10 SME leaders first to graduate from new digital skills programme

North West business leaders have been armed with the vision and the skills to digitally transform their companies after becoming the first to complete the Made Smarter Leadership Programme.

The 10 leaders of SME manufacturers are based in Cheshire and Warrington, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and the Liverpool City Region, with operations ranging from manufacturing building interiors and bespoke cables, to acoustic cleaning systems and specialist printing.

2019/20 Delegates of the Made Smarter Leadership Programme during a visit to Veka

Delegates of the Made Smarter Leadership Programme during a visit to Veka


The Made Smarter Leadership Programme is run in collaboration with Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) and Made Smarter – the industry and government partnership driving manufacturing productivity and growth through digital technology.

The eight-month programme involved a mixture of workshops, manufacturer site-visits, including Veka, Hosokawa Micron and Senator, who are already on the journey of adopting digital technology, and special project sprints – delivered by Siemens Digital Industries – to test new ideas.

Delegates noted that the programme had given them the impetus to take vital time away from the business to develop the strategic view to support the adoption of hi-tech and digitally-based manufacturing techniques into their own production processes, and taught them how to successfully bring employees and other stakeholders along on their digital transformation journey.

Peter Phillips, managing director for Abbey England, a Knutsford-based manufacturer of leather and brassware for the equestrian and leather goods market, used the programme to aid structural changes in the company and identify new methods of 3D scanning and 3D printing which could half the company’s manufacturing lead time.

He said: “It isn’t often you get the time to step away from the business to think about how you are running it. SMEs tend to operate in an isolated bubble.

“It was a valuable experience to meet other leaders from different types of businesses and seeing how they do things and feeling reassured that even much larger organisations have the same challenges.”

Anthony McMullin, Head of Operations at Milexa Group, a business designing and manufacturing wallpaper and flooring products, based in Liverpool, has seen the company’s GDP increase by 2% over the year by applying what he learned on the programme, such as  introducing digital technology to automate, standardise and reduce waste.

The increase in automation and use of data has also reportedly freed up staff to take up more high value work.

He said: “You cannot start this journey too soon. The potential is truly limitless depending on your ambitions. The process can also be done in a very scalable and iterative way by making small changes in certain areas which yield huge benefits. This only then further enables and justifies more positive change further down the line.”

2019/20 Delegates of the Made Smarter Leadership Programme during a visit to Veka

During the programme, delegates attended three site visits, among other activities 


Over the course of the eight months delegates attended six workshops led by both academics delivering leading-edge thinking and business practitioners demonstrating adoption in real business settings.

The workshops topics included: setting the strategic context; stakeholder engagement; audit processes; performance management; scoping and leading change, and implementing change.

During the programme, delegates attended three site visits and workshops with manufacturers who have already adopted new technologies.

Through the programme delegates would also embark on ‘sprints’ where they would test their ideas with another delegates’ business to build engagement and learning from each other.

Made Smarter is relevant for any North West SMEs employing less than 250 staff who make, create, manufacture or engineer.

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