Troubador Tragedy & Challenge

Released: 28/06/2017

ISBN: 9781788035316

eISBN: 9781788031431

Format: Hardback/eBook

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Tragedy & Challenge

An Inside View of UK Engineering’s Decline and the Challenge of the Brexit Economy


Having worked within the UK engineering industry for many years and chaired 15 companies, including stock market quoted, private equity backed, and university spin offs, Tom Brown offers a unique insight into the challenges facing engineering companies, as well as the impact this has on the economy, people’s working lives, and society. Tragedy & Challenge will appeal to readers interested in economics and politics, business management, investing, and our changing society – including those who enjoyed Evan Davis’s Made in Britain and Peter Marsh’s The New Industrial Revolution. This book examines existing data on UK manufacturing in order to demonstrate how badly our engineering has fared compared with international competitors, especially Germany. The author also recounts his varied early experiences in the industry from night shift manager to Managing Director and the life-changing lessons he gained from working in a German-speaking company. Tragedy & Challenge analyses the causes of the decline in UK engineering, considering its poor leadership, original analysis of the detrimental effects of government economic policy, and the destructive influence of the City including an insider’s uninhibited view of fund managers, analysts, and private equity. Tom Brown concludes that, while some decline was inevitable due to global factors, the example of Germany shows it did not need to be nearly so precipitate; some responsibility lies with management and unions, but ultimately poor governments, the City, and decaying social attitudes were to blame, and now Brexit makes the prognosis even more daunting.

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Tom Brown

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.

Tom Brown
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