ONE OF Sunderland’s best-known business names has died.
Tributes have been paid to Alex Smiles, who took his firm from humble beginnings to become a household name on Wearside.
The waste management, recycling and skip hire company now employs more than 70 people and operates 40-plus heavy goods vehicles.
John Smiles remembered how his entrepreneurial brother set up the business – a forerunner in the reclamation and recycling trade – as he developed it from one of his first ventures.
“He started off buying and selling cars and was quite successful with that,” said John.
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But in the days before anti-freeze, the business ran into trouble with the arrival of winter.
“The engines were all seized up, so he went over to a auto dismantlers in Carley Hill and asked for a price for breaking up the cars,” said John.
Deciding the business was asking ‘ridiculous money,’ Alex decided to scrap the cars himself.
“Our grandmother had a shop in Wellington Lane, with spare land to the side and rear and he asked her if he could dismantle the cars on the land at the back of the shop.
“He got all his money back and made a profit from those cars and the business just grew from there. He got such a good response that he decided to advertise for more cars for resale or dismantling.
“He was the first in Sunderland to approach the vehicle dismantling and resale in that manner.”
The firm, which was set up in 1973 with the support of Alex’s late wife Jane, remained based in Wellington Lane until the turn of the century, moving to is current Deptford site in 2002.
The base launched with a £1million dedicated material recycling facility.
In addition to its business operations, the Alex Smiles backs community projects, including a recent clear up of Seaburn and Roker beaches, the SAFC Foundation of Light’s Show Your Colours fund-raiser in the run up to October’s Tyne-Wear derby and invested in training with the help of Team Wearside to help its staff improve and learn new skills.
The family of Alex, who was 70, said he did not suffer fools gladly but was fiercely protective of his team.
“He was a proud man but he was a guy who would look after people as well,” said John.
Sons John and Stuart now run the business their father began and Stuart remembers Alex’s independence and resolve to build up the firm.
“He was determined that he was not going to get told what to do,” he said.
“He said ‘If I can make as much money working for myself as I could be earning working for somebody else, then I will have a go.”
City council leader Councillor Paul Watson said Alex Smiles had been a green industry ground-breaker.
“He was a bit of a pioneer in the recycling industry,” said Coun Watson.
“He launched the business before recycling was fashionable and started a business that has become more and more important to the city.”
SAFC commercial director Gary Hutchinson is chairman of the North East Chamber of Commerce Sunderland committee.
“This is very sad news,” he said.
“A trusted and respected long-standing businessman in the city has passed away and our thoughts are with his family and friends and the business at this very sad time.”
Alex was found dead at his Ashbrooke Home on Christmas Eve.
Jane passed away five years ago and he is survived by sons John and Stuart and grandson Oscar.