Meet The Manufacturer Top 100 2019 Exemplars – 11: Thomas 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.

Thomas Palmer, Engineering Lead, BAE Systems

Thomas Palmer, Engineering Lead, BAE SystemsGetting a young Thomas Palmer to knuckle down and finish his school studies was the great task for his parents. The would-be engineer, who as a young man excelled at maths and physics, often neglected academia, opting instead for sporting activities, despite pressure from home.

Then, just as he was ruminating on which direction to take his education after sitting his GCSEs at 16, Thomas attended a school seminar on engineering, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“They really sold it to me,” he said. “Once I heard that you could move your career towards things that interest you, which in my case was technology, that’s what pushed me into engineering.

“It had always been a battle getting me to sit with my books in front of the fire. But my parents were very keen for me to get a vocational career and engineering really ticked that box. They’ve been very supportive.”

Thomas attended college before subsequently enrolling in an engineering masters programme at university, where he also continued to nurture one of his favourite pastimes, playing rugby.

It was while in higher education that Thomas’ perception of academia underwent yet another transformation, when the young engineering student embarked on a series of summer school placements that further crystalised his love of the craft.

“Every summer, through the university, I managed to get an affiliated placement. It was actively encouraged by the university who had good links at the time. I worked first with Network Rail, and then Jaguar Land Rover, and finally at BAE Systems and I managed to fill my summers with different work experience.”

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.

After graduation Thomas joined Air Products & Chemicals where he said he struggled with a general lack of autonomy around the design process, before subsequently accepting another role in design authority for BAE Systems.

“The role was in support and test equipment and was very diverse. It was everything that wasn’t in weapons systems, and it was great for my development to understand a diverse range of challenges and technologies.”

Thomas is now BAE’s engineering lead providing governance and coordination in developing the Spearfish Torpedo.


In their own words

What is your favourite engineered/manufactured product?

The APKWS rocket. It’s a very clever system which basically turns a dumb rocket, for want of a better word, into a laser-guided missile.

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

I recently became a father so when I’m not working at BAE Systems, I’m often awake at 4.30am with a new-born baby who is wide awake and who just wants to play.

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

I have in the past volunteered in conservation, providing engineering expertise to anti-poaching organisations in Africa. I think my dream job would be doing something in that area full time.


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).