Entrepreneur George Edwards on the power of inspirational leadership

Posted on 26 Dec 2017 by The Manufacturer

George Edwards salutes Mary Brady, a manager and leader who demonstrates the power of supporting and believing in people.

Leadership - Mary Brady, former general manager and vice president of supply chain for Coty, was recognised as an exemplar in The Manufacturer Top 100 2016 report.
Mary Brady, former general manager and vice president of supply chain for Coty, was named in The Manufacturer Top 100 2016 report.

At the end of July this year, Mary Brady, the general manager and vice-president of supply chain for global cosmetics manufacturer – Coty, left the UK to take up a new job in the US.

Throughout her career, and particularly during her time at Coty, Mary has always been the first person to recognise and celebrate the achievements of every member of her team, so I wanted to take this opportunity to return the favour.

In 2009, Mary came to the UK having spent most of her career working for General Motors in the US. She was put in charge of the Ashford site, a cosmetics factory that traces its manufacturing origins back to 1947.

At that time, the Ashford site was in a difficult position. A high turnover of general managers had left the company’s culture damaged and a period of short-term management decisions had created substantial technology issues.

Walking around the shop floor you would have seen red OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) boards with several lines regularly running at 30% efficiency, unplanned breakdowns, and an engineering team firefighting and waiting on critical out-of- stock parts.

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Mary Brady was recognised as an exemplar of industry in The Manufacturer Top 100 2016 report, sponsored by Salesforce.

The Manufacturer Top 100 is an annual list of the UK’s most inspiring and influential individuals working in manufacturing.

See who was named in this year’s report and download your free copy by clicking here. 

A previous management initiative designed to see the site embrace automation had spawned the concept of ‘black box technology’. This idea proposed that all the robotics lines should be built off-site by an OEM that would also be entirely responsible for the upkeep and repair of the machines.

This meant that there would be no need to recruit skilled engineers or keep up their training. By 2009, a strong culture had taken root among the workforce that the robots were ‘scary’ and must not be touched!

An OEM that supported three lines on the site was charging £90k a year in consultancy costs, yet often left machines down for several days until attending to them.

Fix the problem

It was at this point that I met Mary. I had recently been recognised in the Young Engineer for Britain competition, and a few days later I got a call from Mary. To be honest, I had no idea who she was, what Coty did or why she was calling me.

Mary explained the situation and that she’d decided to build a training cell and wanted me to come in – learn how to program robots, and then condense what I had learned into a short training program to roll out to the engineering team.

Entrepreneur George Edwards delivered a provocative talk at The Manufacturer’s Annual Leaders Conference (TMALC) 2015.
George Edwards delivered a provocative talk at The Manufacturer Leaders Conference 2015.

The idea that a 17-year-old with no prior robotics experience could upskill the whole engineering team of a 750-person manufacturing site of a Fortune 500 company was frankly terrifying.

Suffice to say, with the support of Mary, the site’s engineering director and a maintenance engineer who had been taken off the shop floor to work on this project – we did it.

I learnt a huge amount and thanks to their facilities and a safe environment in which to experiment, in a matter of weeks I had a formal training program written up. When it came to rolling the program out, I really wasn’t sure how the engineers would react to being taught by a school student.

However, the issues the engineers faced were really interesting, some of them had been on formal courses, but most didn’t have sufficient prior knowledge to follow what was being shown and that had really put them off.

A few of the older members of the team were convinced that they wouldn’t be able to follow the training and that would signal the end of their careers.

This is where Mary’s innovation came into its own, because I had only learnt the content a few weeks before and because of my age, the training was completely non-threatening. We inducted 22 engineers through the program, and they all completed the work required.

Their increased skills and confidence meant the site no longer relied on OEMs to fix breakdowns. The new maintenance programs resulted in far fewer breakdowns, and thanks to OEE rates of typically 80%, the lines doubled their output.

Coty in numbers

Coty isn’t one of the best-known businesses, but with brands including Wella, Clairol, Rimmel and Chloe, it is a serious player within the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) industry.

  • US$9bn annual revenue
  • 77+ brands
  • 130+ countries
  • World’s third-largest beauty business

Not only did Mary’s foresight make a significant difference to the robotics lines, it boosted factory morale.

It demonstrated management’s commitment to the company-wide ‘Leading Bold Change’ initiative, which was about empowering employees at all levels to innovate and improve the areas where they work.

From troubled site to company benchmark

In typical Mary Brady style, the initiative not only met business needs but was also part of a program of improvement that led to Ashford becoming the site all other Coty operations benchmark against.

The process made a huge personal difference to many of the individuals involved. My introduction to the workplace and to manufacturing in general was an extraordinary opportunity.

I was trusted with my own project in a critical part of the company’s strategy, one which was rolled out whenever senior company personnel visited. I caught the manufacturing bug and I will never lose it. Likewise, the line engineer who was working with me was given a chance to show what he was capable of achieving, and as a result was promoted to engineering manager after the project.

Mary’s willingness to back individuals has genuinely changed the lives of many of the people that work with her.

Shortly after Mary was named as an exemplar in The Manufacturer Top 100 2016 report, Coty announced its merger with Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) beauty business, which meant several production sites would be closed down to streamline the supply chain.

Just before Mary left, it was announced that Ashford would receive production from both P&Gs UK and Irish sites. Among all the hype around Brexit, Mary had demonstrated that championing individuals and driving innovation can prevail over politics and conjecture.

As a parting gift to the Ashford site, Mary started an initiative to pair students who don’t meet their university offers (and who want to reapply the following year) with industrial opportunities during their reapplication year – Kent County Council are currently organising a pilot for this.

Thank you, Mary – I cannot think of any part of my career you haven’t influenced, and I wish you the very best of luck with your future endeavours! 

George Edwards is co-founder of Gas-Sense, a revolutionary technology that takes the guesswork out of gas bottle levels.