Meet The Manufacturer Top 100 2019 Exemplars – 10: Brian Palmer

The Manufacturer Top 100 is a project that showcases the most dynamic leaders, young pioneers and unsung heroes working in UK manufacturing, all of which have been nominated by their peers.

Among the Top 100, however, our judging panel chose 20 individuals for special recognition. We call them ‘Exemplars’ – those who have exemplified remarkable leadership, daring or innovation within their respective field, and who set the direction of travel as we head into the new decade.

Brian Palmer, CEO, Tharsus Group

Brian Palmer, CEO, Tharsus GroupBrian Palmer started his career as a young graduate in the car industry. After deciding he wanted to run his own business, he bought into Tharsus, based in Blyth, Northumberland, in 1997. In those days it was a backstreet metal-basher making outdoor advertising panels.

It was very hand to mouth, and in 2008 as the main sectors of telecom and advertising was being disrupted by the financial crisis, new technology and the internet, its core products were under threat.

“We had a choice: we could look for other products to manufacturer, to tender for, to keep the lights on. Or, we could look to use our skills to design and develop products for customers that we could then manufacture.

“Ultimately, we wanted to be in charge of our own destiny, so rather than being told what to make, at what price, we wanted to add value. We wanted to work with progressive customers who needed help solving complex problems. And through solving these problems and designing solutions we would differentiate both ourselves and the customer, and the customer’s customer.”


In their own words

What is your favourite engineered/manufactured product?

The anniversary of the Moon landings led me to learn a lot more about the Apollo Saturn 5 rocket missions; they represent truly incredible pieces of fundamental engineering brilliance and right-first-time manufacturing.

Please give one interesting fact about yourself that not many people know.

I enjoy desert rally raid racing. When something goes wrong it is all about basic practical problem solving. For all the technology we have at our disposal, it is amazing what you can do with ratchet straps, tie wraps and duct tape!

If you weren’t in manufacturing what would your dream job be?

There was a time when I thought I may have to leave my role and at that time I would have headed to the mountains to work as a mountain guide.

Celebrating seven years of inspirational industry leaders

The Manufacturer Top 100 Logo 2019 - For Use in Slider BarLaunched in 2014, The Manufacturer Top 100 publicly recognises the most dynamic leaders and innovators in manufacturing.

Published by The Manufacturer, in partnership with Cranfield University, one of the country’s top centres of business education, the project is helping to dispel widely-held myths that vibrant manufacturing in the UK is a thing of the past.

Click here to make your nomination for The Manufacturer Top 100 2020, and to download a copy of the 2019 publication.

Having been forced to adapt through disruption, Brian and his growing team looked for clients among industries that were themselves being disrupted.

“We were targeting industries where we could create new equipment, new processes, new solutions which delivered breakthrough, and created real competitive advantage in their industry sector and their bottom line.

“We also realised early on we needed to work with clients with similar values to ourselves. Clients where the leadership team appreciated the need to change their business, the methodologies, the equipment needed in order to compete.”

The standout differentiator for Tharsus was that although they created the innovation that would drive their customers’ productivity, from prototyping to production, the IP resides with the customer. For Brian it is a fundamental part of being an advanced contract manufacturer.

“Our view is that we need to work in long-term partnership with clients and that often means exclusivity plus confidentially until the customer is ready to publicise their advantage.”

Once a customer has gone public with their innovation, Tharsus is able to use it on behalf of other customers in noncompeting sectors.

Brian’s transformation of the company into this new area of manufacturing suggests leadership qualities come naturally to him, but he disagrees.

“When I was younger, I should have been more confident in my dealings with others. I was more comfortable dealing with technical challenges. I wish I had developed some of my managerial and soft skills earlier.”


The Manufacturer Top 100 is produced in partnership with Cranfield University – one of the country’s top centres of business education, and low-cost talent partner, Trust Hunter Ltd (Hunter).