For people in Cumbria, New Balance is their ‘local’ trainer manufacturer.

Based in Boston, Massachusetts, New Balance has been making trainers in the county for the last 40 years, initially attracted to set up a factory in Lillyhall by the area’s shoemaking heritage.

The company, which originally began as a manufacturer of arch supports - which is where its name comes from - moved into shoe manufacturing in the 1930s, catering for the long distance running market.

It moved its Cumbrian operation to Flimby in 1991 and, for the last 25 years, Andy Okolowicz was its factory manager and a well-known face in the local business community.

Following Andy’s retirement last year, the person tasked with filling his shoes is new operations director Dan Holtby, who has his eye on increased growth and innovation at the site.

“I’ve got a background which is heavily reliant on people and being a leader and getting the best out of them,” says Dan.

“I pride myself on leadership and I pride myself on leading people with humility; treating people how you would like to be treated and being authentic with people as well.

"I am a transformational leader and not a transactional leader. I believe in delivering results through the power of people; that's open communication and clear plans, clear dialogue, full engagement and togetherness.

“When you work like that, you tend to get the best out of people, you build trust and credibility. The more credibility that you manage to build, the more people can see that you can be trusted and you're in it for the long game.”

Originally from St Helens, Dan began his career as an apprentice engineer, gradually moving into more operation and manufacturing based roles, taking in sectors including marine engineering, oil and gas and food manufacturing.

Before joining New Balance in August, Dan, 41, worked for United States based McCormick and Company, a global producer and distributor of spices, seasoning and condiments, most recently as its senior operations and engineering head for Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

“Moving from a background of fast moving consumer goods is a new challenge,” says Dan.

“With food manufacturing things can perish, so the time that you have to think is a lot less because you need to be reactive. I think this sector allows for really careful consideration, so you can really start to think about innovation and think about growth.”

Dan’s day-to-day tasks involve coordinating production with the design and technical teams.

"I'll be looking at the production schedule, working out what's left for us to manufacture that week and how efficient we've been against that number. I'm pulled in quite a number of directions to make sure that the wheels keep turning at Cumbria.”

The factory coordinates closely with New Balance’s Warrington office and its 280 staff include product developers who work on the design of new shoes, as well as an experienced team on the shopfloor, some of whom have worked there for as long as 40 years.

While New Balance makes 100 million pairs of shoes globally each year, Dan says the Flimby plant produces 375,000 of these and hopes to grow this number to 525,000 in the coming years.

"Cumbrian people are really salt of the Earth people and I think that's a big driver for myself, to work for a global brand, based in the heart of Cumbria,” says Dan.

He says trends in the industry include incorporating more sustainable and recycled material into trainers.

"I think the industry is challenging itself to think more around the sustainability agenda," says Dan.

"We're looking at all kinds of things, from how the soles are manufactured to the components and the chemical make up of the sole. We're doing some quite innovative thinking around recycled materials that will really help that green agenda as we start to move forward.”

Part of this green agenda includes investing £1.5m in a new 1MW wind turbine, which will provide power to the factory and export any excess to the grid or even pass it through for use at the Warrington office.

"We're looking not just on the product side, but also infrastructure as well to make sure that we're sustainable for the long term,” says Dan.

“It’s also an investment that shows a statement of intent for New Balance to remain in Flimby for a long time yet.”

With some of its longer serving staff members retiring or nearing the end of their careers, Dan says the challenge is on to find new talent to drive the company forward.

"Getting those skills can be challenging, but I also think that provides great opportunities for removing any paradigms and having a paradigm shift.

“For New balance we can pay real homage to the past but we don't dwell on it. I've just been super impressed with the attitude of the team in wanting to drive a better tomorrow.”

While the increasing price of raw materials and export have affected the company, Dan says sales of trainers have also grown as people look for cheaper forms of exercise to replace going to the gym.

“I think it just shows the resilience of the brand to be able to survive despite the challenges,” he says.

Although he is currently commuting to Cumbria from Merseyside, Dan is looking to move to the county soon with his wife and nine-year-old daughter.

“We’ve been here a few times on holiday before I got the job,” says Dan.

“When you come up the M6 and turn left at Penrith you just feel this layer of tranquility that is unrivalled. The beauty is unbelievable and so I’ll happily become an adopted Cumbrian.”