My career of 45 years was one of great (and frequently unintended) diversity. After Oxford I had hands-on early experience in very inefficient works in the UK and USA, and then studied for an MBA at IMD in Lausanne, before learning German in 4 weeks in order to run an engineering company in South Tyrol – which was a life-changing experience, teaching me how engineering companies should be run, and showing me why the Germans have been and continue to be so successful in this field. Then after a period consulting with the well known firm McKinsey I went on to be CEO of a stock market quoted engineering group, at the age of 38 perhaps the youngest CEO of a quoted company at that time. However it did not last very long, as my vision of long term planning and investment in the German model was rejected by shareholders and non-executive directors alike, leading to my first unintended exit and period of unemployment.
In due course I was to be a main board director of 22 independent companies, 15 of them as Chairman. These companies ranged from 7 quoted on the London stock market (from FTSE250 to AIM), through Private Equity investments, a Venture Capital Trust, and family ownership, to start ups spun off from Cambridge University. Most were active in engineering and similar technical fields, and results ranged from some notable successes to corporate insolvencies. Overall I have had an unusually large breadth of experience, much more than most of those who have achieved prominence in business.
All this experience has not only given me a very direct understanding of what befell UK engineering, but also an insider’s knowledge of what it is really like to be a company director dealing with the City, fund managers, private equity investors, and such issues as modern governance and remuneration policies. My academic background has enabled me to condense these experiences into conclusions rather than just a series of war stories, and to add analysis of the influence of politics and economics – in which I have been assisted by the EEF (Engineering Employers Federation), of whose Economic Policy Committee I am a member. I have also learnt about the realities behind issues such as our lack of exports, and the very serious problem of short-termism, where I believe my personal experiences bring these issues to life in a way that academics miss.