The Manufacturer Podcast: People and products

Posted on 2 Sep 2022 by Tom St John

In this episode of The Manufacturer Podcast - two leaders discuss innovative products, clear motivations and processes and getting people engaged.

In episode three of our Leadership Series, we speak to Brompton Bicycle CEO, Will Butler-Adams. He speaks of his time as a leader, the passion that he and the business share for making city living and travel more sustainable and the shake-up needed to promote the “unbelievably cool” careers in manufacturing. Much of this is mentioned in his recent book – The Brompton: Engineering for Change by Will Butler-Adams and Dan Davies (Profile Books)

On a trip down to Poole, where the editorial team met three manufacturers, we get the thoughts of Jason Muller – Global Manufacturing Director at Lush. Lush has a completely manual manufacturing process to making its various products – Jason explains why in his interview.


Will Butler Adams, CEO of Brompton Bikes on getting people engaged in the industry

Will Butler-Adams, CEO of Brompton Bicycle

I think that we, as an institution, manufacturing, engineering, production engineers -we the makers, need to do a better job telling our story. We are in part responsible for the fact that the perception of engineering is either a grey suit, or it’s a monkey wrench and a boiler suit. We have not done a good promoting how unbelievably cool our career is, how relevant it is, how exciting it is. We must do more to communicate; get out there, talk to schools, talk to children, engage with politicians, but do it like in a cool, trendy way – be human!

The Googles of this world chucked a few beanbags and a ping pong table in a room and everybody thought it was cool to work for them -it’s deathly boring! And many of them have created things that have not been good for society, and have resulted in a generation of people getting repetitive strain injury in their big finger.

We, as an industry need to do more. I remember I gave a talk at the IMECHE -I was extremely privileged, I was quite young at the time. Somebody asked me a question at end said, ‘What’s the problem with engineering?’ And I said, ‘You’re the problem – look at you, you’re all ancient! You’re all grey, wearing grey suits, grey dresses, grey!’

We were in a room that had wooden panelling with old farts sat all the way around the room. It was like nostalgia – we need to shake up our industry! We need to think who we’re trying to communicate to. We’re not trying to communicate to me, we’re trying to communicate to somebody who’s at primary school. That’s when you start making these decisions, when you start thinking about doing great stuff. But we as an industry, not just the institutions, we as an industry need to do more.

Jason Muller, Global Manufacturing Director at Lush, on manual, people-based manufacturing process


We didn’t want to go down the automation route, because (making products freshly by hand) it puts a lot back into the community and creates jobs as well. The formulas are very innovative, so having that handmade element in the introduction, the R&D and so on, it just caters all the way through the product.

We’re not ever going to go fully automated – that’s not what we’re about. We’ve made that decision and we’re sticking with it. People might question that at some point, because of the way the challenges are at the moment, but we’re sticking to what we know best, which is fresh handmade.

We’ve had to adapt the production to a degree, especially when COVID came in and we put all the mitigation in; screening, masks, etc. You go back further to Brexit, we’re seeing the impact on the supply chains really coming through, so we’ve had to see the challenges of adjusting our forecasts of supply chains – some of that has had to move back to local manufacturing in the UK.

We’ve adapted, but everything we set up in the beginning has allowed us to be flexible and fluid with everything we do. We’re able to take the production up, and we’re able to reduce it, and that’s ultimately down to the fact we rely on people and not automation.

For us, it’s about creating opportunity for anyone. We’re seeing a trend at the moment of people retiring earlier and trying to work out their own work life balance. We’re getting into the schools and universities to tell them what we’ve got available – we have over 63 careers within Lush. Being able to talk to careers advisors within schools and letting potential new staff know there are career opportunities within Lush adds a huge amount of value to the business. We need to do more, and talking to the local council will push all of this as well.

We’ve always welcomed everyone. We’re very diverse; I think we’ve got around more than 40 nationalities working for us. The split is probably around 60/40 female to male at the moment. But that’s how we build the business. It’s nothing new for us, we’ve done that from day one. Poole is a small place, so we’re always looking to encourage more staff to join us. It’s just worked out well and we’re very grateful for that.

Listen back to our previous episode in the Leadership Series