We have only just received the sad news that one of the pioneers of the telehandler, John Iles, has died. He passed away, aged 83, at the end of August with his funeral held in Poole yesterday.
John Iles began his material handling career in 1973 when he joined Manitou Site Lift - as the manufacturer’s UK subsidiary was then called - as its manager. He arrived just six months after the company had been set up, following the death of its original manager. In those days it was based on an industrial site near Southampton, where the Manitou Rough Terrain forklifts arrived from France. He was instrumental in twice finding the company's new locations, including to the UK company’s current home town of Verwood in 1979.
Most importantly he played a key and critical role in Manitou’s entry into the telehandler market, which by 1980 was still in its infancy. In 1980, Iles told Manitou owner Marcel Braud that he would like to see a telescopic forklift, rather than an Italian built off-centre machine that Manitou had just introduced. Braud listened and then gave his engineers a year to develop a new two tonne machine. When Iles saw the resulting product, originally the MT25, he asked for a number of improvements and also coined the name Maniscopic, which is still in use today and has gone on to spawn a number of derivative brand names.
In the words of John Cottineau, product development director at the time: “It was our English friends, John Iles and his team at Manitou Site Lift, who found the name Maniscopic and with his agreement we grabbed this name at Ancenis and used this label on all the range. The English also found some interesting improvements. For example, they designed the system of attaching the tooling. I understood it was a good principle and we thus standardised all attaching devices.”
Iles left Manitou in 1993 at the age of 56 in order to set up his own business and agreed a 50/50 joint venture with Italian telehandler manufacturer Merlo to establish Merlo UK, which he based in Ringwood, not far from the Manitou UK base. The new premises were small, so he rented a storage and machine preparation space at the nearby Chandlers Ford depot of rental company Selwood.
A few years later, he said: “I wanted to run my own business, but I didn't want to just be an importer because in that case often the manufacturer doesn't want you to be too successful. By having a joint venture, Merlo shares in any success I have and as a result we have a close working relationship because we are equal partners.”
He built the business into the leading competitor with the two market leaders – Manitou and JCB – grabbing around 12 percent of the market by the end of the decade.
He was also credited with never being afraid to speak out against malpractice, safety violations and the like. For example, he was reportedly responsible for lifting the lid on an alleged fraud at UK telehandler manufacturer Matbro, which ultimately led to a £50 million write off by its parent company at the time, Powerscreen.
John Iles finally retired from Merlo in 2011 at the age of 74.
In the words of a tribute from Merlo
“Merlo UK founder John Iles passed away recently, we thought it an appropriate point to acknowledge John’s contribution to the materials handling industry in the UK.”
"It’s fair to say that John probably did more to progress the development of the UK materials handling industry during the 1970’s, 80’s & 90’s than just about anyone else. His career spanned long periods working with both Manitou and Merlo positioning him at the forefront of driving the developments that saw a seismic shift from the use of rough terrain masted forklifts to what was then a new concept of the telescopic handler.”
“Indeed as many people might be considering taking it easy and putting their feet up, John upon retiring from Manitou in 1993 embarked into a 50/50 joint venture with Merlo Group to establish Merlo UK."
"Starting out from offices in Christchurch Road, Ringwood with storage and machine preparation located at the Chandlers Ford depot of Selwoods, the interest in these innovative green Merlo machines from Italy soon flourished. Utilising John’s extensive knowledge of the UK market comprehensive agricultural and construction networks were promptly established. The Merlo products quickly found favour with many operators in the UK and with the introduction of the slewing ROTO models a new chapter in materials handling was started.”
“There is no denying John’s efforts and actions in those formative years laid the groundwork that has paved the way for what Merlo UK looks like today. John retired from Merlo UK in 2011, having spent the previous 18 years putting Merlo on the map in the UK.”