The man who masterminded the transformation of a small North-East firm into a global automotive parts specialist has stepped down after 46 years with the company.

Bernard Robinson oversaw one of industry's original rags to riches tales during a sustained period of loyalty that defied the modern, often fickle, employment mentality.

He joined TKA Tallent Chassis - formerly Tallent Engineering - straight from school in 1956 at a time when the firm was, in his words, a "tuppenny ha'penny" out-fit.

Now he sees Tallent as world class, among the leaders in its field and setting an industrial standard.

When he signed up as an apprentice toolmaker, the company employed about 60 people with turnover about £200,000 to £300,000 a year.

Now the business has two bases in the UK as well as operations in Belgium, India and the US. It employs 2,500 workers - 1,172 of whom are employed at Newton Aycliffe - and has a £250m turnover.

The firm's big break came when Mr Robinson, managing director since 1980, clinched a contract with Ford in 1982 which jettisoned Tallent into a high-tech era that would set the benchmark for the next two decades and beyond.

In early 1988, he led a successful £11m management buyout and was awarded the OBE in the New Year's Honours list.

The company, which manufactures chassis for most major car firms, was bought by German firm Thyssen three years later which, in turn, merged with Krupp in 1998.

Throughout, it has maintained a strong ethos of training and development.

During his time in business, Mr Robinson has witnessed the best and worst of indus-try.

He said: "Worst has been the increasing bureaucracy and red tape that stifles business from getting on and doing what it should be doing.

"The best has been the expansion of global markets which enabled Tallent to move from very much a local to a regional to a national to a European to a global business."

Mr Robinson maintained a strong stakeholder approach and was involved in - and in certain cases continues to be involved in - CBI Northern Region, County Durham Development Company, North in Business Forum, County Durham Foundation charitable trust, South West Durham Training and The Digital Factory - a joint initiative between Sedgefield Borough Council and Bishop Auckland College.

Mr Robinson, married for 32 years to Joyce, officially stepped down on Saturday.

He plans to spend more time working in his garden.