Car manufacturer Westfield Sportscars exemplified the agility businesses need in the face of uncertainty, says IoD director general Stephen Martin
As someone who likes motorsports, I was excited to be visiting Westfield Sportscars, Kidderminster to see the range of beautiful kit cars they have been building since the 1980s.
I wasn’t disappointed, getting a tour of the site where they make vehicles for export to as far away as Australia. But what really stopped me in my tracks was the discovery that it also manufactures driverless ‘pods’ that operate fully autonomously and which are currently being trialled on the streets of south London. It’s great to see British companies at the forefront of this technology, which could have such a transformative effect on how we travel in future.
That wasn’t the last surprise. The managing director, Julian Turner, told me 3,000 parts go into each car, many of them sourced abroad in the past. After the EU referendum, and the fall in value of the pound, Westfield switched to sourcing all components in the UK. I was impressed by the agility of the company, how quickly it made decisions and implemented them.
Agility must be the watchword for government too as it considers how to press ahead with its new industrial strategy, the consultation for which has just closed. No one can know exactly which technologies or business models will succeed in the future, or the exact skills that will be needed for posts in new industries. Even a few years ago, the UK leaving the EU and widespread use of driverless cars seemed highly unlikely. But the former is now happening and the latter looks close at hand.
Long-term advances in AI, robotics and their effect on the automation of jobs will have more significant impact on the economy than Brexit. We can’t predict every detail, but we can prepare by making sure our education system is flexible enough to allow people to retrain, possibly several times during their working life, and that the communications and energy infrastructure is up to scratch.
If we get the framework right, then we will allow more firms such as Westfield to leap on the new opportunities that are always created in times of major technological change.
It was great to meet…
Chief financial officer,
While in the West Midlands, I also went to the plant where Worcester Bosch makes its boilers. Malige told me about some clever innovations to the company’s working practices. It has a split assembly line, which allows employees either to work routinely on one section of the line, or to complete a variety of tasks, depending on which option they prefer. It also has a row of desks in the middle of the production floor which staff and management are encouraged to use together, in order to break down the barriers. I look forward to learning about more innovations such as these as I meet more IoD members across the UK in coming months.
This month I will be…
The Design Museum, London
California has been at the forefront of cultural and technical innovation for decades; and a fascinating new exhibition, California – Designing Freedom, traces the sunshine state’s global reach through such objects as the skateboard, self-driving car – and even LSD blotting paper.
Twin Peaks, Sky Atlantic
The 1990s cult favourite that brought us the Log Lady, Agent Dale and a damn fine cup of coffee returns to TV, courtesy of creator David Lynch. Expect the usual gloriously off-kilter antics and lashings of cherry pie…
The Bottom Line with Evan Davis
The Newsnight presenter’s business-based podcast has recently tackled subjects such as migrant entrepreneurs, fintech and the UK space industry, and under his adroit steering it’s a hugely listenable and frequently useful half-hour, complete with influential business leaders.
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Stephen Martin is the IoD director general.