Champions of industry: David Hewitt, Group Lotus

Posted on 21 Mar 2012

“The right thing to do” - David Hewitt of Group Lotus is zealous about being an Industry Champion and wants to tell career-deciders, young and old, that manufacturing is a great option.

In February, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced the 30 industry champions it had selected to drive its “Make it in Gt Britain” campaign.

The campaign is charged with ‘challenging the misperception that “Britain doesn’t make anything anymore.”’

One of the first champions to volunteer was David Hewitt, operations director at Group Lotus. A passionate advocate for manufacturing, he explains to TM the three reasons why he signed up.

“The first is simply to shout about how good British manufacturing is – it’s just not said enough,” Mr Hewitt says.

“The second reason is Lotus-centric. Because we have to create products to sell in a global market, we have to ensure that we’re at the forefront of innovation, design, manufacturing and engineering. To do that, we have to make sure that we attractthe right kinds of people – into manufacturing generally, but into Lotus specifically.”

He also recognises the spotlight that 2012 has created to showcase UK PLC to the world.

“With the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, and government backing, it should generate a huge amount of interest in British manufacturing in what I’d like to think is our [recruitment] target audience: young people at school or university looking at their future careers.”

The third reason is personal, he says. “I’ve been extremely fortunate that I’ve been able to build a career over many years in automotive, and other areas of manufacturing. I’ve taken huge benefit from that, and I’m keen that other, younger people will consider manufacturing as a career that can give them really exciting, genuine career opportunity and a chance to progress. All those sorts of things will come out in the Made in Britain project.”

“In my current position I have the ability to fly the flag on behalf of Lotus, and the UK. I’m very keen to add my support to what is absolutely the right thing to do. This is a great opportunity for the UK as a whole to profile its worth to the world.”

Lotus Cars is an iconic British sports brand, says Mr Hewitt, which has always “flown the flag for what is great about Gt Britain.” In 2012, the Lotus F1 Team launched into Formula One, competing under the Lotus name for the first time, following the renaming of the former Renault team based at Enstone in Oxfordshire.

Group Lotus has gone through difficult period lately, the takeover of its parent company Proton by DRB-HICOM coming at a bad time during a restructure. The group has had to make big changes in the last 18-24 months, a transformation that group PR manager Alastair Florance calls ‘the New Era’. There are several positives: new models, an expansion of the engineering consultancy and involvement in the F1 Team – owned by venture capital firm Genii Capital – have been part of the restructure.

Despite some difficulties, parts of the group have exemplified the upturn across much of the UK automotive sector, Lotus has five new models in the pipeline and £509 million planned investment for its factory in Hethel, Norfolk, over the next five years.

But, in a flat job market, with such a famous and sexy product, does Lotus really need to attract young people to the business? Surely all vacancies are heavily-oversubscribed?

“We’re fortunate that the perception of the Lotus brand does attract a lot of good people to our door. We are still competing against others who have very desirable brands, therefore we do have to make sure we have the right level of talent to compete internationally.”

“But it’s not about the situation today but in five, 10, 20-years’ time,” says Hewitt.

“My first point is it’s not just about attracting people ready to make a career decision today, but people who are three to five years away from those decisions, those looking at their GCSE and ‘A’ level options, who we need to nurture for the next generation of Lotus employees to build the next generation of Lotus products.”

“Secondly, it’s the availability of staff right across the business – in manufacturing, design, engineering and support arenas. It is a very competitive market.

“I’ve spent many years in the automotive industry and one of the things that makes Britain great is what’s happening here. Look at Nissan’s announcement to invest tens of millions of pounds into new development on Tyneside. The last five years have shown there’s more investment coming into the UK automotive than is being taken out, so it’s a great sector – that’s why we need to recruit now.”

But it’s not just about young people either, says Hewitt.

“It’s about all people who are thinking about their careers and considering manufacturing. We need to be saying to them manufacturing is a fantastic area in which to invest your career, there are huge numbers of possibilities, its exciting, its innovative, global – so people think of this sector alongside other career options they may have, irrespective of what age they are or stage in the work cycle.”