Ace?

Ace will form part of Ashtead’s enlarged mechanical solutions business, a core area of focus for expansion.

Gary Wilson, currently chief commercial officer at Ace – based at Towie Barclay Works, near Turriff,  will run day-to-day operations reporting to Ashtead’s management team.

Mr Cheyne, 59, told The Press and Journal he was happy to have found the right buyer.

“Ashtead can take it well beyond where it is now,” he added.

He declined to say too much about why he is selling up now, other than pointing out that other succession options were limited as he approached his 60th birthday in April.

Ace Winches' headquarters at Towie Barclay Works, near Turriff.
Ace Winches’ headquarters at Towie Barclay Works, near Turriff. Image: Ace Winches

But he said he still wished to contribute to local business life and charitable causes.

He and his wife will stay in the area and after taking some time out he will look at his options, he said.

He added: “I’m not going away to just sit around doing nothing except water my pot plants.

“I will remain part of the north-east business community.”

‘No boundaries’ for Ace business as part of Ashtead, founder says

Mr Cheyne said the most important aspect of him selling up was putting the business in good hands for navigating the energy transition and creating new jobs in the north-east.

He continued: “This is about the bigger economic benefit for Aberdeenshire.

“Ace is technically at the top of its game and Ashtead being a technology business is a great marriage for a long-term energy industry transformation.”

Ace’s new future with Ashtead will help to grow the north-east economy, creating and developing new jobs in new sectors, the entrepreneur, said, adding: “There are no boundaries.”

Alfie and Valerie Cheyne, of Ace Winches
Alfie and Valerie Cheyne, of Ace Winches. Image: Ace Winches

The sale comes about two years after the Cheynes regained control of the business, having sold it to Aberdeen-based Balmoral Group in stages between  2017 and 2019.

That marriage turned sour and Mr Cheyne and his wife reacquired the firm in late 2021.

The last set of published accounts for Alfred Cheyne Engineering – trading as Ace Winches – showed turnover of £42m for the year to March 2023, up from around £29m in the previous 12 months.

Pre-tax profits skyrocketed to £13.2m from £4.2m previously.

This is about the bigger economic benefit for Aberdeenshire.”

Alfie Cheyne

For the 12 months to December 2023, Ace is expected to generate revenue of about £43.4m.

Group headcount averaged 148 workers in the 2022-23 trading year, down frm 157 the year before.

Established by Mr Cheyne in 1992, Ace is a market-leader in the design, assembly and rental of lifting, pulling and deployment equiment and services. Its core offering supports the installation, inspection, maintenance and repair and decommissioning of offshore energy infrastructure.

Ashtead said this was “highly complementary” to its existing equipment and services portfolio.

With nearly 80% of Ace’s revenue generated outside of the UK, supported by operations in Norway and sales offices in the United Arab Emirates and US, the acquisition is a “significant opportunity” for Ashtead to further expand its global footprint, the new owner said.

Ace is Ashtead’s eighth acquisition in the past six years.

‘Exceptional reputation’

Ashtead chief executive Allan Pirie said: “Ace Winches is a business we have known for many years and has an exceptional reputation as a go-to provider of lifting, pulling and deployment solutions that is highly complementary to the existing capabilities within Ashtead Technology.

Ashtead Technology chief executive: Allan Pirie.
Ashtead Technology chief executive: Allan Pirie. Image: Ashtead Technology

“While the business predominantly serves the oil and gas industry, we see a significant opportunity to redeploy the asset base in offshore renewable markets as well as further internationalising our business.

“We look forward to welcoming new colleagues to the Ashtead Technology team and capitalising on the wealth of in-house expertise they will bring to the group.”

How big is Ashtead?

Ashtead services customers from 11 facilities located in key offshore energy hubs in Europe, the Americas, Middle East and Asia Pacific.

The latest acquisition sees its global headcount grow from 320 to more than 520 employees, with around 400 based in the north-east.

Record results announced by the group in September showed adjusted pre-tax profits surged to £14.3m during the six months to June 30, up 89% year-on-year. Revenue grew by 57.1% to £49.8m.

Who is Alfie Cheyne, and how did his Aberdeenshire business get so big?

The term self-made man could not be any more apt for the man behind multiple award-winning Ace.

He left Turriff Academy with few qualifications but went on to set up his own engineering firm and develop it into a successful international business.

Despite not having had much of a formal education, he joined the ranks of the north-east’s leading entrepreneurs through hard graft and an instinctive business brain.

In an interview for the P&J many years ago he put his achievements down to his DNA; he said he was born to overcome challenges through sheer perseverance and working all hours of the day.

Alfie Cheyne onboard his Burrell engine at the Steam@Alford event in 2016.
Alfie Cheyne onboard his Burrell engine at the Steam@Alford event in 2016. Image: DC Thomson

Ace was founded in 1992, when Mr Cheyne set up a small engineering repair workshop at Montbletton, near Banff, to carry out servicing and repairs for the Scottish fishing fleet.

The firm grew quickly; it had 10 employees within 18 months and made a breakthrough into the manufacture of deck machinery, with a winch built for the Scottish Fisheries Marine Laboratory vessel Scotia.

The years 1997-2000 saw the company benefit from a move away from traditional net to twin-rig fishing, developing new winches to meet changing demand.

A move into new markets

Decline in the Scottish fishing industry from 2000 onwards brought a whole new set of challenges to the business and prompted a change in strategic direction into new markets such as oil and gas, offshore marine and – more recently – renewables.

The business opened new headquarters at Towie Barcal Works, five miles south of Turriff, in 2012.

Honours include two prestigious Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, in the international trade category, in 2010 and 2013.

Ace’s former owner loves steam egines

Mr Cheyne’s wife, Valerie, a former teacher who hails from Buckie, has been an important part of Ace’s success story – she was latterly its chief compliance officer.

The couple have two children, Rebecca and Bethany.

Mr Cheyne is often to be found at steam-engine fairs throughout the UK.

He has had a passion for vintage traction engines ever since he tagged along with his dad to a rally at Bridge of Don at the age of five.

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