OBE for founder and chairman of Saffron Walden firm Contamac

John McGregor, founder and chairman of Contamac, in Saffron Walden. Picture: CONTAMAC

John McGregor, founder and chairman of Contamac, in Saffron Walden. Picture: CONTAMAC - Credit: Archant

The chemist who founded Uttlesford firm Contamac in his garden shed in Stansted more than 30 years ago has been awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list.

John McGregor set up his own company at his home in Stansted in 1987 after the firm he was working for moved away from making contact lens materials – and John spotted the potential market.

“I thought it was a dreadful waste, and that there was a big market there and a lot of work to be done,” the 72-year-old said.

From the small beginnings, Contamac quickly became successful and moved to some modest premises in Dunmow with around 20 employees, and then onto a site in Wenden’s Ambo in 1994.

In 2015 it moved to its current site in Shire Hill, Saffron Walden, and now employs 95 people.

The firm is a global supplier of the specialist plastics and polymers which make contact lenses and intraocular lenses – artificial lenses used in cataracts operations when the body’s natural lenses are replaced. The firm really took off around 1991-2 when research and development projects got underway and new materials were developed.

Contamac has twice won a Queen’s Award, in 2012 for enterprise and overseas trade, and in 2015 for innovation, and this is reflected in Mr McGregor’s OBE citation, which is “for services to international trade and innovation in polymer technology”. As a result of the company’s success Mr McGregor is no stranger to royalty, having met the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Edward at previous presentations.

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Despite its big success, the company has remained close to its roots – not only staying in Uttlesford, but also a real family affair. Mr McGregor’s son Robert is managing director, his stepson is production director, and two granddaughters also work at the business.

“The honour is totally unexpected, a big surprise and an enormous honour – when I first got the letter I had to read it three times to convince myself it was true and not a wind-up,” said Mr McGregor, who has lived in Saffron Walden for 23 years – and who in his spare time is involved with the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers.

“I’m looking forward to receiving it.

“But all of the awards we have got have been won by the company, not by me or any other one person. We have achieved what we have achieved by the efforts of everyone who has worked at the company, so if anything this honour is theirs rather than mine.

“We are currently one of the largest employers in the town and very proud of that. We are very proud to be in the town and work in such a nice environment, I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be working.

“This is a lovely town with a lovely feel about it.”

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