Manufacturers go Direct

A blog from the Manufacturer Directors’ Conference in Birmingham where manufacturers have come straight to source for information and inspiration to guide their business development strategies.

“Developing economies will gain $55trn of spending power in the next 10 years as the balance of global GDP generation shift in their favour and away from the developed world – how are you going to access that?”

This was the challenge laid down by Neil Parker, market strategist at Royal Bank of Scotland as he delivered the opening keynote at the Manufacturers Directors’ Conference in Birmingham today.

His presentation was full of stats and information on the economic environment surrounding manufacturing – both in the UK and further afield. With broad reference to the parallel environment in services and construction, as well as the impact on employment and confidence driven by the housing market, he drew a vivid picture of the complex and dynamic interplay between different sectors and economic influencers.

These are considerations which every business leader should take into account, before they act on their gut feel or try to form a strategy for the near and longer term future.

And as the conference unfolded this morning there has been increasing opportunity for delegates to pull that information into the forefront of their minds as they discuss plans, hopes and concerns with peers.

The other opening keynotes gave more context to bed-in discussion and debate in the workshops and round tables which took place at the end of the morning and in the early afternoon.

Douglas Dawson, operations director at Caparo Group, gave a lengthy speech on the secret to building a competitive business, with an emphasis on recruiting the right people.

Helpfully, his presentation went further than many rants about the poor condition of the industrial skills landscape in the UK and left delegates with a key question to ask themselves – “do I have a ready and convincing answer for a young person who asks ‘why engineering/manufacturing?’”

He demonstrated the answers he has developed and delivered to school children locally and across the UK.

Mr Dawson was followed by Lord Bhattacharya, founder of the Warwick Manufacturing Group and a key influence behind Tata’s decision to buy Jaguar Land Rover in 2008 and then Corus (now Tata Steel).

It was an honour to listen to a man who has had such a profound positive influence on the UK manufacturing industry and inspiring to hear how he still thirsts for the next evolution of that industry as he meandered through the maze of interconnected technology developments in and around the maturing industrial internet.

His enthusiastic exploration of emerging possibilities had a critical point – that collaborative innovation is a MUST.

“For no manufacturer is an island and no company or nation is big enough to have expertise in every technology which could change their business.”

With this jumble of thoughts and data in their heads, delegates were cast out into networking and debate groups as well as workshop sessions.

They considered their own approaches to strategic business development, their recent investments in innovation for the future and the integrity of their engagement with schools.

A round table debate with food and drink manufacturers resulted in some gems.

Trade body representatives and manufacturers alike chastised themselves and peers for not doing enough to alter the perception of their industry. But they did not stop there and some tangible concepts were hammered out for closing the understanding gaps between government, education and industry.

You’ll be able to read about the results of this discussion, and other sector focussed round tables, in greater detail in our Annual Manufacturing Report in February where key recommendations from industry, for industry and government will be published.

The recommendations will also be sent to government in an pen letter – and on the advice of one round table attendee, the letter will be less than 100 pages, unlike government’s discussion summaries for industry leaders!

More important than sending a message to government however, is the assistance this session, and others today have given to manufacturers operating in a complex landscape of initiatives, audits, funding schemes and taxation.

Despite continued efforts to simplify this landscape, manufacturers still complain that there is not central hub or clear structure for essential activities like school engagement. But one attendee did acknowledge “that the best way of finding out about industry support is through media organisations like [The Manufacturer] and their conferences. Because there is always someone with a tip about an scheme you hadn’t heard of or a better way of accessing one you do know about.”

Next up this afternoon is Nigel Whitehead, managing director programmes and support at BAE Systems.

A lunch time interview with Mr Whitehead has given me a sneak preview into his presentation in which he will go into more detail on the ways in which technology and new working practices, based on through lifecycle design intent, can revolutionise UK manufacturing and transform a company’s relationship with its supply chain.

From IT infrastructure to stealth technology and workforce engagement, his speech promises to join the dots between a number of apparently disparate business interests in order to define a new industry proposition for value creation.

More news on this in due course.

In the meantime you can follow tweets from the conference via the hashtag #TMDC2013.

Find out more about the programme here.