All posts by Althea Taylor-Salmon

MBA Scholarships Open Business Doors to Engineers

MBA Students

Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) has set a further eight talented professional engineers on the road to senior management following their MBA graduation. This brings the number of SMFs to 283, with a further eight currently undertaking their MBA study.

The graduates had to persuade a panel that they were the best of the competing young engineers in order to be awarded a £30,000 bursary each to offset their MBA study costs at a leading business school.

Founded by Lord Sainsbury, the not for profit organisation champions the value of a combined business and engineering education and has, to date, awarded over £7m worth of bursaries for MBA study.

The funding enables engineers to add business, finance and marketing expertise to the skills gained through their engineering training and experience. Most graduates go on to secure posts in blue-chip companies, while 10% of SMFs set up innovative businesses.

Already, graduate Kimbal Virdi has been appointed by Samsung to work in the company’s corporate strategy team in Korea.  Fellow graduate Phil Westcott has joined IBM’s General Management Leadership Programme and is working in the Smart Grid Consulting Division in London.

“The SMF-sponsored MBA opens doors to exciting new careers for engineers,” says David Falzani, SMF President. “SMFs hold 220 directorships, including non-executive director posts. It is our ambition to see many more engineers sitting at the boards of British companies because we know they make a significant contribution to their performance.”

Every year up to ten top young engineers receive the bursary after going through a rigorous assessment process run by the Royal Academy of Engineering on behalf of SMF. On securing their MBA, the graduates become members of SMF and gain access to an international network of contacts, continued professional development and mentoring by captains of industry.


President’s Letter

annual dinner 2010

SMF Ernest Poku
Each time I look through the profile book it impresses me how unique a group the Fellows are. Although we work in a wide variety of industries and roles, we all share a common perspective and experience. We have also all participated in the vision of Lord Sainsbury.

The Society has in essence two broad aims. Firstly to add value to the UK and international economy by supporting the aims and vision that Lord Sainsbury expressed in setting up and supporting the scheme and associated bursaries that we have all benefited from. Secondly, to add value to each individual Fellow by organising and encouraging interaction, and otherwise supporting our careers.

We are entering a period where the future form and role of the society may well be decided. There are now almost 300 Fellows, representing a considerable network of talent covering all major sectors and functions, and many countries. The debate on what makes us unique, what aims we should have and how we can realise them is coming to a head.

Recently, a strategic review was initiated to better understand what role the Society should or could fulfil. To further understand the Fellows’ profiles and their current views on the scheme we have asked Hall Associates to undertake a telephone review. You will therefore be contacted over the next few weeks and asked a range of questions. At one end of the spectrum we can be a mere alumni association, at the other, we can seek to positively influence views and attitudes across commerce. We are interested in your views on the Society’s future role and how you would like to be involved.

Re-Engineering the Board
You will have found enclosed our publication Re-engineering the Board to Manage Risk and Maximise Growth, or “HR Pack”, targeted at key HR decision makers. This pack was designed by our Communications Group to challenge the view that accountancy and legal training are the best qualifications for effective boardroom directors, and to highlight the strengths of the engineering mindset. Most of our outward communications to date have been via Public Relations. The HR Pack is a deliberate break from this approach and provides a more direct channel. If the evaluation of this new approach is positive then we intend to look at additional opportunities for new publications and forums for challenging views and arguing for wider adoption of our values. Please give us your feedback on this pack.

Website & Improved Engagement

We will shortly be launching a new website and interaction platform. Many of you will already be members of the SMF group on LinkedIn but this new website has vastly increased functionality and a new social engine to allow for private communications between Fellows.

As Fellows are geographically dispersed, the website is also intended to provide a material forum for useful interaction on a variety of initiatives irrespective of geographic location.

How we support each other and add value as a community will no doubt dictate the future success of the Society. We hope that the website will enable a higher degree of interaction and engagement by delivering value to every Fellow that uses it.
As you know, the SMF bursaries are funded by Lord Sainsbury via his Gatsby Charitable Foundation. However, the Society itself has been funded to date almost entirely by Lord Sainsbury’s private funds. Whilst we have been informed that the future of the scheme continues to be assured, and all recent feedback on our performance has been most positive, we have also been asked to take a hard look at whether there is a point at which the scheme becomes self funding.

We are currently reviewing whether to incorporate the Society and establish a registered charity to further pursue this question. A key benefit of this incorporation would be a tax efficient vehicle for those Fellows who have expressed an interest in investing back in to the scheme.

We also collect annual subscriptions from the Fellows. These subscriptions go directly to supporting the Society’s aims. They are not a ‘social fee’ but, rather, they underline the identity and activities of the Society and point to the responsibilities of the individual recipient of the award. We continue to ask for your support in collecting these fees.

Mentoring and Other Activities
An outstanding success of last year was the launch of the mentoring scheme. Fellows have been partnered with mentors at the very highest levels of UK PLC. We intend to look not only at how we can extend the scheme in size, but also how to access new key sectors of Fellow involvement such as Finance and Entrepreneurship.

We also launched the successful Energy Roundtable. This is a forum – currently physical but soon also to be online too – to exchange latest ideas between those with a role or interest in the Energy arena. We would like to have additional roundtables in areas of key importance to the economy such as Finance and Manufacturing. Please let Cathy know if you would like to be involved in this.

Other activities where our involvement continues include supporting the next generation through the RAEng’s BEST Programme and the Engineering Leadership Award scheme. If you feel you now have the time and would like to become further involved please do not hesitate to contact Cathy or myself.

There is no easy way to measure the sphere of influence that the Fellows have. However, by rising to the challenges we are set, and increasing our ability to collaborate, we can exert a positive influence of a disproportionate magnitude to our size.

Lastly, I would like to warmly thank outgoing President Ernie Poku for all of his hard work, initiatives, and achievements during his term of office.

SMF Case Studies – In Brief

 Adam Bazire, Vice President, Business Development, AMETEK
Serge Taborin Andrew Jones and Adam Bazire on the right
Adam Bazire (right) with Fellows at an SMF Networking Dinner

AMETEK Inc is a leading global manufacturer of electronic instruments and electromechanical devices with annualised sales of $2.5 billion. The company has over 11,000 staff working at more than 80 manufacturing facilities and more than 80 sales and service centres in the USA and around the world.

Expertise: Power, instrumentation, process control, motors, aerospace, industrial.

Michael Astell is a Chartered Professional Engineer and a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Mike Astell 2

Mike’s business achievements and MBA have led him to become one of 300 SMFs who provide support to boards of UK and international businesses.

Michael most recently worked for Centrica as Director of the East Irish Sea business. This included the Morecambe gas fields with 9 platforms plus the Barrow terminals and Heysham base. Michael’s career includes:

  • Managing Director Designate, Dounreay for the UK Atomic Energy Authority
  • EMS Project Leader and Corporate Strategist for Shell, which supplies transport fuel to 900 service stations in the UK, as well as meeting the demands of businesses – construction industry, aviation, chemicals and shipping
  • Operations Manager for Shell, responsible for an area in the North Sea with a budget of £120 million, producing 40,000 barrels a day
  • Non Executive Directorship at Acrobot, a spin-out company from Imperial College London specialising in surgical navigation systems and robotic devices

Michael is a keynote speaker at oil industry seminars and a lecturer on various university business and engineering programmes as well as a mentor for junior engineers and professionals.  Michael’s business knowledge and experience allow him to provide insight on:
•   Risk analysis and strategic planning
•   Developing effective marketing strategies
•   Finance
•   Problem solving
•   Project Management

Sam Cockerill, Founder and Managing Director, Libertine FPE
sam-cockerillSam is the founder and Managing Director of Libertine FPE, a low-cost, high-efficiency engine start-up. Sam is an independent management consultant and entrepreneur. He consults in the renewable energy sector for a range of industrial, academic and public sector clients. He is also the non-executive director of Providence Holdings, one of the UK’s major agricultural supply chain management companies.

Sam has co-authored several published scientific papers underpinning the sustainability of grain biorefining, and published scientific papers on the sustainability of biofuels and biofuel feedstocks, and is a named inventor on several patents.

Expertise: Global ethanol market and pricing dynamics, biofuel/biomass supply chains and sustainability, renewable energy policy, new vehicle technologies; as well as business related topics – growth strategy development, international business development, creative career development.

Tom Delay, Chief Executive, Carbon Trust
Tom Delay 2013_DSC5769

Previously an engineer with Shell for 16 years, Tom worked for five years in consulting before joining the low carbon sector as founding chief executive of the Carbon Trust. Tom was the first SMF President and one of the first two Fellows to receive an MBA through the scholarship scheme.

Expertise: International business development, creative career development.

Simon Duncan, Chief Executive Officer, A Shade Greener:
A Shade Greener is a renewable electricity generator. The company promotes solar energy that is accessible to everyone. Up until now only the wealthy could afford solar panels, however, new legislation that came into effect from April 2010, provides the company with guaranteed income for the electricity its panels generate, enabling A Shade Greener to fit free solar panels onto any roof that is suitable. Now nearly everyone can have access to free electricity all year round.  Expertise: Solar PV, installations, solar power, renewable energy.

David Falzani, CEO, Polaris Associates / President of SMF
David Falzani President SMF MCP_3834 (landscape)
Polaris offers strategic perspective and analysis, linking activity to drivers of success; revealing buyer decision-making process. Polaris works in a variety of sectors including energy, technology, software and charities; helping clients with business and financial development, technology projects, marketing and strategic planning, and general commercial management.
Expertise: Business development, finance, operations, marketing.

George Fowkes, Owner, The Clear AlternativeGeorge Fowkes Cropped

The Clear Alternative performs critical business development work for young clean technology companies. Services include market study and research, business planning and fund/grant raising, sales and project management, supplier selection and contracting.
Specialist topics: Market analysis and opportunity evaluation, supplier/partner/client development, project and interim management, market entry, ‘first deal’, product launch.

Graham Hastie, Managing Director, Bellfield Consulting: .

Bellfield consulting provides strategy, operations and rankings advice for the Higher Education sector.

Expertise: Higher education, strategy, operations, rankings.




David Hardy, Operations and Technical Director, Envirowales
David Hardy SMFEnvirowales is a recycler of lead-acid batteries and lead scrap materials.  Expertise: recycling.






Nick Laird, Chief Commercial Officer, Ceridian Corporation:
A business services company that helps customers maximise the power of their people, lower their costs and focus on what they do best. Ceridian’s suite of innovative managed HR solutions includes payroll and compensation, employee benefits administration, staffing, compliance, HR outsourcing and employee assistance programmes, work life, health & wellness and productivity management solutions.

Expertise: HR, business process outsourcing, payroll, compensation, employee benefits administration, staffing, compliance, tax filing, HR administration, HRO, employee assistance programs (EAP), work-life, health & wellness, productivity.

Chris Martin, CEO Spirogen Ltd and Chairman Crescent Diagnostics
Chris MartinA Chartered Director and highly qualified chemical engineer, Chris Martin took an MBA as the basis for a successful entrepreneurial career in the clean tech, high tech and biotech fields. He is Chief Executive of Spirogen, a clinical stage cancer drug development company and non- executive Chairman of Sciona inc and Crescent Diagnostics.

Chris is veteran of high tech start- ups and spinning out technological advances made by academic institutions into successful commercial companies. He started his career at the Atomic Research Establishment but his business mind led him into more commercial roles. After his MBA at the Swiss business school IMD, Chris led a management buy-out of consultancy Marex, setting up Paras Ltd as a consultancy to assist companies in the oil industry make sound technology decisions.

Chris set up Xenva as an early stage feed capital company to work with embryonic companies based on campus research as they grew. Spin-out companies he has worked with include Solcom, which develops web-enabled systems monitoring and management systems and Sciona a genetic personalised nutrition.

His interests in corporate finance and fund management include board membership of the RCM Technology Investment Trust PLC. He also holds the ICAEW Corporate Finance Qualification.

Expertise: startup experience, business funding / venture capital, e-commerce, international business development, creative career development, women in business.

Ian Peerless, Owner, Peerless Engineering Limited and Director IPKA Consultancy Limited

Ian has spent the majority of his career working for Shell and Corus in a range of positions including Operations Director, Strategy Director, Sales Manager and Logistics Manager. He is one of the founders of IPKA Consultancy Limited which spun out of Shell and which assists board members around the world to implement change. In parallel Peerless Engineering Limited pursues new product opportunities. A current project is the commercialisation of a robot designed for extreme oil and gas operations.

Expertise: Hydrocarbon project front end loading, subsurface engineering and operations, steel value chains and strategy, commercialisation of new products, mergers and acquisitions, driving change through large organisation

Andrew Phillipps, Successful Serial Entrepreneur
Andy PhillippsAndrew Phillipps is a entrepreneur whose professional engineering background and MBA has helped him to make his mark on a multitude of ambitious and innovative business ventures.  These include:

  • Co-founder of Active Hotels, the UK’s leading provider of technical solutions that enables hotels to sell rooms on 15,000 sites and through 84,000 travel agents
  • Chairman and founding investor of i20 water, a company set up to save the UK a fifth of the 3.5 billion litres of water it wastes a day
  • Chairman and part MBO of Toptable, the UK’s leading restaurant reservation, review and search site
  • Chairman of Greentraveller, a site that helps travellers reduce their carbon footprint
  • Director of Reevoo, a site that houses a collection of over one million customer reviews on electrical products.

Andrew lectures on entrepreneurship at INSEAD and London Business School.

Expertise: e-commerce, international business development, creative career development.

James Raby, SMF Treasurer and VC Specialist
James Raby, SMF Treasurer Opens the SMF Tax Debate 24 June 2015James Raby was formerly a Venture Capital Executive with the VC arm of Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) where he provided venture capital investment in early and middle stage media, wireless and technology companies.  SEB is one of northern Europe’s leading banks.

James has spent the majority of his career within the operations and general management functions of broadcast, media and wireless services companies including NTL Broadcast (now Arqiva) and VT Communications within Europe and Asia. James studied for his MBA at EAP in France in 1995 and was one of the first two Fellows to receive an MBA through the SMF scheme.

Expertise: New media, venture investment, restructuring, recovery & turnaround, privatisation & cultural change, innovation & due diligence, finance, banking, wholesale banking, retail banking, mutual funds, life insurance, pension.

Bill Sneyd, Founder and Chief Operating Officer, HomeSun:
Bill SneydHomeSun is the UK’s leading ‘Free Solar’ business – bringing the benefits of renewable energy to tens of thousands of households. HomeSun makes home renewable energy commonplace, starting with Solar PV. The company is breaking down barriers of price and complexity to make it easy for homes to generate their own energy.

Expertise: Solar PV, renewable energy, free solar PV.

Mark Spence, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of three businesses
Mark Spence SMFMark is a successful entrepreneur with diverse and successful businesses in engineering, chemicals and mobile communications. He is chief executive and founder of:

  • Telemetrics, which was set up to exploit the revolution in M2M technology, improving the service for engineers and other personnel ‘on the move’
  • Cosmetic Rheologies, an innovator in polymer technology for hair and skincare products.
  • Mass Measuring, which provides weighing, conveying and process control equipment and utilises the same expertise as Telemetrics
  • CRL and Telemetrics have won SMART awards for innovation.
    Specialist topics: International business development, creative career development.

Gordon Wylie, Director, Free Green Electricity Corporation: Free Green Electricity Corporation is focused on the free installation and free long-term maintenance of small-scale renewable energy generation systems for both domestic and commercial property owners in the UK, and on delivering an attractive sustainable financial return for investors. Expertise: Renewable energy, solar power.

Richard Robinson, MD, Heathrow Express
Richard RobinsonRichard describes himself as being the beneficiary of a “top-class engineering education”, first at Nottingham University, then during an eight-year spell with ICI Acrylics. Richard studied for an MBA in general management and venture finance in HEC, Paris where he won an exchange programme place at the Stern School of Business, New York. Today, Richard is Managing Director of Heathrow Express – a business unit of BAA Heathrow. He is a commercially driven executive with full P&L experience running a £100 million turnover, £1 billion asset base business.


  • Working as Operations Director for a subsidiary of Anglo American, charged with turning around the company’s manufacturing operations
  • Brand building and business development whilst leading a consumer-facing startup business
  • Modern sales and marketing techniques, coupled with an engineer’s natural understanding of the operational and technical side of business – providing ‘the perfect platform of skills for senior business leadership roles

Case studies correct at the time of publication.  SMFs may have moved to new posts since publication.  For the latest career information on our Fellows visit our SMF Profile Page.

Manufacturing Company Performs Strongly in Higher Value Sector

Manufacturing and engineering company Ilika plc has recently been floated on AIM, the London Stock Exchange’s international market for smaller growing companies. The listing comes just days after Lord Sainsbury’s address at the annual SMF (Sainsbury Management Fellows’ Society) dinner, whereby he stressed the importance to continue to move the UK’s manufacturing and service industries into higher-value areas to help them to compete in global markets.

Ilika is an advanced materials company which accelerates the discovery of new and patentable materials that are used by the energy, electronics and biomedical sectors. Experiments carried out by the Ilika can be executed 10 to 100 times faster than using traditional techniques.

IIika’s chief executive Graeme Purdy is a Sainsbury Management Fellow. . As such he received a scholarship to study for an MBA . SMF was established in 1987 by Lord Sainsbury to position engineers as UK business leaders. Each year up to 14 scholarships are awarded to top class engineers.

“Ilika is the perfect example of how a UK manufacturing company is performing strongly in a higher value sector. The SMF Society strongly believes that to increase the competitiveness of the UK economy more directors are needed in UK boardrooms that have the knowledge of how products are imagined, designed, made and work, combined with complementary business and management skills set within a global mindset. Graeme Purdy’s has proven this with the success of Ilika,” said SMF president David Falzani.

“We are delighted by the strong support new and existing shareholders have shown for developing the business through an AIM listing. Ilika is already generating revenues from its own two successful biomedical products and has a pipeline of materials partnered with large multinational companies. This listing marks the beginning of a new phase in the Company’s development, where its technology will help meet the need for advanced new materials, particularly in the energy and electronic industries,” said Ilika chief executive, Graeme Purdy.

The income generated through the floating of Ilika will be used to fund the further development of identified materials for the energy, electronics and biomedical sectors.

Re-engineering the Board

Reengineering the boardHR directors must re-engineer the board of directors to both mitigate and capitalise upon an increasingly ‘crash’ prone global marketplace

Many of the news events of the last two years and the damage done to company balance sheets and brands show that the traditional focus on financial, legal and accountancy qualifications and experience within UK company boards are not enough to avoid business disaster, according to SMF (Sainsbury Management Fellows’ Society). The organisation is urging HR directors to consider professional engineers with business qualifications and experience as an attractive complementary skill base for board director positions.

The call comes as new research commissioned by SMF demonstrates a discrepancy between perception and recruitment reality when it comes to professional engineers’ recognition as board-level appointees and the lack of diversity in the viewpoints represented around the table that this brings.

SMF believes that to increase the competitiveness of the UK economy more directors are needed in UK boardrooms that have the knowledge of how products are imagined, designed, made and work, combined with complementary business and management skills set within a global mindset. This will help drive organisations forward, maximising innovation and the opportunities of new markets while controlling and mitigating the inherent risks in rapid growth businesses.

SMF has undertaken a survey among 100 FTSE250 HR directors to establish the level of awareness within the HR community of the suitability of engineers to fulfil these important roles. Results show that, while 86% surveyed were open-minded about employing directors with non-financial or legal backgrounds, only 66% believe that engineers have the skills and attributes necessary to move onto boards.
“Our research shows a discrepancy between perception and recruitment reality,” says SMF President, David Falzani. “Over 250,000 engineers are employed in the UK, contributing to the
economic strength of the nation and it is essential that organisations understand the benefits they can derive from having an engineer among its management team.”

The SMF research goes on to reveal that while HR directors do acknowledge core competencies of engineers, including the ability to deal with complex issues (both financial and operational), to lead cross functional and cross geographical teams and to provide a rigorous yet balanced risk
management and governance function, only half of the companies taking part in the survey have board directors with engineering backgrounds.

Where engineers have MBA qualifications and business experience, HR directors surveyed felt reassured that engineers had the skills to move into the boardroom (80%).

“Historically, engineers have not been seen as a natural choice to be members of boards of blue chip organisations,” explains David Falzani. “Conventional wisdom means candidates tend to come from financial and legal disciplines. However, HR directors are discovering that once engineers possess the requisite legal, financial, and marketing training, they have a breadth of skills that can be used to help organisations grow faster and more reliably.”

Professional engineers, who by the very nature of their job are creative problems solvers are not seen as board material and are often lost to more forward thinking international organisations. HR directors can avoid this talent leakage by encouraging their professional engineers with leadership qualities to expand their existing skills by studying for a first class business education and degree qualification.

“Up and down the country, the collective skills and experience of the boardroom are being analysed,” concludes David Falzani. Board directors have traditionally not been trained to manage the risk of failure positively by working with variables where mistakes, unknown consequences or side-effects might develop. These risk analysis skills are an integral part of the skill set of engineers and we are urging HR directors to reflect this when assessing the skills mix of their board.”

SMF has produced a booklet for HR directors encouraging them to seek more information on the role of professional engineers in the corporate world. Within the booklet is a skills matrix to assist in the assessment of an organisation’s needs and how a business-qualified, professional engineer can enhance the board. Copies of the booklet are available from SMF.

From MBA to DNA

Chris Martin, Chief Executive of Sciona, a company at the cutting edge of business innovation and the revolution in genetics.

SMF Chris Martin is a highly qualified chemical engineer. His MBA demystified the workings of corporate finance and enabled him to pursue his ambitions for commercialising technology. Chris, who started his career as a chemical engineer, has harnessed the knowledge he gained from an MBA at leading Swiss business school IMD (formerly IMI) to combine his natural commercial flair with his scientific know-how. His sector is one of the freshest business areas to have opened up in the last decade – taking technology developed in academic institutions to mainstream markets.

Sciona, the latest in a string of spin-out ventures Chris has presided over, is leading the push to bring the benefits of major breakthroughs in mapping the human genome, to consumers.

His company offers a service to customers that reveals if they are genetically predisposed to illnesses affected by lifestyle factors like stress, diet and exercise. It offers consumers the opportunity to tailor their lifestyles to ensure prolonged health and well-being. Customers simply take a swab from inside their mouths that is then analysed by the company’s expert team of leading scientists to produce each individual’s unique genetic make-up. Combined with a brief lifestyle questionnaire, Sciona can advise its customers how best to make lifestyle changes to enhance their well-being.

Chris’ career started with a degree in Chemical Engineering at Aston University. He followed it with a DPhil in Engineering Science at Oxford University. It was during 18 months of post-doctoral work at the University and the Atomic Energy Research Establishment that he first started to develop his commercial instincts, starting a computer software company with his flatmates. Chris recalls, “I got a real taste for the commercial world and realised I enjoyed that side of the industry as much as the technical elements.”

He joined a small consultancy working in the offshore oil industry that then diversified into the pharmaceutical sector and other process engineering industries. “I took a diploma in management studies to try to understand more about business. From my work I thought I could see situations where large companies were making poor technology investment decisions.”

His interest in this subject grew and in 1988 he applied to Sainsbury Management Fellows for a place on the International MBA programme, opting for a one-year course at the leading Swiss business school IMI, now IMD.

Chris says, “Mine was a classic MBA, very strong on international finance and organisational development. The key thing was that the course demystified a lot of aspects of business. One of the biggest advantages my MBA gave me was a thorough understanding of corporate finance.”

After completing the course Chris used his new skills to tackle the trend of poor technology decision-making he had spotted over the previous years. He and a partner set up the consultancy as part of Marex in late 1989.

Early success, including a series of contracts from Courtaulds, was followed by Chris leading a management buy-out of the consultancy to form Paras Ltd. Growth over the ensuing years created a team of 40 professionals at offices in the UK, Holland and South Africa.

In the early 90s Chris’ attention turned to the growing trend of companies formed around technologies from leading universities and industrial research. He joined a fellow engineer to set up an early stage feed capital company after recognising that embryonic companies founded on campus research required expert outside help.

Chris and a growing number of expert colleagues created a string of successful technology companies including Solcom, which develops web-enabled systems monitoring and management systems, Despatch Box, a data encryption and security company, and SpiroGen, a biotech spin-out developing the technology to stop cancer cells replicating by binding specific DNA strands.

But it was Sciona and its potential for putting a truly groundbreaking health product in the hands of ordinary people that really fired Chris’ imagination. “It’s a really fascinating area to be working in, with some tremendously talented people.

“I’ve never been a traditional chemical engineer but the scientific foundation combined with the skills and knowledge I gained through my MBA have enabled me to take my career forward in challenging and, I hope, innovative ways.”

He concludes, “Every day I see that there is a significant change in the UK climate for entrepreneurial innovation. There are now a lot of well-educated, ambitious young people using their technical education to launch themselves into business. When the SMF scheme started more than dozen years ago, this was almost unheard of.”

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.

Can Engineer Add Value In the Boardroom?

David-FalzaniDavid Falzani, President, Sainsbury Management Fellows

A company’s board of directors is like the bridge of a ship. It’s the forum where overall direction is set, major gauges are monitored, and risks assessed. The title director is often misused today, particularly in industries such as investment banking, where graduates appear to start as vice presidents and titles such as director, managing director, executive, and principal are compounded and interwoven to dazzling effect.

However, for clarification, a de jure director is an appointed officer of a company, holds a primary fiduciary duty to the company itself, and sits on the board of directors. Such directors can also, in certain circumstances, be personally liable for potential financial and criminal penalties related to the conduct of their roles.

Engineers have a unique mix of process and technical knowledge that can be applied in the boardroom to tackle many business challenges. This mix includes a suite of analytical skills combined with a pragmatic, structured and realistic approach. They are often trained risk assessors, trained decision-makers and project management experts. Additionally, they have hands-on experience, working with real people and real-time issues to bring together theory and practice. These attributes form uniquely strong foundations for senior corporate positions.

To be a truly effective board member a spectrum of skills and a wide perspective on business are required to balance the ‘big picture’ against the dynamics of business. This is particularly important as the unprecedented rate of change continues: globalisation, cross culturism, rising Asian markets, economic flux, and environmentalism.

In preparing for senior and board roles many engineers seek additional qualifications and experience. Some acquire skills organically over time, whilst others pursue an intensive formal qualification such as an MBA. I chose this route and fortunately won an MBA scholarship from the Sainsbury Management Fellowship (SMF) scheme.

In the late 1980s Lord Sainsbury recognised that in comparison with overseas businesses, the UK had fewer boardroom executives with professional engineering and science qualifications. Therefore to increase the UK’s competitiveness more directors should understand how things are innovated, developed and marketed. So far £7m has been awarded to 270 engineers to acquire MBAs from renowned business schools.

SMFs’ recent research of 100 HR directors from leading UK companies* shows 86% reported a willingness to hire directors with non-finance, accounting or legal backgrounds, but only 66% believed that professional engineers have the skills and attributes to be appointed to boards. This figure improves to 80% if the engineer’s qualifications are supplemented with business qualifications such as an MBA.
In my view, the shortfall in the statistics is related to the image of engineering and the misunderstanding of what engineering is.

Assuming engineers do acquire positions to improve UK industry there’s another hurdle: Will these engineers still be called engineers? If not, how do we identify them and measure success? They may be called marketing directors or development managers or finance directors. Qualifications like CEng may make it easier to identify and monitor their contribution to boards but otherwise it’s difficult to recognize, encourage and promote them when no ready-made label exists.

There’s also another possible view. If a greater presence of engineering approaches and pragmatism is what’s needed to improve decision-making and risk assessment at board level, then perhaps it’s the skills we should also be promoting rather than just the profession?

Many engineers do courses on accounting, marketing, and law. Why don’t accountants, marketers and lawyers do courses on engineering?

During my MBA, my non engineering classmates enthusiastically appreciated the new insights that subjects such an operations management provided.

I’m not suggesting that an accountant would be improved by knowing how to minimise the number of transistors in an oscillator. However, engineering concepts such as specification writing, bottleneck theory, operations management, and balancing fitness for purpose with value for money, are just a few examples of engineering topics offering real value to corporate management.
So, rather than just banging on about how engineers should be more appreciated and getting onto company boards, perhaps we should be arguing for other professions to get up to speed on engineering?
*The report ‘Re-engineering the Board to Manage Risk and Maximise Growth’ can be downloaded here.

The UK is in the Top Tier of Manufacturing Nation – Innovation, not Interest Rate Cuts will Keep us There

Not a month goes by without the CBI or a similar organisation putting out a call for a cut in interest rates. Apart from grabbing headlines what long term effect does it have on the health of UK industry? Not as much as investment in innovation I suspect.

Over the last five years UK manufacturing output has had its ups and downs as industry has dealt with high interest rates and overseas competition. According to the Office for National Statistics, manufacturing now accounts for 15% of the UK economy, down from 40% before WWII. The sector is now growing at a similar pace to other developed countries and overall has a record of which I personally feel proud. According to CBI figures there are 150,000 businesses that manufacture in the UK, accounting for 60% of UK exports in 2006.
Within the FTSE 100, 21 companies manufacture goods including pharmaceuticals, machinery and food. Mostly these items are highly sophisticated, bringing added value, high margins and make the UK a more prosperous nation in the process.

Why this helps the UK
Manufacturing jobs are increasingly less labour intensive but rather require higher levels of technical expertise, which is great for Engineers. Engineering is leading the UK into manufacturing in areas like cleantech where it can compete effectively against low-cost economies. All the labour intensive work in textiles and basic manufacturing has moved to the Far East due to the very strong competition in terms of labour costs, however the newer industries are proving surprisingly resilient.

What’s changed?
It has become clear that UK industry and individual companies have to continue to innovate with new processes and products, and invest in their businesses. In this continually changing global environment, some industries like medical devices and space science are growing, while others like clothing and metal bashing continue to decline and move to the developing world. I believe we will find the mix of manufacturing in the UK will be completely different in ten years time from how it looks today. I find this incredibly exciting, engineers will be at the forefront of directing and managing this changing manufacturing mix.

How do we stay in the top tier?
Once we accept that no particular industry inherently deserves to continue in the UK, and that individual industries will be started in the UK, grow, mature, and maybe eventually move onto other countries, we can be more rational about our manufacturing investment decisions as a country. We can operate UK plcs like a conglomerate which is constantly evaluating which business units to create, invest in and divest. We can identify future growth areas and increase education in those sectors, invest to derive maximum added value for a period during their growth phase. Finally we can proactively divest businesses where margins are dropping to lower cost countries and reinvest quickly, retraining those employees for the new hot spot sectors.

An attitude along these lines in the UK would free us to create a policy regime that concentrated on industries with high margins and growth potential, and focussed government policy on investment, education and taxation. It would lavish dedicated support on industries with growth attributes, rather than ‘manufacturing’ in general or a particular industry in decline with which we have an emotional attachment.
This is the ‘creative destruction’ that Joseph Schumpeter talked about all those years ago working on a global industrial scale.

In summary, it is now time for all of us who can influence industrial policy to start thinking about industry lifecycles and not just product life cycles – if we intend to keep the UK in the top six of manufacturing nations.

I work in medical devices and see the continued growth of this sector and the levels of engineering skill required to develop good products. I can also foresee industries like industrial automation and clean technology rising to replace ‘old’ industries which will move to lower cost economies when we can no longer compete. I for one welcome this dynamic environment. We are entering an exciting period when the industrial landscape of the UK will change into a more interesting, more technologically dependent age where Engineers will be leading these businesses from the front, keeping the UK in the first tier of manufacturing nations.

UK Businesses Need to Embrace Innovation to Succeed in Economic Downturn

Sainsbury Management Fellows’ Society (SMF) is pleased to announce that Ernie Poku has been named as its new president. Ernie succeeds Dan Mutadich, who stepped down after two years leading the organisation.

With a downturn in the UK economy, Ernie has laid out his vision for SMF over the next few years:
“Engineers at senior level in businesses can help to lead innovation, change and make companies more resilient in this increasingly changing global environment. During my tenure, I would like to establish better links with UK industry and leading corporate bodies to raise the profile of the outstanding work of SMFs.

“SMF has been developing excellence in engineers for over 20 years now and many of the fellows now have a wealth of experience behind them. They are a knowledgeable source of mentoring and I am keen to create more opportunities in this area. I would like to encourage more SMFs to take on non-executive directorships of both profit and non-profit organisations; leveraging their learning on the IoD’s Chartered Director course which many fellows have recently completed.”

With a successful career and a genuine passion for the engineering industry, Ernie is well qualified to lead SMF in these objectives.

After Ernie completed his BEng in Mechanical Engineering at Bristol, SMF sponsored his MBA at the Rotterdam School of Management in 1999. Since Ernie has gone on to carve out a very distinguished career within the engineering field. He is currently CEO and Founder of Crescent Diagnostics Ltd, a university spin-out developing a novel test for osteoporosis.

Commenting on Ernie’s appointment, former president Dan Mutadich says; “Ernie’s successes in the field of engineering and influence within SMF make him a major asset to the organisation. With the enthusiasm that he brings to the position I have every confidence that he will continue to grow SMF’s influence within the engineering industry and UK business.”

Response to NESTA report calling for ‘Total Innovation’

We welcome NESTA’s call for ‘Total Innovation’, the report recognises that true globally leading innovation requires much broader thinking, encompassing human skills, economic dynamics, political and international factors and most importantly, how technology impacts all of these. We can no longer consider innovation as an incremental or “non-core” activity, hidden away in R&D with the scientists or held at a safe distance in new product incubators rather like some form of communicable disease. This is often justified by the board as a means to minimise risk but is perhaps more an acknowledgement of a lack of information and understanding of how to manage it. The risk of change in the global market is, however, markedly less than the risk of not changing.

New technology and new international markets, even with existing customers, usually require completely different organisational, marketing and business models and yet many companies continue to control and segment their activities and staff in ways that match the market of the 70s. Such boundaries in teams and responsibilities inevitably leads to incremental steps and failure due to an inability to break through an unsustainable compromise to profitability.

Non-incremental thinking requires structures, individuals and teams of people (including the board) with the ability to synthesise and translate all the factors simultaneously into a unified assessment of the risks and rewards, to make the decision and to deliver the plan.

The UK is woefully lacking in these technology and innovation translators; those that can speak the language of both technology and business. The report has highlighted that innovation is not only being impeded by a lack of people with STEM skills, but also because these skills are rarely fused with business knowledge. What’s more, people in technical and creative roles are currently operating in silos, divorced from participating in the marketing, strategic, or financial decisions. These elements of the business model cannot merely be applied like a veneer, hermetically sealing the dangerous change inside, as they all are integral to the success of NESTA’s vision of ‘Total Innovation’.

Technical experts are facing a glass ceiling in UK plcs, through lack of business skills – this is seriously impairing our ability to compete with countries such as China and India where the traditional and specialist skills based – organigram locked – industrial structures have never developed and been institutionalised. As the report highlighted technical experts need to broaden their skill base – firms need to nurture management, marketing, leadership, change and project management skills across technical experts, otherwise the UK will not be able to effectively compete internationally.

SMF was set up over twenty years ago to bridge the gap between technical and business knowledge; we have been campaigning for UK companies to equip their technical experts with the necessary business skills