Tactics are easily visible, the skill is to make your strategy understandable
17 March 2022 by David Bott
The “start the week” meeting was mercifully short and made way for the Catapult meeting is its usual manner. Because I had reported “some confusion” from our team to David Way over the weekend, we ended up in a discussion about internal communications, clarity of process and some of the issues I felt we had swept under the carpet. I am not sure if we nailed them but I get my “told you so” points!
My next session was a catch up with HR Woman – mostly about InterimGate. It looks like the position coming out of the Treasury is hardening and BIS are still struggling to keep up with the machismo policies coming out of there. The latest twist is that they are quoting Section 4.2.6 of “managing Public Money” (see – http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/mpm_whole.pdf) as a specific and clear instruction not to use suppliers who could use tax avoidance tactics. This means that we were set up to use unapproved recruitment policies and therefore we were in the wrong from the get-go. This makes going forward in a dignified and transparent manner a mite awkward, but I am sure we will manage it somehow, or at least re-write local history to say we did!
My next meeting was with Jon Corner from the Media Enterprise Centre (see – http://www.mediacityuk.co.uk/our-community/occupiers/media-enterprise-centre). We had met Jon a few weeks ago, when we visited Media City and Brains had insisted that we met more than just the University of Salford people! Jon was brought in at the last minute (for lunch) and obviously decided we weren’t the usual wasters from Government and so tracked me down an inserted himself into my diary. He filled in more details and we arranged a bulk visit in September when the Centre is up and running (and will have tenants!).
Next up was my (allegedly) monthly catch-up with FL. We spend most of the time anticipating near-term events and discussing InterimGate as well. Then it was on to catch-up with David Way and further explore how to improve the overall Catapult process and our communications – both inside and outside the organisation.
The final task of the day was to join Matthew (in Swindon) and Healthcare Man (in a car somewhere) to talk to the property guy who has been helping us find a suitable location of the Cell Therapy Catapult. If the recommended first choice is as good as it sounds, we may well be in luck.
Tuesday started with the drive through Monmouth to Cardiff for Biowales. At some point I had been invited to speak and, in a moment of weakness and probably with Brains whispering in my ear, said yes. I subsequently discovered that I follow Zahid and Penny as TSB speaker – we think they don’t like repeat bookings, which considering the size of the Welsh community must get problematic! Despite awful traffic getting into Cardiff, I got there in time to hear Richard Sykes talk about how wonderful the pharmaceutical industry is, and how it will rise again! He was followed by the Welsh Chief Scientist, who spent most of the time bemoaning the fact that, as 5% of the UK population Wales only gets 3% of research council grants. This apparently compares to Scotland being 8% and getting 14%. He provided no clues as to what to do about it! He was followed by the Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science who, if the rest of the speeches are to be believed doesn’t have a very busy job. She read her speech in a flat and lifeless manner and didn’t seem to relate it to business. She did announce a £100m Fund for the Welsh life sciences business community (and, unlike Number 10, used the word “fund” correctly). By contrast, the bombast of Chris Evans at least raised the excitement levels. Considering he made all his money around Cambridge and lives in London, his newfound Welshness was suspect but much trumpeted. He was definitely on the up about his role as chair of the Life Sciences Sector Panel for Wales (see – http://wales.gov.uk/topics/businessandeconomy/economicrenewal/sectors/sectorpanels/lifesectorpanel/;jsessionid=Q5XVPkFL3t6X3g1W39dd52wPLZG3n0qFF6Lp2J410Xj411Np24vT!-431527727?lang=en) and how the new Fund would be used to drive Welsh productivity in the life sciences area. He was followed by Trevor Jones, formerly of the ABPI, who gave a confused talk that hinted at stratified/personalised medicine but then swung back to the search for the next blockbuster – and demonstrated again that pharma companies and their representatives do not really understand what stratification is about. At lunch I met with John Harries (the CSA), David Bacon and Greg Green. It was a depressing meeting with Harries showing no real sign of understanding how science interacts with business, Bacon merely wanting to know the formula for us to put more money into Wales and only Green showing any real spark of insight into the problems. Back into the afternoon session, it was kicked off in magic style by Chris McGuigan (see – http://www.cf.ac.uk/phrmy/contactsandpeople/fulltimeacademicstaff/mcguigan-chrisnew-overview_new.html) who described how good science can underpin good business with his clear exposition of the development of anti-virals based on their chemical structure. He book-ended with Gabriele Cerrone, who had provided funding for their joint activities and who expressed a very “build a company” view of equity funding and mildly criticized the Excalibur (see – http://www.excaliburfundmanagers.co.uk/people/default.aspx) model of investing for short term gain. I gave a new version of the missing in action corporate slide set and John Jeans (ex-MRC and now on the Council of Cardiff University) gave a warning that the UK Government would be deceasing its funding in science because they had failed to deliver the promised impact – because they hadn’t realised what they were promising 2 years ago! After another break there were presentations by Ian James (see – http://www.a4pconsulting.com/) a spin-out caused by the Sandwich explosion, a replacement woman from GE Healthcare who described the business model for Stem Cells for Safer Medicine (see – http://www.sc4sm.org/) which we jointly fund!) but seemed to be doing it within the company and Rowan Gardner from Biolauncher (see – http://biolauncher.com/) who described the same new idea she explained to me a few weeks ago in Paddington and got carried away with her praise for our activities by describing me as “charming and intelligent” (she doesn’t realise that it would be Strategy Man she has to butter up to get a Smart award!). The evening dinner was on the stage of the amazing Cardiff Millennium Centre and consisted of Chris Evans telling jokes, the Medilink UK Awards (see – http://www.medilinkuk.com/events/medilink-uk-healthcare-business-awards-2012) and some average food in one of the most outstanding locations I have eaten in! Walking back to the hotel took me through the area around Mermaid Quay, which seemed to have all the requisite seaside chains but with a twist of Elvis! Go figure.
The next morning, I left early to avoid the traffic I had encountered the day before and so arrived back in Swindon a good hour or more before I had planned, checked a few bits and caught an earlier train to London in the hope of catching some time at Tracy Island. We were doing well until we got past Reading, where in an incident reminiscent of Henry’s hiding in a tunnel because he didn’t want to get wet (see – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcT0Nsi2l4c) as the train decided to put on its brakes before it had to suffer the shame of being seen in Slough. It took 68 minutes for them to get it started again, so all that extra time got squandered. I therefore got to the Clean and Cool Mission (see – http://cleanandcoolmission.com/) pitching session at Orrick’s Cheapside offices almost exactly on time! There was a moderate amount of coaching (from Irene on this page – http://www.messagelab.co.uk/team.html), a lot of sharing of insights, a small amount of personal abuse, but a few hours later 14 of the 16 companies who are going (see – http://cleanandcoolmission.com/mission-attendees/) were a lot better at putting their points across. We trucked across to the Stock Exchange for the official launch. Greg Barker joined us and we had a whirlwind of quick-fire speeches before being allowed to drink and schmooze. It also got well reported (see – http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2159633/british-coming-uk-prepares-clean-tech-trade-mission even though it’s not a trade mission!) I talked with a number on interesting people but the prize goes to the part conversation/part grope I had with José María Figueres (see – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/José_Mar%C3%ADa_Figueres) about the Carbon War Room (see – http://www.carbonwarroom.com/). Happily, his colleague Peter was less tactile so I talked mostly to him! I excused myself as the young ones went to the bar next door and instead made my way back to the hotel and sat in a different bar with FL for almost 2 hours, having a modest and value for money dinner and trying to sort out the evolving world around us. In particular he briefed me on what he hadn’t promised the Israelis!
That final bit was really important because, the next morning, Le Golding and I had a breakfast meeting at Tracy Island (where they provided breakfast because the visitors were important – that no-one ate!) with a subset of the Israeli delegation. Their first tack was to tell us that “Minister Willetts” had agreed with their Chief Scientist that we would run joint competitions, that FL had agreed a series of these and that they had talked to British Water. We told them that we were an arms-length body to keep us out of politics, that I had been fully briefed by Iain the night before but that talking to UK industry was good! They then quoted the accident of the Norwegian Bio activity at us and we reluctantly agreed that they could join the current Water competition if they moved fast enough, but that we would not take on any extra work outside our current manpower plan. They got quite excited and agreed to go back, read the documentation we gave them and work with us to announce the joint activity, to promote joint working between companies from both countries, to assess in parallel any joint proposals that came in and fully fund any work carried out in Israel. They then said that it had been agreed that we would collaborate on the Biomedical Catalyst Fund and announce this are the end of May. I told them “no”, so am now checking beneath my car a lot.
I then met up with Transport Man and had a coffee with a potential Transport Catapult extra person – and very good they seemed too. TM and I then talked about the Transport Catapult specification before I made my way back to Swindon.
The afternoon was mainly given over to interviews for a DALLAS Programme Manager, and once again the gods of recruitment smiled upon us because both candidates were strong but one was a lot stronger! I went home!
Friday saw a return to Swindon for a series of meetings. First up was an Operational EMT meeting. After the formulaic look at which actions we hadn’t done this time, we discussed a few PAFs, all of which passed, and reviewed the dashboards. I noted that I had some missing Dashboards – this is not good, because we use them at these meetings to make sure everyone is up to speed with our wide range of activities and not reporting means the EMT cannot manage (which is what the M in EMT stands for) and that those who do not report lose points!
We then got on to discuss the latest Management Accounts. Considering that throughout the year we have been told we were heading for an overspend and so have trimmed and delayed our activities, it came as quite a shock to be told we are heading for a large underspend and that we will effectively lose the money. It is nice that we have got an understanding of where the money is after 4 years, but we are now facing the Daily Mail headline along the lines of “Quango too cautious to back innovative businesses”. Pouring on the misery, we then talked about InterimGate and the Sun FoI request to see Directors expenses and realised that anyone mischievous could paint a picture of an organisation that wasn’t in control of itself!
After lunch, someone had arranged some good old-fashioned medieval entertainment. We have funded the Innovation Research Centre for 3 years but know relatively little about what it does. We had (apparently) requested a meeting to understand what they did and what progress had been made. Obviously no-one told the academic they fielded. Instead we got a cringingly ill-prepared run through his old slides to patronise the civil servants. It was punctuated by interesting moments when we got bored and moved to action. Cyrus’s “I’m just a simple accountant, so I don’t understand what we have got for our £1.25m” question was quite fun, because the lecturer missed the irony. I got a little bemused by his academic description of the difference between a Kirznerian entrepreneur (essentially a barrow boy like Alan Sugar who spots a temporary market gap and make short term money filling it) and a Schumpeterian entrepreneur (who has a persistent vision of a different world and the abilities to make it happen – like Steve Jobs) and asked for explanation. Mark kept trying to work out what this had to do with what we did but got no support! All in all, I came away with the feeling that we had wasted our money by not giving them enough direction in the first place and then not paying attention to how they developed.
Continuing the theme of meetings that didn’t really address the issue they purported to, the next meeting was entitled “meeting on creating a searchable database of engaged companies” but started with a discussion about the still non-existent management information system. Strategy Man eventually pointed out that he had called the meeting with a different and simpler aim. We have been developing a database of our grants so that we can answer Freedom of Information requests without the feeling of panic that seems to go with them at the minute. There is debate about what we are required to publish and how we plug the gaps in our knowledge. Meanwhile, we have had requests from many venture capitalists, business angels and the like about how they can find companies in our portfolio and provide them with help and extra money to get them to the commercial world faster that SME Funding Manboy is leading on. Given our history, it was implied that we would develop separate systems to answer similar questions and waste effort and SM was after coordinating before rather than after. I think. Considering we put off Lyndsay Williams (see – http://thebln.com/2011/05/how-the-technology-strategy-board-spent-635-million-company-by-company/) FoI request for grant details a year ago by telling her we were developing such a database, and the 4-5 months we took to answer a polite request from the Automotive Council and the SMMT to give them a list of projects funded under the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform, it does appear to be an interesting position to be in!
On the way home, I took full advantage of the Bluetooth handsfree capability in my car to participate in a telephone conference with Healthcare Man and some of the Catapult team to smooth down some confusion caused by a meeting where they had gone through the blueprint document developed by the CTC Enforcer and erroneously understood the role of the Catapult was to build a government owned cell therapy company. This reinforced for me once more the danger of our poor internal communications – the blueprint is akin to the “owners manual” for the first few years of the Catapult and sets out what it might do in partnership with industry. We haven’t yet really written the “brochure” that shows the vision and longer term deliverables, and should be read before the blueprint. I think we started sorting it, but will need to follow up next week.