plc is a British multinational automotive and aerospace components company headquartered in Redditch, Worcestershire, United Kingdom.
The story of GKN began in 1759 when the Dowlais Iron Company was set up in the village of Dowlais in South Wales. The Guest family involvement began in 1767 when John Guest was appointed as manager of Dowlais. His grandson became sole owner in 1851.
The Dowlais Iron Company was then the largest iron works in the world, operating 18 blast furnaces and employing 7,300 people. The business was the first licensee of the Bessemer process and in 1857 completed the construction of the world's most powerful rolling mill. The current company, GKN plc, was incorporated as Guest, Keen and Co Limited on 9th July 1900 on the merger of the Dowlais Iron Company with Arthur Keen's Patent Nut and Bolt Company, a business which had been set up in 1856 in Smethwick, England. In 1902 the Company acquired Nettlefolds Limited, one of the world's leading manufacturers of screws and fasteners, a business which had also been set up at Smethwick in 1854. Following the acquisition of Nettlefolds the Company changed its name to Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds Limited.
At that time Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds was one of the largest manufacturing businesses in the world, involved in every process from coal and ore extraction to iron and steel making and finally to finished products including the nuts, bolts, screws and fasteners for which it was then famous.
The business changed its focus over the last 25 years of the 20th century in response to fundamental shifts in its traditional markets. Nuts and bolts and screws and fasteners businesses were under significant pressure from low cost economies and the steel industry worldwide was in decline with massive overcapacity. In the UK successive governments nationalised, then privatised and then partially re-nationalised the country's steel industry. In the early 1980's GKN had decided that the time had come to exit steel. GKN also shed its forgings businesses and exited from the nuts and bolts and screws and fasteners companies which had once made it famous.
In 1966 the Group acquired a UK engineering company in order to gain access to an automotive overdrive business and a competitor in propshafts. In doing so it also acquired a share in a German business with worldwide patents on a unique constant velocity joint system for front wheel drive cars. During the 1970's and 1980's car designers had lost interest in overdrive systems but moved decisively in favour of front wheel drive. GKN soon realised the potential of its CVJ business. It proceeded to take control of its German partner and on the back of a major contract from Ford established its first manufacturing presence in the US.
The former world leader in steel rapidly became the new world leader in automotive driveline with manufacturing plants around the world and a 43% global market share in 2002.
During the 1990's GKN embarked on a number of strategic initiatives which continued to re-shape the Group.
Recognising the potential for components produced by powder metallurgy to substitute components produced using conventional forging or machining processes GKN decided in 1997 to build on its own small powder metallurgy business. Within five years turnover has grown from approximately $100 million to $1 billion.
Through a series of acquisitions in Europe and North America, GKN has rapidly built the world leader in powder metallurgy. The Group's powder metallurgy businesses, headquartered in the US, are the No 1 producer of powder metal parts in the world and the No 1 producer of powder metal in the US.
In 1998 GKN sold its armoured vehicle business to Alvis, a UK-based specialist, armoured vehicle manufacturer. In 2003 GKN exited the armoured vehicle business when it sold its 29% shareholding to BAE Systems. In 2001 the Group merged its helicopter business - GKN Westland Helicopters - with Agusta of Italy .
1759: Nine businessmen form an iron-smelting works in southern Wales called Dowlais Iron Works. 1767: John Guest becomes manager of Dowlais Iron Works, the beginning of the involvement of the Guest family in the business. 1851: The grandson of John Guest becomes sole owner of Dowlais Iron Company. 1854: John Sutton Nettlefold enters into a partnership to make custom woodscrews. 1856: Arthur Keen enters into a partnership to manufacture an automatic bolt-making machine. 1864: Keen's business goes public as the Patent Nut & Bolt Company. 1880: Sutton's business goes public as Nettlefolds Limited. 1900: Dowlais Iron Company and the Patent Nut & Bolt Company merge to create Guest, Keen and Co. Limited. 1902: Guest, Keen and Co. acquires Nettlefolds; the company changes its name to Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds Limited. 1920: Company acquires John Lysaght and with it, Joseph Sankey, maker of steel auto parts--marking GKN's entrance into the auto industry. 1951: The U.K. government nationalizes the steel industry, including GKN's steelmaking companies. 1955: The steel industry is denationalized and GKN buys back its steel companies. 1962: GKN enters the defense sector. 1966: Company acquires Birfield and its minority stake in Uni-Carden, maker of constant velocity joints. 1967: The company's steel operations, now called GKN Steel Company, are renationalized. 1974: One of the company's founding operations, the Dowlais plant, leaves the company orbit; GKN Chep, a joint venture pallet pooling service, is formed with Brambles Industries of Australia. 1981: GKN and Brambles join forces again to take over waste disposal firm Redland Purle, which is later known as Cleanaway. 1983: GKN acquires Meineke Discount Muffler Shops. 1986: Company adopts the name GKN plc; most of its remaining steel operations are divested. 1988: A minority stake in Westland, a U.K. helicopter maker, is acquired. 1994: GKN gains full control of Westland through a hostile takeover. 1995: Company makes its final exit from steelmaking. 1998: Company combines its armored vehicle operations with those of Alvis, in return for 29.9 percent stake in Alvis. 1999: GKN acquires Interlake Corporation. 2000: GKN and Finmeccanica of Italy merge their helicopter businesses into a 50--50 joint venture called AgustaWestland.