• Mike Cater’s first job in the timber industry was with Bambergers.
• He was a semi-professional musician for 25 years.
• He set up MCI Timply in 1986.
• He is president of the Plywood Club of London.

Entry into the timber trade is usually by default rather than any careful planning and Mike Cater certainly follows that trend – his entry into the world and the subsequent detective work that this led to make for an equally interesting story.

“My mother died during my birth in 1942 and I was adopted by the Caters who brought me up in Berkhamstead, where they had a general store. Even then supermarkets were growing, so we moved to Tottenham, north London, where they ran a tobacconists and confectioners. I had to adjust to town life and enjoyed sports more than school. At 15 my headmaster suggested that I should leave, so I did!”

One positive element of school life was Rose, the girl he met there and subsequently married, but that was still some way off – getting a job and having fun were the first points on Mike’s agenda. “I worked for a travel agency, played drums and sang in a skiffle group – I was semi-professional for 25 years. I was heavily involved in the Young Conservatives (YCs) and also played local club football.”

The day job became boring and a friend in the YCs got Mike an interview at Bambergers, where he began in the plywood section. “Brian Martin was training there too, and George Arnold, Doug McDougall and my boss Geoff Ward taught us well.”

Night school

Bambergers moved to Stamford Hill in north London and Mike’s training continued through all departments. He went to night school and gained a CMIWSc. “For me it was a heck of an achievement,” he said.

By the time he was 23 he was ready to progress. “Tony Sadler was also at college and was about to leave J Eidelman, which was a panel agency. He got me an interview and I joined them, working for Gus Hearman. It was tremendous fun being in the City and travelling, too. Dennis Michael, a director there, took me along to the Plywood Club of London, in the Railway Tavern by Liverpool Street, starting an involvement that has continued ever since.”

In 1967 Rose and Mike married, settled in Hertfordshire and their children, Paula, Jacqueline and Andrew followed. “Jacqueline was born with spina bifida which changed our lives,” said Mike. “The daily involvement with her disability taught us much about values and gave us a very different perspective on life. Over time we became involved with The Kestrel Sports Club, a local organisation where Jacqueline became a national junior champion archer. She had a profound effect on us, as she conducted a normal daily life from her wheelchair and subsequently married. Sadly, Jacqueline passed away aged 30.”

Mike’s career next took him to Intermills, selling its west coast American plywood. “They also had an agency for KAZED, a French pressed steel door company which offered me the chance to take it on. It was a different market and in 1980 I left to start MCI, running a variety of agencies.” This continued until the chance came to join forces with other traders.

Going it alone

By 1986 and having worked with John Pearmain at Clencrest, followed by SH Montgomery, Mike felt it was time to go it alone. “I hired an attic room in The Maltings, Stansted Abbotts, Rose helped with the books and MCI Timply Ltd was on the way, running the Europly and CEMA agencies, together with our brokerage work.”

Mike’s experiences meant that he grew the business carefully, never taking on people unless he had an assured future for them. “Nigel King always kept in touch and in 1988 he joined me,” he explained. “We took on the Siberian Bratsk plywood mill agency and MCI evolved, gradually reducing brokerage work to become 100% agency focused. In 1996 we moved to Much Hadham.”

In 2003 UCM Timber took a 50% stake in MCI Timply, completing the acquisition in 2006. “Gary Mitchell has been brought in to take MCI forward and further expand the business. He will gradually take over the day-to-day running of MCI, but I’m remaining in place and, despite rumours to the contrary, will not yet retire. This has given MCI Timply the chance to expand as a fully integrated part of UCM. 2007 was a record year, which is proof that it’s working.”

Industry associations

As a past chairman and now president of the Plywood Club of London, together with his past chairmanship of the National Panel Product Division of The Timber Trade Federation, Mike has always given far more than he has received from the industry. “I always try to keep a sense of humour, even when times are tough. As many customers and acquaintances know, the ‘MCI Day Centre’ is active and the Christmas quiz is still there!”

Mike has also traced his roots. “I found out that the nursing sister who was there at my birth looked after me in the hospital for my first few years before I was adopted. After a lot of searching I found her, which was an incredible moment. The recent changes in legislation allowed me to trace my family and I have found and met four half-brothers and a half-sister around the world. It goes to show you never know what’s waiting for you if you go and search.”

Still living in the same house in Hertfordshire, Rose and Mike keep busy. “We like to travel and have some nice holidays. My golf carries on and I’m a poor 20!” Considering everything else that he has done, that doesn’t sound too bad at all.