Staying commited to professionalism
When speaking about technology, the world is much more unified and interconnected than one might think. A semi-conductor produced in France will go through an American sales office to end up on the construction site of Boeing and an image sensor produced in the UK will be found onboard NASA’s Hubble space telescope pushing back the boundaries of space knowledge. It is clear that the language of high-tech does not require translation – professionalism speaks for itself.
For more than 60 years, e2v has been speaking the same language through its high-quality components and subsystems. Headquartered in the UK, the company employs some 1,500 personnel in six European and US design, development and manufacturing sites.
CEO Keith Attwood recently shared some of his thoughts with Swiss Style on how the industry looks today.
Betting on value at home
Attwood’s view is that of a global player in a very specific niche and his bet is on delivering outstanding value regardless of geographical location. “When it comes to being competitive and hence, successful, it is not a question of where you are located, but rather your approach to management and how you run your business. We create value through offering unique solutions in response to the needs of our customers and partners,” he says.
In this sense, his strategic approach is quite out of the ordinary: while other companies go for the lowpriced labour force of the emerging markets, e2v is targeting the top-notch professionals. Even though the company relies heavily on experts, Attwood is looking forward towards new talent to join the table of decision-makers as well. Through a process of vocational training, top graduates become the scientists and the researchers of tomorrow. For these reasons, he adds, “Where we are based is where the centre of the expertise lies; operating in Europe especially during difficult times can be as strong a competitive position as anywhere else in the world.”
In the recent context of a struggling automotive industry, few would expect to find one of world’s most efficient car plants in Britain; but nowadays, the status quo has changed with a stronger and more appealing sense of expertise and quality, according to Attwood. His feeling is that the UK is upwardly advancing in the context of global competitiveness, ready to rub shoulders with renowned performers such as Germany, and while the European economy might be delayed, it is certainly up and running.
Asia – the ambitious tiger
The idea that the future lies in Asia is being juggled around more often and the fact that BRIC countries are leading the global recovery only showcases how true this is. Far from mounting a challenge, the Asian tigers are keen to be included in the global debate and act as serious players, especially within the high-end industries of science and technology. Attwood is impressed by their ambition and desire to participate at “the top table of new thinking and new discoveries in meetings such as the World Economic Forum’s New Champions. It is very important in a business such as ours, which tends to be working on the enabling technologies that facilitate those discoveries.” He adds that “Our view of Asia in general and China in particular is that we see it as a great opportunity. The same applies to Japan and India.”
In an industry where all eyes are on discoveries, patents and scientific breakthroughs, Attwood speaks about anticipating competitors’ localization. When products are short-lived and replaced by replicas in a matter of months and nothing stays unique, leveraging your customer relationships is paramount. “In the long term, in order to protect our markets and avoid localization, we need to be placed where our customers are.”
Even though the company has been through a process of checking how customers feel about them, Attwood visited China to spend time with his customers personally. “There is a strong desire coming from China to access the world’s best technology, so one needs to be physically present there in order to offer clients the advantage of the right time zone, the right language or the right location. I need to be present there to provide the best service to my clients. In that sense, we already have offices in Hong Kong and we envision expanding to Japan and Korea.”
Physical presence is rewarding. During his most recent visit to China, Attwood met with the space academies and agencies to discuss their future plans, space science projects and emergent technologies, in order to gain an upper hand in collaboration. In India’s case, however, a full-time presence is less of an issue since, due to cultural similarities, the operations could be managed from the UK supported by regular visits.
Tianjin – not planning the future by the past
For all participants, the Tianjin Meeting is an exploration of opportunities. What attracted Attwood away from his activities was the chance to take part in the international discussion the World Economic Forum puts together and, along with other participants, focus on the new global trends. As Tianjin is a meeting of well-defined and innovative business leaders, Atwood hopes to spot opportunities potent enough to turn into fruitful collaborations.
“What is also very important to me is the notion of sustainability, which is now a global concern. Much of the technologies we are involved in and the discoveries we make are associated with it and with moving humanity forward.” In a letter sent to a member of the French National Assembly in the days of the French Revolution, the Irish statesman Edmund Burke expressed his concern that one can never plan the future by the past – which is exactly what Tianjin is about. With participants with mindsets such as that of Keith Attwood, it could be said that our future will be just fine.
Article by Linda Ferg