I have learnt from some of the country’s most forward thinking industrialists, mastered the development of a strong business culture, better employee engagement and sales and productivity processes, and guided the firm I owned for almost 40 years through three major downturns, building it to a turnover of £23 million with over 230 employees.
I believe that future manufacturing leaders can learn from my experiences.
I believe that I have an encouraging and timely story to tell.
It starts in 1962.
This is where my career began.
I started working in the engineering drawing office at George Ellison Ltd.
During this period, I moved into the internal sales department at Chamberlain & Hookham, a manufacturer of electrical measuring instruments.
I joined Square D Ltd., a US-based manufacturer of electrical control gear, working in London. By 1968, I was asked to help develop the company’s presence in the Midlands and moved back to Birmingham.
I was headhunted by Simplex GE to head up sales in the Midlands region as Midlands Regional Sales Manager, which became my first management position with a team of 35 Field Sales Engineers.
Having spent 7 years in management at Simplex GE, I had learned so much about business improvement and the nuances of running an effective engineering operation (owed greatly to fundamental mentoring from a number of thought leaders at GE), that I was building up the confidence to go it alone.
Helped and significantly encouraged by Mr. Den Nicholas, he backed me financially on my venture. He guided me through the first two years. He gave me tremendous support, particularly with regard to financial matters.
This is when I started PP Electrical Systems from scratch, having purchased the name from someone who had “given up” on their venture.
Within only a year of setting up PP, my first experience of recession hit. It was an extremely difficult period of survival and the difficulties lasted well into the 1980s.
Mr. Nicholas withdrew from all involvement with the business at this point. At the time, PP were making both control and distribution panels, either directly or indirectly for Car companies (Ford Motor Company – Dagenham, Halewood and Bridgend were one of the larger customers).
And in the early 1990s, we were working with Toyota which proved to be a fundamental game-changer for the business and my business improvement and operational efficiency expertise.
Because of the early 1990s recession, I knew that we needed to change our ‘direction’ and to focus on a more reliable market.
I made the decision to change focus onto the OEMs, who made ‘machinery’ for the automotive industry.
Remembering all I had learned from my experiences working for Simplex GE and my biggest mentor, Jack Jamieson, I focussed all my attention into this area and with great success. The number one target was Mazak in Worcestershire and after six months of intense effort, had obtained our first order. The decision to come to PP was because of the large amount of work we were doing for Toyota. Mazak carried out a very thorough assessment of that work and our production. In fact, they actually said, “If we were good enough for Toyota, we were good enough for them.”
Mazak trained us to become an excellent supplier to them. They trained us continuously for several years. They taught us the value of Lean manufacturing and above all, the importance of very best quality in all aspect of the supply of products to them.
Obtaining the highest achievable quality became our single focus – everything else followed and indirectly led to the success achieved.
Our training programme needed a new stimulus and as if by magic, Six Sigma came and another serious influencer from my past was involved – Jack Welch, CEO of GE.
He wrote a book titled ‘Six Sigma – The GE Way.’ I immediately embraced it since it kept our focus directly on quality.
I remember my thinking at the time was “if it’s good enough for Jack, it’s good enough for me.”
At the turn of the millennium, we recruited two Six Sigma ‘Black Belts’ – one as Manufacturing Manager and the other to head up our newly established PP Training School.
Opening the PP Training School was another significant ‘game changer.’ Everyone in the business was trained for near 200 hours per year (60% practical and 40% in the classroom). We eventually benefitted in ways far beyond our expectations. We believe we saved 5 hours for every hour spent in training – obviously, it was clearly an investment and not a cost.
The training also influenced the improvement of culture within the business.
We welcomed a party of Senior Executives from Mazak, Japan to our facility in Cheslyn Hay. After touring our facility for several hours, they went into a ‘huddle’, speaking only Japanese. They eventually emerged to declare that “the student has become the master.”
This honestly still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was the ultimate compliment and reward for all the combined effort over many years.
The great recession.
Mazak orders were down 80%. This difficult moment for the industry and the company led to redundancies, but for all those laid off, we offered the chance to come back once we had recovered. And they all did come back.
Fortunately, we were soon back to normal activity levels, but now in a stronger position.
The ethos and business culture we had developed since the early 90s went from strength to strength and PP Electrical Systems had evolved into PP Control & Automation, an award-winning provider of strategic outsourcing solutions to many of the most successful and respected machinery builders worldwide.
By 2015, I was looking towards the thirty years of research by Dr. George Gallop into employee engagement at work and organisational outcomes.
June 7th 2018. This is where my involvement with PP C&A on a day-to-day basis came to a close.
Here we are. Life in a global downturn yet again but I’m ready to make a comeback and use my experience to help where I can.
Blanford Fox is launched and now is my time to provide an insight into some of the steps manufacturers can take when negotiating their way through life recovering from Covid-19, and declare that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.