Industry Interview, Interviews, Issue 42 - Autumn 2011

Industry Interview: Richard Parry-Jones

Until his retirement from Ford at the end of 2007, he spent nearly ten years as Group Vice-President in charge of R&D for all of Ford and its subsidiary companies worldwide, leading a staff of 30,000 professionals in a network spanning 15 countries. He now does some consulting and is also chair of the UK government’s ‘Automotive Council’.  Interviewed by just-auto’s Dave Leggett.

Richard Parry Jones

 DL: What are you up to at the moment?

RP-J: It’s quite a variety really. There’s my consulting company – I work for a variety of blue-chip companies in a mixture of automotive and what might be termed ‘technology intensive’ industries, such as energy and aerospace [for more, see Richard Parry-Jones’ consulting company website

I am also continuing to work as a government advisor on a variety of topics, mainly manufacturing regeneration, but also energy issues.

DL: How does the role as co-chair on the Automotive Council relate to that?

RP-J: The Automotive Council is a subset of that, focusing on manufacturing in the UK in the automotive sector, the automotive sector being seen as bedrock of manufacturing. The automotive sector is being used as a pilot or pioneer for industrial policies and strategies that it is hoped can be adopted across a number of sectors.

As an example, we have recently launched the ‘see inside manufacturing’ initiative with the government. That’s an initiative in which we invite pupils and – more importantly – teachers into modern industrial manufacturing facilities to show them what a modern manufacturing facility is really like and to blow away some of the myths. That whole initiative was piloted by the automotive companies under the leadership of the Automotive Council. We did one in the middle of the year and there will be another event in October. And, based on the experience from these two pilots, the ‘see inside manufacturing’ initiative will then be rolled out across other UK manufacturing sectors. I think that’s a great example of how the automotive work we are doing can be used as a kind of development test-bed for policies applied generally across manufacturing.

DL: Is this initiative being driven by politicians?

RP-J: Yes. Both Vince Cable and Mark Prisk, ministers with responsibility for manufacturing in the UK, are very much behind it. And there is a lot of work from officials undertaken to get companies involved and make an initiative like this work. Getting the right companies to participate is important.

DL: And it’s all part of a broader initiative…

RP-J: Yes, that’s right; it’s really about regenerating manufacturing in the UK, growing manufacturing in the UK. For example, stakeholders include investors who might spend money overseas or in the UK. A part of our work is updating their perceptions of the competitiveness of the UK, but another key aspect is obviously skills for the future and attracting young people into the sector and we feel that the advice they are getting – from parents and teachers – while it may be well intentioned, is not very well informed. Most of the parents and teachers giving advice have no idea what modern manufacturing is all about. In the past we have had various programmes to bring children into factories, but the problem there is that you only reach one at a time. For every teacher we can get into a factory, that can mean reaching out to, say, 30 or 60 children. By updating the teachers’ perceptions, they should be able to give better advice to the pupils. There’s a focus in our approach now on getting to the teachers.

The original idea for this came from a conversation between myself, a government minister and Bentley. People at Bentley said that they thought it important to get teachers involved, a kind of ‘bring a teacher to work’ day, and it went from there.

DL: And the current government’s approach has not been very different to that of the previous one, which set up the Automotive Council?

RP-J: It has actually been a pretty seamless transition. Initially it seemed that there was some scepticism from some, and I was worried that there would be an attitude that that was the old government’s policy and therefore it must be wrong, so let’s start again. But once we explained what the work is really about and ministers were fully briefed on that, they could see the logic. From that point onwards government ministers have been solidly supportive.

DL: And the origins of this go back to the idea of having an ‘active’ industrial policy?

RP-J: Yes, the idea was to have a strategy, where should we specialise and how could government work with industry to support those sectors where we could make a difference if we were to have any chance of having a major manufacturing sector in the future. It is certainly not about special case pleading or asking for bailouts for failed companies. We do not support government help for fundamentally failed companies. But it’s not about being passive either. The basic idea is not to wait till the patient is nearly dead and then to act ineffectively and late (usually in a way that could not avoid failure, the case in the past at times), but to assist healthy companies with good business models to grow in the interests of the national economy and to develop an appropriate strategy to support that – with the right education, R&D help, the right infrastructure, the right conditions and so on.

Automotive was clearly at the heart of what was considered strategic, as was aerospace and pharmaceutical for example, all coming under the heading of ‘advanced manufacturing’. And the policies were developed under [previous government’s industry minister] Peter Mandelson’s stint when he adopted many of the recommendations submitted by myself and others under the aegis of the reports of the NAIGT. The Automotive Council subsequently emerged from that period of policy discussion. Peter Mandelson was the first co-chair, with me.

When the government changed, Vince Cable took over as co-chair of the Automotive Council and the work has continued.

DL: But the Automotive Assistance Programme (AAP) designed to help suppliers over short-term financial difficulties a few years ago, when the banking crisis hit, attracted a lot of criticism didn’t it?

RP-J: Yes, because it didn’t work as well as it should have done. The supplier industry in the UK did not get as much assistance as it should have done because of the execution of that particular programme and the onerous conditions associated with it. Lessons have been learnt.

But there are other financial interventions that have worked well and supported companies in the right way. A good example is the Regional Growth Funds (RGF). If you look at the projects approved under that, automotive did rather well. And the reason for that is that in every case, automotive was saying ‘we have a good business and we’re making money, but we would like to add further capacity or increase production to grow our business in the UK. Are you willing to help us?’.

And that’s the kind of situation where a boost to the UK manufacturing base can be achieved, but it’s about the whole picture – skills, good business models, right infrastructure and competitiveness. Grants alone can’t rescue anything, but they can tip the balance – if other conditions are in place – to secure greater investment and growth for the UK.

And I believe it represents good value for money for the taxpayer.

DL: So where does RGF stand now?

RP-J: There are currently applications in for ‘round 2’ and the approvals will be announced by the government in due course. I hope that when they look back at the experience with rounds 1 and 2, they will conclude that these are very good programmes, representing very good value to the taxpayer (they ultimately generate much more tax revenue than they cost). I hope they will view it as a key tool to generate more growth in the UK economy and decide to continue with it.

DL: As I understand it, the Automotive Council works with two important sub-committees that do much of the groundwork – one is technology led, the other is concerned with the development of the supply-chain. What kinds of things are emerging as key issues for the UK automotive supply-base?

RP-J: Well, there are a whole range of factors being closely looked at in relation to what we can source in the UK currently, the health of the supplier sector overall, the state of new technologies and how we become more competitive in areas where it is vital that we are present and active for future growth – a ‘sourcing roadmap’.

What do we need to get more competitive in the supply-chain? One thing we are looking at is collaborative procurement so that we can improve economies of scale for suppliers. Obviously we have to be careful so that competition rules aren’t broken, but collaborative procurement in some areas could play a greater role. Skills enhancement is another important area, particularly management skills.

And access to finance has emerged as an important issue for the smaller companies, the tier 2s, 3s and 4s. They struggle with access to finance in the UK and there are complex issues at work in that area that we are discussing – it has also been discussed at an SMMT Open Forum and we are forming a working-group to look specifically at financing.

Communications is also an important area of activity, to effectively communicate initiatives. There’s also a perception gap that we need to work on to improve the image of the industry more widely. The reality and the perception remain very different  and that’s something we are working hard to change.

Author: Dave Leggett,

Richard Parry Jones

Richard is an automotive engineering leader who worked for the Ford Motor Company for 38 years between 1969 and 2007.

Until his retirement from Ford at the end of 2007, he spent nearly ten years as Group Vice-President in charge of R&D for all of Ford and its subsidiary companies worldwide, leading a staff of 30,000 professionals in a network of Product Development centres in 15 countries. He was also the Company’s Chief Technical Officer for the last 8 years.

During his career at Ford he has lived and worked in many countries outside the UK, including 7 years in the US and 5 years in Germany. He was responsible for developing all the Ford Europe cars launched between 1993 and 2008, and for many Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo products.

He served as the Chairman of the Ford Global Product Committee for 10 years, and as Chairman of the Supervisory Board for Ford Germany, and was Chairman of the Mazda Advisory Board for many years.

His contribution has been recognized externally in numerous ways, including 8 products winning major Car of the Year awards. He was named Man of the Year in 1994 by the top British publication Autocar and in 1997 by the U.S. magazine Automobile. In 2001 he received the Golden Gear Award for outstanding automotive achievement from the Washington Automotive Press Association. In 2006 he was awarded a special award by Autocar magazine for his career contribution to the industry.

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