William (Bill) Henry Sutton

William (Bill) Henry Sutton

20th July 1934 – 27th April 2011
Bill Sutton started his working career as an Engineering Cadet with General Motors Holden at Fishermans Bend after leaving secondary School in 1952. During his cadetship Bill attended RMIT to study for an Engineering Diploma. After completing his engineering studies Bill joined the family business Sutton Tool & Gauge Mfg. Co. which at this time was located at Northcote, Victoria. However, Bill’s interest at Sutton Tools didn’t start then, his father, Henry George Sutton, had made sure that Bill worked at the factory during school holidays and sometimes at weekends. As a young boy, Bill would have to clean machines from top to bottom – this is where his great knowledge of engineering and cutting tools all began. Bills knowledge of manufacturing taps, milling cutters, reamers, hobs, thread rolling dies and special tools grew as he worked within the engineering departments. Sutton Tools were the Australian leaders, but the learning process didn’t stop there. In 1958 Bill was sent to England to work at several iconic British tool manufacturers, which at that time were considered to be the leading cutting tools manufacturers in Europe. Bill also pursued an in depth study of the local English pubs, which earned him a reputation that stayed with him for many years. He was notorious in Sheffield, which he visited on many occasions.

Bill returned to Australia in 1960 and was given the assignment to start twist drill production at a new factory, located at Settlement Road Thomastown, Melbourne. This assignment again required Bill to travel overseas to Europe and the USA in order to investigate the best methods of manufacturing drills in high volume. Whilst in the USA Bill discovered a new range of machines for grinding drills from solid. Up until then, all Australian made drills were produced using the roll forging method by Patience & Nicholson, a competitor located in Maryborough Victoria. Bill determined that grinding the flutes from solid made a better drill and proceeded with purchasing the Hertlein machines from the USA. This decision has proved to be smart as today the best drill manufacturers in the world use this method for making drills. Under Bill’s management the Thomastown plant continued to grow and in 1964 the Northcote factory, along with the head office were relocated to Thomastown.

The 1970s proved to be a decade of economic difficulty for Australian manufacturing. It was also during this period that Bills father, Henry George Sutton died. Bill and his brother Jim (the third generation of Suttons) took up the reins as joint Managing Directors and steered the business through these challenging times. They did this by remaining dedicated to employing the best new technology, developing highly qualified staff and manufacturing precision cutting tools to the highest global standard. Under the dedicated leadership of Bill and Jim Sutton, the business continued growing, expanding the product and acquiring other like businesses. These included a small business manufacturing holesaws which Sutton acquired in the 1980’s. Further, Surface Technology Coatings was established as a wholly owned subsidiary of Sutton Tools and provided the only PVD hard film coatings in Australia.

The acquisition of Patience & Nicholson, the major competitor in Australia, was perhaps Sutton’s greatest achievement. After the purchase Bill said “I always wanted to own a factory at Sutton Road, Maryborough”. Today Sutton Tools boasts four modern manufacturing plants, three distribution centres including New Zealand, Singapore and Europe and employs some 450 staff. As recognition to a lifelong contribution to Australian manufacturing, Bill Sutton in 2010 was nominated and listed on the honour roll of the Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame – a prestigious award and an honour given to very few. Bill Sutton retired in 1995 but remained actively involved as a Director in the business; unfortunately Bill suffered an illness and died on the 27th April 2011. We mourn the loss of a leader and a friend who always maintained high business ethics, offered wise counsel to many of us. It goes without saying that Bill’s life achievements and contribution to the greater community gives rise to a true Australian, it has been an honour to have known him. Our thoughts are with Bill’s family.