The Story of Graham & Barbara Hollingsworth (Lancs Industries)

Jul 29, 2021

American Dream Achieved

IBA, as an approximately fifty-year old business brokerage firm serving the entrepreneurial community of the Pacific Northwest, has been uniquely positioned since before the American Bicentennial celebration of 1976 to witness and hear the stories of thousands of people who have lived the American dream through entrepreneurship creating beloved businesses by employees, customers, and communities while finding personal fulfillment and financial prosperity through execution of their ideas, hard work, perseverance, and ability.  In an effort to share these stories heard throughout the years by our team of business brokers, who are commonly regarded as the “best listeners” in the M&A industry, IBA has retained highly regarded freelance writer, David Garfield, to tell their stories.  It is our goal to share one story a month. It is our hope that you will find the stories as inspirational and motivational as they are to us and the buyers who bought the businesses in IBA facilitated transactions in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

The story of Graham & Barbara Hollingworth (Lancs Industries)

By David Garfield

Graham Hollingsworth’s journey to the United States and achieving the American dream began in his native Lancashire, Northwest England home.

He came from a “working-class” family and developed a strong work ethic early as a teenager. After graduating from an all-boys technical school, he went to work for his father and uncle in the manufacturing business at age 16.

However, his future working in the family business only lasted three years.

“The only person my father never protected himself from was his own brother, and his brother ended up taking the company away from an ownership position,” Hollingsworth said. …”The whole thing a few years later fell apart.

“… I had to find my own way in the world from being in a situation where I thought my destiny was in the family business environment.”

Now on his own and halfway through his apprenticeship, Hollingsworth got a job designing high speed paper machinery, where he met his future wife, Barbara. With the union’s influence retaliating on apprenticeship graduates and not raising pay, Hollingsworth changed directions and worked for British Aircraft Corporation as an aeronautical engineer.

Little did he know that his life would soon change forever.

Boeing, the multinational aircraft company headquartered in Seattle, was embarking on the monumental 747 program, the “premium aeronautical project in the world.” Hollingsworth connected with someone at British Aircraft, who had been hired with Boeing for a contract job and waiting for his work permit and visa to come to the United States. He told Hollingsworth about the Rade contract company and sent a resume and was hired without an interview.

In November 1966, he and his new wife, Barbara, left their high-rise apartment in England with only 600 pounds ($1,000) with two suitcases and departed for America on a contract position for two years with “no guarantees.”

Hollingsworth said British Aircraft at this time was “winding down aeronautical projects of aircraft design or construction” and an “exodus” of countless people in England and other people in Europe ”came for a brighter future in the states with the Boeing Company.”

“Boeing basically made a lock on the world with the 747 program,” Hollingsworth added.

Hollingsworth, who was 23 years old, said he and Barbara “thought it would be a two-year working holiday… (and) fully intended to come to back to the UK.”

He designed engineering aspects and systems for Boeing Aircraft. He had a great first impression of Seattle and America.

“The cars were big, they were huge,” Hollingsworth said. “Geographically, England fits in the size of Washington, just area wise, square miles. We fell in love with this place right away. We landed in 1966, within a few months, we never wanted to go back. We fell in love with this country, the free enterprise system. The opportunity worked; everybody was really happy for people to come to the United States. Nobody ever said, ‘Go back to your own country,’ or anything like that.

“… The weather here was better than it was in England. It was a beautiful November time. That’s why we never left. We were truly in awe. Everybody here was so nice; everybody helped us out. We found an apartment. We had no furniture. People gave us a table and chair and a mattress. It was fabulous.”

After 11 months, Hollingsworth got his green card and work permit from Boeing. He went to the bank to borrow money to buy a car.

“If you worked at Boeing, you were OK,” he said. “Everything was good, no problem.”

He bought an old Chevy Impala convertible.

“I thought I was king of the hill when I bought that car,” Hollingsworth said happily. “We assimilated here extremely well. Everybody has the wrong impression of America, and this is the problem. A lot of people have never been here. They’ve never seen how nice the people are.”

Hollingsworth, 78, worked for $4.50 an hour with $70 a week per diem ($10 per day). Four months in, Boeing reduced the per diem to $8 per day. Boeing offered its contract people a plane ticket to go home if they were not satisfied with the pay cut.

“Some people wanted to go back,” Hollingsworth said. “We never did. We were just so happy to be here.”

After two years on contract, Hollingsworth got hired as a Boeing employee and worked on the Supersonic Transport Program (SST) and designing the leading edge flat system.

Eventually, disaster happened. Greg Lange of wrote in 1999 about the national aerospace industry’s “nosedive,” known in Seattle as the “Boeing Bust.” Hollingsworth and 30,000 people got laid off in 1970.

“The general area around here was just despondent because everyone was losing their work, they were losing their homes,” he said. “Some people committed suicide. It was pretty bad when Boeing shut down. This was a one-horse town.”

But Hollingsworth never gave up. He was only out of work for a week after quickly looking for a job in California with the aviation industry when he decided to stay home and was the first employee hired by the Rho company, which started from a man who worked at Boeing. Hollingsworth redesigned and certified flight attendant jump seats for a company called Heath Techna and “built a little empire” with good pay.

The Rho owner wanted Hollingsworth to stay with the company and told him he could probably become vice president. But that’s when Hollingsworth made a bold decision, which would alter his destiny when he decided to become an entrepreneur.

“I said, ‘I got to try my own thing for a while.’ I think the entrepreneurial spirit was in my DNA from my father. I wanted to go into business.”

Hollingsworth bought Metroplastics in Redmond, a screen-printing shop serving the industrial safety market. He made screen printing signs and did industrial sewings, road signs and barricades throughout Seattle.

Shortly after this time in 1974, Hollingsworth formed Lancs Industries serving the nuclear industry. He started with just five employees, and by the time he decided to sell his business in 2001, he had 50 employees. He eventually folded Metroplastics in 1976 or 1977 and built an extremely successful, prominent and premier nuclear protection business with Lancs, an abbreviated name Hollingsworth created from the county he and his wife were from in Lancashire.

Hollingsworth, who started with extremely modest means with Lancs and “built the  company up from scratch,” acquired a lead wool blanket, which was a half inch thick and used by the nuclear industry as shielding material. He did sewing and quilting with the blankets and extended “further into the nuclear industry” with containment devices and radio frequency heat sealing. He bought a heat-sealing machine and started to get contracts with the nuclear Navy and different shipyards doing heat sealing and eventually built a company to a substantial size.

Lancs Industries became the largest manufacturer of radiation shielding and containment products in North America. The company produced over 80 percent of the lead wool blankets used in U.S. nuclear plants and U.S. Naval facilities and one of the largest producers of flexible lead-free shielding products made from bismuth and iron.

“We enjoyed it,” Hollingsworth said of owning Lancs Industries. “It was not so much a job but a way of life.”

Barbara was also an invaluable and instrumental part of Lancs, doing bookwork, invoicing and overseeing payroll.

Hollingsworth, who operated in Kirkland with a field office in Warwick, R.I., said his greatest gratification and pride of president and CEO of Lancs Industries was “not ever being afraid to meet our customers. I used to tell our customers, ‘If there is an issue or a problem of anything you buy from me, I got your back. You can call me; I’ll take care of it.’ I can go anywhere at any time and would not be afraid of my customers because I know we would have sold them a good product at a good price. … We always did a good job for them. Always.”

Coming from a working-class family in Lancashire to accomplishing greatness in Lancs Industries as a successful entrepreneur, Hollingsworth couldn’t have been more elated with his journey.

“It means everything,” he said. “We have realized the American dream. We worked very, very hard. We’ve sacrificed at a number of different points along the way. We are wired to believe that this is what life should be about, that you work hard, you’re provided opportunities, there are no guarantees. We think the American system is the best system in the world. It’s a free enterprise system. For us, we realized the dream. We are living the dream now in our retirement years. We employed a lot of (people) with a lot of companies as customers. I’ve been all over the world. I have been to Chernobyl. We were involved with Three Mile Island. All the places that have had issues over the years, we made a contribution to resolving those things. We haven’t solved any problems, but we certainly have been somewhat involved with all of those things.

“I got the opportunity of a life to go to Chernobyl for a week there. I told people we developed an inflatable tent situation because people could only work in the environment for a certain amount of time. We made a significant contribution to the Hanford Site that they’ve been remediating for a good number of years. We did the same at Rocky Flats. We have made a contribution to the nuclear Naval programs. We have truly lived the dream in coming to the United States with just two suitcases each and having absolutely nothing behind us.

“… I was tough,” he added. “One of my business mantras was a sign in the production manager’s office, the company model is ‘work or get fired.’ We expected people to work for us like we would work hard. We expected them to be dedicated to the program. We really have managed to live the American dream. We are definitely humble about it. We don’t say anything to anybody about it. …. We have an awful lot of good American friends.

“We love this country and are really honored and privileged to work hard in this country and make a little bit of a difference. I wouldn’t say I’ve made a huge difference, but in my mind, I’ve made enough of a difference with my life to feel very comfortable about it.”

After 27 years of owning Lancs Industries, Hollingsworth made the decision to sell his company.

“We had been in business a long time and were doing very, very well, but we have no kids and we decided that the only thing we could do was start the process of selling the company,” he said. “I did not want to work my whole life.”

Hollingsworth believed it would take at least four or five years to sell the business since he thought it was an “ugly company in terms of the market it serves, which is nuclear and also that it’s just production manufacturing. It’s not a techie type organization. It’s not a computer (business) and doing stuff with Microsoft and all these guys do. We are actually manufacturing and every day we have to produce some equipment or some products that are fairly custom because they are tailored exclusively to the nuclear industry. It’s not something you can sell on the street corner or sell through Amazon.”

After going to some seminars with no luck or good impression about finding a buyer, Hollingsworth went to three different independent brokers. Gregory Kovsky, president and CEO of IBA, was one of the first Hollingsworth found.

“Right away, we clicked,” Hollingsworth said. ‘We’ve been close ever since. Both my wife and I said when we came out of meeting Greg, he really clicked with us. We right away said, ‘Hey, this guy seems good.’ He’s a straight-arrow guy. He is what he is. He’s the real deal. He said, ‘If you got any issues, call (my) answering machine and tell me everything that’s on your mind.’ He said, ‘When I come in the morning, I’ll take an unemotional listen to what you’re saying and I’ll call you later in the day and we’ll go over everything.’”

Hollingsworth and Kovsky had about five or six discussions about these issues like evaluating inventory and raw materials. “It was a real interesting challenge.”

“(Kovsky) seemed like an honest guy,” Hollingsworth said. ”A lot of these guys are promising you the world. He didn’t sugarcoat anything. He basically told us, ‘Hey, it’s going to be quite a process before you get to it. There’s going to be issues and complications.’ He was just honest and upfront about what the process would be. He said, ‘I can provide you. I’ll be your 100 percent guy. I don’t have a team of other guys working for me. I’m well-versed.’

“He said, ‘I have contacts.’ He sold quite a few businesses at that time. He was not a hard sell. He didn’t try to say that he would be better than anybody else. All he said is, ‘I’ll give you a good, honest assessment and appraisal and I’ll work hard for you. I’ll make sure you’re happy about the deal you’re getting. Otherwise, you can go find somebody else and I’m not going to charge you until the deal is over.’ He was just very, very honest and straight forward.”

Hollingsworth views Kovsky as not just a business broker, but a member of his family.

“We told him we don’t have any kids and so we want to regard you as our son and we want you to give us the counsel you would give to your mother and father,” Hollingsworth said. “He said, ‘I will honestly do that.’”

Kovsky found two potential buyers for Hollingsworth. The first person fell through before Kovsky, Hollingsworth and Tim Wiest, a former Naval officer in the nuclear power program and Harvard business graduate, eventually worked out a deal. Instead of taking five years to sell Lancs, Hollingsworth worked with Kovsky and IBA and sold it in about a year.

“Greg worked it out great,” Hollingsworth said. “He really did. He sold it quicker than what we expected.”

Hollingsworth was committed to working for Wiest for two years, but stayed for 10 years and retired in 2011 at age 68.

Hollingsworth and Barbara are now enjoying the freedom of retirement. They have a condo in Kirkland and one in Hawaii, stay extremely active, go on two or three cruises yearly, and have been to the Mediterranean, Australia, New Zealand and China.

“We are very comfortable and we owe a lot of it to Greg,” said Hollingsworth, who attended Kovsky’s wedding reception in 2001 and recently joined Kovsky and his wife, Janette, with Barbara at the Fourth of July fireworks in Bellevue. “To this day, I call him son. He was a good find in our lives. Not only for us, I know he’s done a lot of other businesses. He has nothing but a good reputation.”

Indeed, he does.

“I represent every client like they are a family member,” Kovsky said.

Reflecting on his long and winding path from Lancashire to the American dream of owning an extremely successful business, Hollingsworth will never forget that magical and defining moment when he and Barbara became United States citizens in 1972.

“It was very gratifying,” Hollingsworth said. “We’d already known we wanted to be Americans when we first came here. We loved everything about this country. We adopted an attitude of ‘America, love it or get the hell out,’ basically because you can go anywhere. You can go to any country from this country. You can get anywhere from here, but you can’t get here from everywhere.

“We are the land of opportunity. We are the classic case, we’re immigrants. We immigrated from the UK. We’ve had the best of absolutely everything. We had the best bringing up. We were brought up in very humble circumstances. I can afford more expensive cars, but we drive Ford cars. I love Ford cars. We have everything that we could have ever dreamed of in our lives. It’s been truly, truly an amazing experience. When we first got citizenship, we were absolutely overjoyed. We were absolutely thrilled.”

David Garfield

David Garfield is an international award-winning freelance writer based in Lawrence, Kansas. He’s been writing professionally since 1995 and has written over 20 magazine cover stories. A 1988 University of Kansas honors graduate, David has written on a variety of subjects during his long and successful career, including covering athletics at the University of Kansas, the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs with a special emphasis on telling stories about the people behind achievement, including Hall of Famers George Brett, Roy Williams, Larry Brown, All-Star Johnny Damon, and rising NBA star Devonte’ Graham. He’s also written profiles on about 200 volunteers who played significant roles in their community. One of David’s most inspirational stories was about a Kansas native who traveled to Israel, where he donated a kidney to a 10-year-old boy and was hailed as a “hero.” David, who specializes in writing human interest profiles, has written stories from the heart on cancer survivors, recovering alcoholics and former homeless people, to successful businessmen/women, doctors, dentists, and idealist college students who wanted to change the world. He’s been published in USA Today, KANSAS! Magazine, Anchorage Daily News, Lawrence Journal-World, Lawrence Magazine, KU Today & Tomorrow, Kansas City Jewish Chronicle and Jayhawk Insider. He’s extremely excited to join the IBA family and write human interest stories on entrepreneurs who have achieved the American dream. Mr. Garfield also writes a blog about KU basketball: