Mentors for auto firms

Posted on 15 Feb 2010 by The Manufacturer

Hundreds of jobs safeguarded, adjacent markets identified and the development of new technologies are just some of the results to emerge from a dedicated mentoring programme.

Offered by Accelerate and EEF, the initiative, funded by Advantage West Midlands, was established to provide automotive suppliers in the region with senior level, one-on-one support on strategic projects, business diversification and process improvements to help them emerge from the recession and win new business. Seven senior business leaders, including Barrie Williams and Tony Belisario, spent more than 500 hours delivering expert assistance to local companies such as Frank Dudley Limited, JJ Churchill, B2 Automotive and Widney Manufacturing Limited, among others.

Working with EEF business mentors, Accelerate identified seven companies that would benefit most from the programme — from reducing costs and moving into new markets to renegotiating bank arrangements, looking at strategic acquisitions and developing greener technologies.

Aston-based Widney Manufacturing was one of the first companies to benefit, its mentor Tony Belisario assisting the management team with a strategic review of its markets and products, as well as the possibility of taking on sub-contracting work to utilise spare capacity. The company, which serves blue chip customers including Caterpillar, JCB and Volvo Construction, has used the external support to make significant inroads and commercial contacts into the rail, aerospace and defence sectors, as well as new markets in the US.

Utilising Tony’s experience as MD at both Dowty Defence and Air Systems Division and GEC Aerospace, the company has made new contacts with key distributors for its products — helping to safeguard more than 100 jobs at its Plume Street base. Jason Brookes, technical director at Widney, said: “Hoping our traditional markets would improve was clearly not a strategy for recovery. We needed to explore new market opportunities fast, and Tony brought with him considerable experience that enabled us to focus 100% on the task ahead.”

Rachel Eade, Programme Manager for Accelerate, was delighted with the scheme’s impact. “The ongoing recession in the car industry has been one of the worst ever, and we have had to look at different ways of supporting our businesses through the downturn,” she said. “There was already a lot of lighter touch support through workshops and seminars, but a lot of our suppliers needed direct action, which accessed experienced leaders with the necessary strategic skills.”