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Amazing Thames Valley Companies: Oxford Instruments


As any home inventor will tell you, the best companies start in a shed, in a garden, behind your house.


This week’s amazing Thames Valley company is no exception, beginning life in a humble common-or-garden shed belonging to Sir Martin Wood in North Oxford in 1959.


It is of course, Oxford Instruments!


Oxford Instruments was one of the first spin-out companies from the University of Oxford and is still one of the most successful - so in effect it’s a 60 year old tech start up!


From such humble beginnings the company was listed just 24 years later in 1983 on the London Stock Exchange, is now headquartered in Abingdon, has current market capitalisation of over £650million and employs over 1500 people across the world!


Not afraid to get his hands (literally) dirty, Sir Martin began his national service in 1945 by mining for coal, first in Wales and then in the Midlands, so he’s built the company from the (under) ground up!


From 1955 to 1969, he was a Senior Research Officer at the Clarendon Laboratory at the University of Oxford and he used the knowledge he gained there about high field magnets to create the company. Since then the company has built all manner of amazing things such as X-Ray machines and the world’s first ever commercial MRI scanner at their former Osney Mead site in 1980.


More recently, the company’s NanoAnalysis division won the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise 2019 for the Ultim® Extreme detector system.


But it doesn’t end there. Away from work Sir Martin also founded the Earth Trust to promote nature conservation at Little Wittenham and Wittenham Clumps, The Oxford Trust for the promotion of scientific education and science-based enterprise, and the Sylva Foundation to support sustainable forest management.


So an all round amazing company, founded by an amazing person: Oxford Instruments, from everyone here at Selective Recruitment, we salute you!


Banbury, oh sweet sweet Banbury.

As anyone with a car will know, Banbury's Junction 11 represents one of the the last outposts on the northbound M40 for God’s county of Oxfordshire, which tells us that our exciting journey has officially begun as we prepare to go beyond the wall.

After Banbury, the postcode changes and as we all know - normal rules do not apply. On our return, we know we’re nearly home when we hit good old ‘Banners’, safe in the knowledge that the county’s bosom awaits.

For those that share our slightly odd sentiments, you’ll know the one company whose titanic warehouse sits aside said signpost: that’s right, it’s Prodrive!

Prodrive designs, constructs and competes racing cars for larger automotive companies and employs nearly 500 people in both Banbury and Milton Keynes.

A bit like the (very sexist) phrase ‘behind every great man there’s a great woman’, behind every great racing car there is probably a Prodive!

Most notably, fans of 90s WRC / Sony Playstations will know that Colin McRae’s award-winning and record-breaking Subaru impreza was built by Prodrive. Other automotive clients include Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, BMW, Ford, Honda, MG, Mini, Renault, Porsche, VW and Volvo. Phew!

Prodrive has also managed teams in both F1 (reviving the fortunes of BAR Honda) and Formula 3000 (Arden, with a young, Geri Halliwell-less Christian Horner as team boss!).

Another reason we love Prodrive is diversification, just like Williams F1 in Grove. Since 2010 Prodrive’s non-motorsport activities have grown to represent the majority of the company’s turnover, with its advanced technology division now delivering engineering solutions into automotive OEMs, aerospace, defence, marine and other sectors.

Prodrive has also worked with the Land Rover BAR America’s Cup team to develop control systems and new technology for the team’s ‘flying’ catamaran, and the company has also announced plans to engineer the world’s lightest folding bike to market, The Hummingbird.

So there you have it! To everyone at Prodrive, from everyone at Selective Recruitment: we salute you!




With Amazon recently announcing to reduce delivery times to one day for Prime customers across the globe, it got us thinking about automation and it’s threat to manual jobs.

For a long time, the theory has been that robots will take our jobs. But increasingly, more and more respected organisations such as the World Economic Forum and PwC are predicting that robots will create at least as many jobs as they take, and quite possibly more.

Because Selective Recruitment work with most major retailers and logistics companies in the Thames Valley, we’re asked to recruit thousands of people every year in order to meet the increased recruitment demand from companies like Amazon. So here’s five jobs that we’ve seen increased demand for over the last few months - and some we think might be coming!

1. Delivery Drivers

More deliveries means more drivers, and until self-driving cars become a reality, self-driving lorries are even further away. Because of the increased size in both height, width and length, it will require very different technology to allow a lorry to drive itself - so we won’t see self-driving lorries for a good few years yet!

2. Customer Services

Has anyone ever spoken to a chatbot online via a message service and actually got the answer they were looking for? Ever? NO! That’s because AI for this type of thing is a long long way off, and ultimately people want to speak to people when there’s a problem. So until robots are as good as the ones in Bladerunner, we’re going to need lots of customer services people!

3. IT

If Amazon had a shop, what would it look like? Well, their website and app is their shop, because all of these products are being bought online  and just like any other it has to be maintained, cleaned, fixed and painted. Which is where IT people come in. There will be thousands of people in the UK working solely on Amazon’s website and apps, and it’s no different for similar companies such as Argos and eBay. Indeed, companies such as House of Fraser and Debenhams who didn’t invest in their digital shop have paid the ultimate price - they’ve gone bust.


4. Marketing / eCommerce

Advertising used to be all suits, cigars and Smirnoff - basically any episode of Mad Men. But modern advertising is called digital marketing, and it requires a small army of marketers to get a product noticed. This is because there’s an almost endless list of places all big brands need to advertise, such as organic Google search, Google Pay per Click (PPC), Google Display Ads, Bing, Bing Ads, or both free and paid versions of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin. And that’s before we switch from inbound to outbound marketing such as email newsletters!


5. Drone Pilots / Technicians / Manufacturers

Of course, the plan with smaller items is to deliver them by drones. But until we create the technology that allows billions of drones to simultaneously fly themselves all over the world, these will need pilots. And people to load the goods into them. And fix them. And fuel them. And make them. A bit like this scene from the Fifth Element.

Of course, robots do take jobs. Not necessarily in every company, but more in whole companies altogether that don’t keep up with the pace of change in digital technology, and go bust. But that’s not the robots fault, it’s ours. Now time for a robo boogie.

Take a walk around the beautiful countryside village of Grove right on the edge of Oxfordshire this summer and you’ll find a high street with a smattering of shops, two primary schools, three pubs, and both a rugby and a football team.

What you wouldn’t expect to find is a great big whopping state of the art manufacturing complex just outside the village, housing several hundred staff who all work for a company called Williams Grand Prix Engineering. That’s right, it’s the frikkin’ Williams Formula One racing team - near Wantage!

There are several F1 teams in Oxfordshire, such as Renault in Enstone and Haas’s European base at Banbury, whilst elsewhere in the Thames Valley we have Red Bull in Milton Keynes, Mercedes in Brackley and Force India at Silverstone.

But Williams is special and here’s why: it was originally founded by Frank Williams in Didcot in 1977 and can trace its roots back to 1967. It has manufactured its own cars since 1978 and is one of only three teams to win over 100 races - with drivers such as Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Jensen Button, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.

To date they’ve started 710 races, amassed 114 victories, won nine constructor’s championships and seven driver’s championships.

But it doesn’t end there. Williams has business interests beyond F1 and established both Williams Advanced Engineering and Williams Hybrid Power - which take technology originally developed for Formula One and adapt it for commercial applications. Such was the success of Williams Hybrid Power that in April 2014 it was sold to automotive and aerospace manufacturing giant GKN.

So there we have it, Williams F1 racing team, bona fide Oxfordshire and Formula One legends. We salute you!




What would you expect to find at the home of Reaction Engines Ltd (REL), at Culham Science Centre just outside Abingdon?

 As the name suggests, it’s engines of some sort - probably car or perhaps even industrial. But you’d be miles off, because what they’re actually making at REL is a future generation of space planes. You read that right: SPACE PLANES!

For the uninitiated, a Space Plane is a plane that can travel to and within the outer edge of our atmosphere (aka space) in order to reduce time, fuel, cost and pollution - making trips to Australia possible in only a matter of hours, by using the earth’s gravitational pull to travel at ridiculously high speeds (we’re talking in the thousands of miles per hour!).


And if you’ve read the BBC recently, you’ll have seen they’ve had a big breakthrough:


UK's Sabre space plane engine tech in new milestone


So much so that Rolls Royce, BAE Systems and Boeing are backing the project.


According to REL:


“Our goal is to deliver a truly versatile propulsion system - a hybrid air-breathing rocket engine that can power an aircraft from a standing start to over five times the speed of sound for hypersonic flight in the atmosphere, and over 25 times the speed of sound for space access. With its wide range of operation and scalability, the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE™) represents a defining moment in powered flight.”


So there you have it. From everyone here at Selective Recruitment in Abingdon, Oxford, Southampton and London, we salute you!






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01235 462 900 - Abingdon - Head Office
01865 595 560 - Oxford
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