Almost a star but then day job brings me back to earth!
27 June 2019 by David Bott
The week started early with a drive down to Alexandra House for the last minute planning for Gravel Pit !!. The next morning half the organisation turned up to find out what it was all about. We re-ran the first day of Gravel Pit 1, starting with statements of purpose and some “warming up” exercises for the interactive brain. Then the first main section was David Sproxton from Aardman Animation. David is the sort of person we need to understand. He co-founded Aardman 37 years ago with Peter Lord and has taken it to be a global brand. David is quiet and unassuming but speaks with the wisdom of having done most of “it”. For those who imagine entrepreneurs as dragons or sociopaths, David is a breath of fresh air. You should all now know that the point of this exercise is to distract people with making a Morph whilst telling them about how Aardman operates on a daily basis. They are about the same size as us and the messages about team-working, listening to others and throwing away lots of (apparently) good ideas because there are better ones are all relevant. The tableaux of our organisation were as hard-hitting as in GP1 – signposting the usual suspects of communications, leadership and strategy – all thought to be lacking in our organisation. Lunch saw the normal confusion about how this was relevant by many and the dawning light in a few, and then it was on to the force of nature that is Eddie Obeng. Eddie lead them through the “world after midnight” scenario and discussed how most people respond to change. More lights and less confusion resulted. The evening session was different. Everyone knew the “trick” of the painting exercise, so we built a washboard orchestra instead. Andy and I had considered “water-boarding“ rather than “wash-boarding” but thought Anne might object. At the end of the evening I chauffeured Fearless Leader down to London.
We had been preparing for the next day for a couple of weeks – it was the launch of the Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstration programme and I had squeezed in an interview with the environmental correspondent of the Guardian during the day, but had also received a number of e-mails and voice-mails telling me that I had to give interviews the next day – or that they were cancelled. By the time I checked into the London hotel on Monday night before I had none – they had all vanished through the evening – but was told by my media handler to turn up at the Guildhall at 7.30am and “help out”.
The next morning the phone rang at just after 6.00am. “Could I get to the Guildhall as soon as possible, BBC Breakfast want to interview you?” I managed to get up and across London in 45 minutes, and met Maryam Moshiri who had been drafted in from BBC Business to carry out the interviews at our event. Since I hadn’t thought about television interviews, let alone “live” ones, I hadn’t had time to worry – and Maryam quickly put me at ease with some practice questions. It is probably breaching some kind of unwritten code, but she also told me the questions she was going to ask and gave me 10 minutes to think about my answers. At 7.20, I was called across and did the interview. The weird thing about it is that it doesn’t feel odd. The camera is just out of eyeshot and the interviewer keeps their eyes on you. It’s a bit like chatting in a bar with a friend. It was pronounced a moderate success, and I was told I would be needed later. At this point a young woman from Trimedia (the agency who we had contracted to run the event) popped up at my side and took me to meet the British Satellite News people. Within a few minutes I was doing another interview!! Then it was a double act with Quentin for London News Tonight (I think, because by then it was all becoming a bit of a blur!) and the main event, the arrival of the Ministers and Iain Gray, our CEO, in 3 of the electric cars. Their formal opening of the event had to be delayed by a couple of minutes whilst Maryam did the teaser that occurs at the top of the hour, but then Lord Adonis, Lord Drayson and Iain all said a few words about the importance of this trial as part of the overall Government aspirations in the area – that we should not only be adopting new technologies to address the societal challenge of climate change, but that this change in personal transport offered UK based business an opportunity to compete in this new “low carbon” economy. As a group of journalists went in for a detailed briefing by Andrew Everett, Quentin and I did another double act – this time for BBC World News. At the end of this, the young woman from Trimedia popped up again, and shepherded me upstairs to join Andrew in an interview with the Environmental Correspondent of The Sun (yes, they have one, and we got less than a column inch on Page 2 – but kept our clothes on). After this, and without moving seats, we talked to a guy from the Autocar. Once again, the Trimedia shepherdess appeared and I found myself being interviewed by One Planet from the BBC World News. By now it was 10 o’clock and I needed to be back at the Gravel Pit, so I started on my way. Within 15 minutes of leaving, I got a call that Reuters Television wanted to do an interview, but it was too late to go back. Then came a guy from the BBC Technology desk who interviewed me over the phone, asking me different questions and, 30 minutes later, James Murray from Business Green caught me on my mobile.
I got back to Wroughton in time to see the input from GP1 to GP2, and the reformulating of the challenges and teams. It all seemed to go well and I think we ended up with better definition of what could be fixed. We also now have everyone at a similar state so can hybridise the ideas and teams and move into another phase of addressing the issues. Then it was another drive back to Heathrow so that I could....
...get up at 3.30 am to catch the bus into the airport and the 6.25 plane to Frankfurt. How this arose is a salutary lesson in diary management. A few weeks ago I got a letter from the German Ministry of Education and Research asking me to take part in a meeting about Suschem, the Sustainable Chemistry Technology Platform. It was from an old friend, who I had met when I was the UK delegate to the Member States Mirror Group for the platform back in 2005 – it was Pat MacDonald's idea of a joke I suspect. Apparently, the UK chemistry community had identified me as the person responsible for funding and I was therefore invited to the Programme Owners Meeting. They asked for availability for the whole week and we offered only Wednesday. When they accepted, I had to do it!! I gave a “we do challenges, not support sectors” presentation and got a lot of support - from the Germans in particular. I also learned that CEFIC think that the UK is not very well organised in the chemistry field with lots of talk and no action. As with a lot of European meetings, I am truly not sure what was agreed, and await the minutes with trepidation. I managed to get home in time to do a surreal interview with Ross Solly of ABC Western Australia on their breakfast programme – on what would have been Thursday morning for them!!
Thursday saw a short drive to Ricardo's Midlands Technology Centre to hear the output of the work we commissioned to understand the strength of the supply chain in automotive – as it will be in the future. It is a solid piece of work but we asked for some clarity about jargon and implications before it is published fully, and then argued with the ex-BERR guy who wanted it not published but kept as a document to inform policy (or something like that).
Friday was another London day with a bewildering range of “stuff”. First up, our new HVM guy had won the prize for courageous networking by finding a slot in my diary in his first 2 weeks. Then it was a cast of thousands telling me about the need to support the development of the wheat germplasm. Although this meeting had been started by Celia from the BBSRC, it has acquired a life of its own and I had 2 people from the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, 2 from the John Innes Centre, 1 from the Genome Analysis Centre, 1 from the British Society of Plant Breeders and 2 from the BBSRC all trying to educate me on what a germplasm is (it’s the palette of characteristics you can breed into a species such as wheat) and why we need a broad base done to be able to breed wheat that will be able to resist the effects of climate change. I think it is premature to consider giving them money directly, but it sounds like it might be a useful part of the Agri-Food Innovation Platform. That led on to one of my (now) regular meetings with Liam O’Toole of OSCHR. I got more insight into what happened during Borys’s miracle conversion to the cult of the TSB, swapped views of how stratified medicine might be developing and shared stories of frustrated punters and their relationship with the OLS. Then it was back for an assessment meeting for the AIM C4 proposal to build 12 new homes using currently available technologies to achieve 2013 standards with just the fabric of the building. Ray had helped Heidi and Richard build a parallel process for dealing with pseudo-large projects that are aligned with our goals but come in out of competition sequence. What we learned is that they hadn’t thought deeply about the business logic, that BRE are probably not the best project managers but that Stewart Milne and Crest Nicholson have people in senior positions that “get it”. The day ended with another “catch-up” meeting, this time a telecon with Declan of the MRC, as we move towards announcement about our intentions in Regenerative Medicine, we need to make sure the RCs are happy to contribute to the “challenge” part of our package.