I know how the pinball feels
25 October 2018 by David Bott
This time I made it to the “start the week” meeting but not much happened!
My next task was to go through the 60 or so applications for Head of Technology role (sorry Peter :-) ). There was a strange mix of people from Wiltshire, ex-servicemen and what I discovered Penna called “fairground attendants”. As we explored the CVs I found out that the 2 guys from Penna were ex-servicemen and that Ian knew more than I thought healthy about the military hierarchy. We got about 10 “B” candidates out of the trawl!! Next up was one of the strangest phone calls I have taken. It was a guy from Reuters who could have sold double glazing. He has an offer for non-profit organisations of unfettered access to Reuters databases for £120k. I circulated it round and got 2 decisive “no”s to add to mine.
Then came another meeting about the complaints procedure. I have been approached many times (who hasn’t?) by those dissatisfied with our decisions, but there is a growing band who have listened to the promises about help as well as money and have decided our feedback is not helpful. Having seen some of it and the ensuing correspondence, I am beginning to worry that we are not reaching our own standards and need to think again. Separately, Cyrus had arrived at the same conclusion and we have had a series of meetings with the main players to try to get across our concerns. This does not seem to be making any progress, so this meeting we got a little more emphatic about the need to change. Feels like a long job.....
Last task of the day at Swindon was to sit with Heidi and deconvolve our complex relationships with the other players in the Low Carbon Vehicles arena. This was important because I was going to an “infrastructure” meeting at AWM that evening, she was going to a meeting of the New Automotive Innovation and Growth Team and everyone was getting excited by the upcoming announcement of things by “ a senior cabinet member”. Thus prepared I drove off to Birmingham for the meeting with AWM. It was an interesting event, with Coventry and Birmingham City Councils volunteering to host a demonstrator, Jaguar and Tata representatives emphasising their commitment to the region and everyone worrying that there we no real Tier 1 gorillas in the country!! I suspect that I was there to make the companies feel comfortable but I did note that ETI had not been invited.
Tuesday being another Swindon day, I made the pilgrimage to North Star House again. We had a planning meeting for the November 11th Board visit, which it turns out clashes with training meetings, off-site commitments and lots of reasons for not being in Swindon. The afternoon saw a meeting of the rebranded RCUK group. It felt oddly chaotic and unproductive but everyone knows it has to be done, so we got through.
Wednesday started with a drive down to Bedford to pick up Fearless Leader and then on to Colworth for a meeting with Unilever. This had come out of an earlier meeting Heidi and I had there when they pointed out that they were the 5th largest investor in R&D (according to the scoreboard) but we never talked to them. They put on a good display (limited by diseased colleagues) and gave a good account of the underpinning science of home and personal care products and food, and the link between performance and perception in these markets. They also had the healthiest snacks and meals of anywhere I have visited. FL has a bag of green tea apparently guaranteed to redistribute stomach fat to other part of the body where it can be more effectively burned.
A slightly extended drive got us back to Swindon by 5 and, after a frantic catch-up with e-mails, I went on to Aberporth to meet up with Cyrus. I arrived at the hotel just before 9 to find Cyrus holding the restaurant open for me – they stop living after 9 in this bit of Wales. Next morning, after a full Welsh breakfast (?), we drove the back roads to Parc Aberporth (Cyrus has a new SatNav!). This is part of Fearless Leaders plan to get us familiar with the Aerospace industry. What we were here to see was the biggest X-Plane (http://www.x-plane.com/ ) scenario in the world (allegedly). A bunch of people who had all been working together for 3 years and setting up the demonstration in a remote part of Wales for 3 weeks made for a peculiarly incestuous feeling (I was reminded of my trips to West Virginia). Unfortunately, they didn’t have that much faith in their systems so everything was run using pre-recorded screen-shots – with lots of caveats about the difficulties in integrating different systems - there was a great “dancing” flying tanker at one point – but the level of systems integration was undoubtedly high. Cyrus and I had a long discussion with a man called Lambert about the obvious challenges of running a £30m project (although he is part-time in the role) and the need to explore other applications of the technology – outside the Aerospace industry. We met with a bemused silence on these subjects – have they not been thinking holistically? That said, they are obviously thinking historically and I sense we were being warmed up for an ASTREAII bid. The day ended with horizontal rain, the M4 reduced to a car park and dark thoughts about those of my fellow men who drive white vans.
Friday saw a trip to London to impersonate Fearless Leader at a Sustainable Innovation meeting in Kings College. The morning was a real mixture. One guy was “pushing” biochar as an absorbent for heavy metals in land reclamation – the killer question asked was “what do you do with it then?” Next came a man who had developed a really neat upmarket version of a Wattson for techies, but who was stuck in a yachting metaphor. Finally in the morning was a guy from EnviroBusiness who obviously knew lots but wasn’t thinking what the audience wanted to know but how much he could cram in to a short presentation.
The “networking” lunch was followed by yours truly and then a pitchfest. First up was Bee Automotive. I have a vague memory that we have dealt with them through the LCV IP but they gave a good presentation and name-checked us several times. Their scheme has hot-swappable batteries – which is okay if you can get good geographical distribution of stock. The idea of turning up at a garage with flat batteries and being told they have no more “AA”s doesn't seem to have occurred to them. Next up was GenDrive, a really neat inverter that goes with low power turbines and PV systems to provide more efficient power transfer. They don’t need much money and could make a real killing by occupying a unique slot in the supply chain. I was almost tempted myself. It went down after that, First Light giving a boring pitch with no USP and Derek Allen and I escaped to the local Starbucks to discuss EGS. We tried to work out how to help the business community, avoid duplication with the ever-changing ETI portfolio and tell a story. Derek has gone away to think how the IDP approach could be made to work in the energy field.