When Adrian Olver and Tony Bean set up a veneered door and panels business two-and-a-half years ago, in the depths of the recession, their friends and acquaintances had no hesitation in telling them they were mad.

And what made their sanity even more questionable was the investment of £500,000 in On-Wood Products before they even had one order for one panel.

"It was a leap of faith, but we believed in what we could do," said Mr Olver. "We were confident there was a market."

And now the two men can prove they were right: staff numbers have increased from four to 24, for the past nine months the company has been running two shifts and turnover for 2012 is expected to hit £2m. It also has some prestigious projects in its portfolio, not least 1,000 cubicle doors for London’s newest and tallest skyscraper, the Shard.

And it’s all been achieved in the short time from the day the two founders climbed over a mountain of grain in a grain store to view their potential premises in a business park on the outskirts of Harlow in Essex.

Once the lease was signed, they set about choosing the machinery, buying the latest technology, and the oldest, so a 5ft-wide Biesse 12-head, four-axis machining centre sits alongside an old Interwood guillotine and a veneer stitcher which has stitched a few miles in its lifetime. They also installed a Talbotts biomass boiler which has the dual benefit of heating the factory and reducing On-Wood’s monthly skip costs from £1,000 to £150.

The determination that Adrian Olver and Tony Bean displayed from the outset means On-Wood Products seems to have had no trouble in securing contracts, from the highvolume production of doorsets for the Premier Inn, to the high-end projects of matched oakveneered panels for the Shard.

"When someone contacts us, our answer is ‘yes, what do you want us to do?’. We take on jobs others don’t want," said Mr Olver.

"We’re the next generation of companies where it’s can do, not can’t do. In this recession so many companies are stuck in their ways so if the work’s not there, they fall by the wayside. We will do it, from one kitchen cupboard to 1,000 doors for the Shard."

And it was the Shard that provided On- Wood’s big break – and justified buying the non-standard 5ft-wide Biesse machining centre.

"Through Swift Horsman we secured the job to do all the cubicle doorsets and divisions which, for a small start-up company, helped us get our foot in the market," said Mr Olver.

It was no small, or easy, task producing 1,000 matched veneer doors, where not a wood grain could be out of place. This type of job requires painstaking processes in the factory to ensure the veneer pattern runs in the correct order, and that the installers on site can follow that order.

The Shard contract has been followed by other prestigious projects, including acoustic doors for the Guildhall, the toilet cubicles for the Bobby Moore Suite at Wembley Stadium, and Quadrant 3, which is the redevelopment of the Crown Estates’ Regent Palace Hotel in London’s Regent Street.

On-Wood’s work also featured on a recent episode of Channel 4’s Grand Designs when it supplied matched veneered doors for kitchen designer Robert Timmons for the redevelopment of a labyrinth of a house in west London.

Some of those jobs that others may have shied away from were going through the factory just before Christmas. One was a 4.8mlong boardroom table for London property developer St George plc – oak veneered and made in one piece.

"They couldn’t find anyone else who would do it in one piece because if there’s a mistake, we start again," said Mr Olver. "It has to go through our press four times; the risk is if it doesn’t go well, we can’t sand it and start again – we have to throw it away and start again.

"So far, it’s been going well," he added with some relief.

There was also a hefty order for 180, 5ft-wide, 44mm veneered panels, each of which took four men to lift. The whole order was to be completed in two-and-a-half weeks.

At the same time, the spray shop was creating an architect’s specified finish to 70 oak-veneered doors and architraves. The eightstage process involving lacquering, staining, lacquering, lightening, more lacquering and tinting meant each of the 80kg doors had to be lifted 16 times.

On-Wood’s night shift is dedicated to the high volume production, while the day shift concentrates on the specialist demands of matched veneers. However, the quality of workmanship, said Mr Olver, is consistent across all products.

"The processes for our high-end work we’ve put into our volume work so it’s paying dividends for us," said Mr Olver.

On-Wood also has a busy line in producing 30min and 60min fire doors for the UK market, and the cores for the 120min fire doors which are standard in Dubai.

In development are 45dB doorsets On-Wood plans to make in conjunction with Falcon Panel Products and Northfield, and it has also just expanded its premises by half again to set up a joinery shop. The plan is to take on its own joinery contracts, as well as overflow work from other companies.

For Mr Olver On-Wood Products completes a circle in his career. Four of the staff, including business partner Tony Bean, and Bob Alcoe, trained him when he worked for his father’s company Holloway Products. "In a sense we’re a new company but with old ties," said Mr Olver.

When he joined the family firm he trained in all areas of the business, including six months at Reliance Veneers Co where he gained his knowledge of veneers. However, he was always a keen rugby player and when rugby became a professional sport Mr Olver left the company to play full-time.

During his 10-year career as a prop, he played for Saracens, Harlequins and Bedford.

"I had a wonderful time," said Mr Olver. "I got an England A cap, made about 200 appearances in the premiership and played at Twickenham."

He played with many of rugby’s great names – the likes of South African captain François Pienaar; England’s Jason Leonard; Ireland’s Keith Wood; and Michael Lynagh of Australia.

Much of what Mr Olver learned from rugby, and from some of these prominent players, he has applied to his management style at On-Wood Products.

"All the things I learned playing sport at a top level – teamwork, camaraderie – I put into the ethos of the business here," he said. "The things I learned from those guys, such as Pienaar and Lynagh, are transferrable; it’s about looking after individual people to make a team."

As Saracens coach, François Pienaar made motivational pre-match speeches that consolidated the team spirit and it’s something Mr Olver emulates at On-Wood.

"If you can impart that drive to people in a factory, then they want to do it, not just for me, but for all of us," he said. "The guy who sweeps the floor is as important as Tony and me and we try to instil that in all the lads."

That same ethos of teamwork extends to suppliers and clients and Mr Olver is particularly grateful to the suppliers who had faith in On- Wood even before that first order was placed.

"Our suppliers were brilliant. People like Lathams, Blumsoms, DS Richards, Capital Veneers and Reliance had a lot of faith in Tony and me and said they’d help us; they gave us the terms we needed to get going," said Mr Olver. "That was really important as it meant we were competitive from the offset.

"We’re now repaying that faith in that we’ve expanded hugely and are giving them lots of work."

And Mr Olver hopes that expansion will continue. "If we can do what we’ve done in the last two-and-a-half years in a recession, if we have the same attitude imagine where we’ll be in the next two-and-a-half years."

Fundamental to that success will be the continuing ethos of can-do and teamwork.

"It comes down to building relationships with clients and having good fortune, but also people say you make your own luck," said Mr Olver, and he returns to his rugby training again.

"How do you win a rugby match? What makes the winning team? It’s what you put into it; it’s teamwork."