At Digital Manufacturing Week 2021, The Manufacturer hosted the annual TMMX Awards where Lander Group won not one, not two, but three different awards across the evening. Here, Lanna Deamer catches up with Len Palmer, Managing Director of Lander Group, to find out more about the company and what it meant to win Manufacturer of the Year, Supply Chain Excellence and Operational Excellence awards.
Lander was formed in Birmingham in 1877, and remained a family-owned business right up until 2020. The business originally started in the hardware and metal goods sector in the late 1800s and then developed through to the automotive space in the 1950s.
Lander has predominately been an automotive supplier, first tier into major automotive organisations up until this year where they have recently broadened into the off highways sector with the view of diversifying its customer base. Lander is now 60% automotive and 40% off highways.
Top pieces of advice for people looking to enter TMMX Awards
Lander has been entering TMMX Awards for years and we’ve always found it to be a very powerful exercise for us in terms of internal, but also peer review when it comes to the judging process. We first started applying in 2016, with a view to benchmarking ourselves and subsequently, every year since then, we’ve either picked up an award or been very close!
My advice to people considering the process is to go for it, because what you get from entering is so valuable. Firstly, it forces you to conduct some internal reflection, which for manufacturers is particularly important – we don’t do enough for that. Also, the peer review and feedback process from the judges is so important to businesses.
Year-on-year, we’ve tried to take all the feedback and advice given during the judging process, apply it to the business and then see if we can progress. The achievement of Manufacturer of the Year in 2021 was a culmination of the progression we’ve annually been taking on board, the feedback and seeing ourselves measured against peer groups in other sectors. It has been a really powerful tool for us to drive continuous improvement activities in our business.
What did it mean to Lander Group to win three different awards in one night?
We were astonished and absolutely stunned on the evening of the ceremony to win the awards that we did. The Operational Excellence award is one that we always felt played to our strengths, and we were genuinely humbled by the recognition. One of the things we’re most proud of is that many of the awards we’ve picked up are people centric and we believe that is one of our strengths in terms of culture. Most importantly, the recognition that we get through the awards is more to do with the brilliant people that we’ve got in our organisation and that’s why we’re so pleased.
One of the great things about the TMMX Awards is that it gives our employees the one thing that we can’t give them, and that’s external recognition. We spend a lot of time and effort on the recognition and development of our employees, but the power and value of an external body giving us that recognition is where the real value is.
What do you think set Lander Group apart from the rest of the field?
Every time we go through a judging panel, we always get fantastic feedback on the support, cooperation and engagement of our employees. What I believe makes us very different is that when we go through judging panels now, we don’t use the senior directors or managers within the business to present.
In recent years, we’ve been letting our employees from various functions and levels present the business instead of senior management. This is one of our unique differentiators because although it may sound like a cliche, we really do try to engender a culture in this business that gives off a family atmosphere.
What sort of apprenticeships are offered at Lander?
We run an innovative, large scale apprenticeship programme. Currently in the business, we have around 65 apprentices, which is around 15% of our workforce – a very big proportion in comparison to a lot of other employers.
We started our apprenticeship programme back in 2016 with the intention of never having to recruit out of the business and to grow our own talents. The energy and the drive that the younger employees have brought into the business has really changed the whole demographic of Lander Group. We now have around 17 apprentices that have come through the programme, from the original cohorts, who are now in professional functions within the business.
We’re always keen to promote manufacturing as a career path and as such, we have partnered with local colleges to help recruitment within our programme. We are also constantly reaching out to schools to get children involved from a young age – it’s a great way for us to grow our talent.
On a more personal level, it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done because I feel a sense of duty to help the next generation. An interesting fact is that most of the directors in this business have been part of apprenticeship programmes at some point in their past. I think the programme we offer is one of the most unique things about us, and we get a lot of brilliant feedback about the way we engage our apprentices from the TMMX judging panel. They effectively do a much better job at describing the company culture than any senior management staff.
One of the things we love to do is run open days for young people and their parents to have a look around our plant. Showing that we have a modern, world-class manufacturing facility helps break down those initial barriers and misconceptions that people often have of plants such as this. They are still considered to be very dirty, old-fashioned places but they’re the complete opposite.
Is Lander offering diversity and inclusion initiatives within the apprenticeship scheme and also the business as a whole?
We do track and measure the diversity elements of the business to ensure everyone is given equal opportunities. We’ve taken a number of apprentices into the businesses who have special learning needs, and we’ve made adaptations to ensure that the programmes are tailored to ensure that all their needs are met.
We are also actively encouraging more girls to join the business. Over the course of our apprenticeship programme, we’ve run at about 20% female intake. We really want to up this, but it has been a challenge in terms of encouraging more females that this is a good career path.
I think one of the main successes of the programme is how we’ve actively adapted and managed the processes to accommodate such a diverse range of young people.
Lander reviewed the diversity of our workforce against the local area, and we found that the majority working in this local area are 82% White, 12% BAME. This was reflective of our organisation too in 2016, we had 85% White, 15% BAME, and all of our BAME employees on-site were over the age of 25. We wanted to reduce the ageing workforce first, as the ratio was 51% over the age of 45. We set a metric related to this and by 2019 we had 43% under the age of 35 and 53% were under the age of 40.
We did set a BAME target to increase from 15% to 25%, here is what has been achieved in the past four years:
We also set about trying to increase our female apprentices by 10% as our female operators and general employees, including agency, are 43% female.
This still continues to be a challenge, but we are actively engaging with local girls schools and initiatives call GirlTech. Whilst we were conducting this level of monitoring, we realised that we were also increasing our neurodiverse apprentices and we are now capturing the data related to single parent household and those that are in care.
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How do you think the automotive sector has changed over the last few years, and what major challenges are emerging for Lander?
The big change in the automotive sector currently is the move towards EVs and alternative propulsion systems, which for us is quite a significant challenge because many of our products are engine related. We are currently transitioning into new technologies, which allow us to provide products into battery and hydrogen propulsion systems. In the course of my career, I’d say that this is the most disruptive period in the automotive sector that I’ve ever experienced.
It feels like we’ve got the perfect storm at the moment – we’ve got legislation which is driving the change towards alternative propulsion systems. There’s also new players entering the market (the likes of Tesla) and a whole raft of disruptive technologies.
The automotive industry is going through huge changes and we are working on how Lander Group will adapt to move with the changes. There’s probably more turbulence to come as battery technologies increase hydrogen propulsion. Our diversification plans are a response to the changes we’re seeing at the moment.
Sustainability can also be quite a difficult challenge for us because the core of our business is built print so really we aren’t designed responsibly for a lot of the products we manufacture. We have worked very hard to reduce our energy consumption – we’ve switched into low energy lighting within the business and we aim to recycle where we can. We have also recently invested in technology such as alternative materials such as substitutes which is driven both from an environmental impact perspective but also from the drive towards EVs. In particular, this means that light weighting has become a very big issue so we’ve invested in technologies which can produce lighter materials.
What do you think the future of the automotive industry will look like?
For consumer passenger vehicles, the future lies with battery and electrical drive systems, but with regards to large commercial vehicles, such as lorries, public transport and construction vehicles, they don’t lend themselves so well to electrical power – whether its hydrogen generated power cells or electric motors.
Going forward, I think we’re going to see a blend – it will be a mixture of consumer vehicles running on battery electric power and larger scale vehicles running on hydrogen combustion systems.
What has Lander Group got planned for the future?
Lander’s main plans for the future is to further diversify – while we want to maintain our automotive heritage, we absolutely want to serve wider markets. The off highway and industrial sector is our primary plan, we’re investing a lot in this area.
We plan to continue to grow the business with a mixture of organic growth and acquisition when the opportunities present themselves. We’ve seen enormous benefits of the acquisitions we’ve made over the last year, both in terms of changing our customer segments but also the opportunity to share things Lander has learnt with other businesses and developing something which is bigger than the sum of its parts.