Innovation, clear company vision and strength in partnerships. This is the driving force behind the most successful company to enter The Manufacturer MX Awards. Callum Bentley spoke to Lambert Engineering’s managing director, Warren Limbert to find out more.
If there was ever a business that had a reputation to live up to, it is Lambert Engineering.
In November last year, the Tadcaster business officially became the most successful manufacturing business in the history of The Manufacturer of the Year Awards, both in its previous guise and in its new form coupled with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers – The Manufacturer MX Awards.
Lambert – which was shortlisted in seven categories across the awards programme –managed to walk away on the night with four awards; Customer Focus, Innovation & Design, Leadership & Strategy, and the overall UK Manufacturer of the Year.
Never has there been a company which has won this amount of awards within the programme.
It’s fair to say my expectations were high as I arrived at the North Yorkshire site where I was to meet Lambert’s managing director, Warren Limbert.
Limbert leads the business which has grown from small roots with four staff members in 1973 to its present workforce of 185, spread over the business’s three arms: automation systems; equipment engineering; and precision components.
“We are a consultative service, with a team of people who are solution providers. Very few customers come to us with a known entity. There is something challenging or unique that they want from the supply chain, and that’s what they come to us for,” Limbert says.
Primarily building automation equipment and components for customers in the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), medical and health markets, Lambert relies heavily on an innovative model which allows the business to design, develop, build and install bespoke machinery for a global market.
A large part of this model, and an overarching contributor to the business taking out the Customer Focus award, is its approach to developing long-term relationships with its customers.
Limbert explains, “Everybody wants to please in this company, and that’s not to be confused with the attitude that we will just do anything in order to achieve this. It’s about wanting to understand what it is that you need from this business and that’s why customers come to us time and time again.
“They can go anywhere and have machines designed and built, but they want something that’s going to help them either retain their number one position in the market place, or become the number one player. They don’t just want a machine builder for that, they want a partner.”
Limbert explains the relationships his business builds in terms of a diamond. Where some companies run a model “more similar to a dickie-bow”, with the C-suite driving strategy and the shop floor dealing with the brunt of the work, Lambert’s strategy is to ensure the vision flows throughout the entire organisation.
“These relationships must be embedded on many different levels. The high end relationships with VPs and CEOs down to plant engineers and software engineers, and we need that relationship at every level to understand what each tier needs.
“Obviously it’s the chief exec that has the more visionary expectation and then when you filter down, you need to make sure you never lose that visionary expectation.”
I can feel myself being lead into a conversation fit for management consultants as we begin to discuss “balanced scorecards” and individual yearly objectives, but it’s a path I’m willing to take.
Considering Lambert snatched the Leadership & Strategy award at the 2015 TMMX Awards, it must be doing something right.
A collective vision
So what is the secret to ensuring the board’s vision is met throughout the entire business?
“There’s no single formula,” Limbert says. “One thing it comes down to is communication. When you look at our business, we talk about company-wide strategy set by the board.
“The way we are going to deliver it is set by the management team, and then ultimately how everything is going to feed into it is done by everybody in the business.”
Nothing revolutionary there, just another simple business strategy. So how does Lambert do it so effectively? The balanced scorecard.
“What [the balanced scorecard] helps us with is breaking down the strategy so everyone understands what their team does; what they personally have to do with it; and then delivers right back to the strategic goals for the next few years. That’s a vital tool for our company and we’ve been using it for the past four years.”
Warren Limbert – managing director, Lambert Engineering:
Limbert is married with two children. The 43-year-old has a B.Eng (Hons) and is an apprentice trained engineer.
He has worked at Lambert for the past 19 years and has spent the past nine years as managing director. During this
time, the business has seen growth of more than 120%.
He has a passion for promoting the positive image of modern, innovative engineering within the UK in an attempt to close the generation skills gap. He is a keen participant in all aspects of encouraging young people into engineering apprenticeships and graduate programmes. He has also been involved with the Baker-Dearing Educational Trust UTC application for Leeds City region.
Limbert admits the first two years the new tool was implemented were not exactly straight forward and people didn’t quite understand it or realise why it was being used.
However, the tool has now matured along with the staff, and is now understood across the business.
“People are asking in October what their goals are for next year – it drives communication. You can talk a lot about the business, its strategies and KPIs, but ultimately you have to understand people’s welfare. That’s what makes a happy workplace.”
So Limbert has the workplace in order, but how does that flow through to the long-term relationships he intends on keeping with his customers?
Despite the hugely successful year Lambert experienced in 2015, capped off with one of the company’s largest contracts being secured on the same night they won Manufacturer of the Year, the £20m turnover business has the grand ambition of growing 90% by 2020.
“That contract was really the cherry on the cake,” Limbert said. “What it created for 2015 was a record sales order intake. We hit £26.6m by the end of the year. What that order intake gives us is a long working progress capital.
“It’s not something we can deliver within one month, so that order coming in towards the end of last year, plus a lot of our other work, has created a large whip, which obviously generates the turnover of the business, which this year alone we’re going to be targeting a turnover of £28.6m. In the next five years, our Lambert 2020 strategy is to grow another 90%.
“The two main areas for growth are the automation systems and the equipment engineering arms. The key thing to the growth of both of these areas are the relationships that we need to continue to sustain, while also developing new ones.
“A lot of 2015 has been embryonic in the relationships we’ve been developing with new clients, and that takes time. Our company normally knows what we will achieve over the next 12 months, beyond that it becomes a bit more difficult to predict.
“What we don’t want is to have to go out every year and find new customers and new projects. What we want are those partners that are sharing their three to five-year vision, and with that their three to five-year investment plans as well. We can then set up and make sure we are in the right place to deliver and be in a place where we are removing the competition.”
Stay innovative, stay competitive
A large part of this grand ambition is the ability for Lambert to remain a flexible, innovative business. Since opening a dedicated “Innovation Lab” in 2014, Limbert says business confidence has skyrocketed.
With backing from the Leeds City Regional LEP Business Growth Programme, the Wainman Innovation Centre was launched to provide a dedicated building to house Lambert’s technical innovation; sales; commercial, and applications departments.
The facility includes a number of test branches incorporating the business’s module technology platform. With the backing of key industrial partners, the centre allows the innovation team to rapidly develop proof of principle rigs.
The facility also houses pre-production testing and high level industrial process development to help overcome technological obstacles. The team in the innovation lab works closely with customers during this process not only to develop new products, but to begin to explore the manufacturing process as well.
This system facilitates Lambert’s ability to hit delivery dates on time and on budget due to the ability to plan for machinery updates and builds years in advance. This gives the business a huge advantage over competition and strengthens the long-term partnerships which are so crucial to Lambert’s business model.
“We’ve got more trusted partnerships with some of the world’s biggest companies and they now rely on the innovation centre at an early stage. But from our point of view, and what it’s done for us as a business, is we’ve got far more confidence now that our unique, bespoke solution will be delivered on time and on budget. Our piece is a very small piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is our customers’ world.”
What Limbert is saying, is the size of the companies which Lambert supplies are far greater than the pride they place in one piece of machinery they build.
He explains it simply as such: “These companies will spend more of their money on one Super Bowl ad than what they spend on a piece of equipment from us, and they will not allow a missed deadline waste what they’ve spent on this ad slot. They must have products at the market, at the right time.”
To put this into context, the average Super Bowl slot of 30 seconds now costs between $4m – $4.5m. If that’s not enough pressure to perform for a UK SME, no matter how innovative and forward thinking it may be, I don’t know what is.