One giant step for man…

Chartered Engineer Nigel Perry has spent 30 years’ in the global Process Industry. More than 20 of these were with ICI, including working in Asia, Europe and the US. Conversant in four languages and having been bestowed with a Kelabit (from Borneo) name meaning ‘the man who can stride from the Earth to the Moon in one step’, he attributes his valuable experience gained in collaboration as integral to turning CPI into the world-class resource support for the Process Industry it is today.

Nigel is ‘officially’ a Scouser, though you wouldn’t know it from his accent. He was born within the sound of the One O’clock Gun that was fired daily for ships in the River Mersey to synchronise their chronometers and, like the Bow Bells in London for Cockneys, it defines Scousers.

But having travelled extensively during his two decades with ICI (working in engineering, operations, technology management, and project and business management), he picked up languages, accents, knowledge of cultural idiosyncrasies – and a new name. “I spent a great deal of time with the Kelabit people in Borneo, and the Best Man at my wedding nine years ago was a Kelabit. The Kelabit give you a new name on the birth of your first child at a huge party called an Irau. I attended my Best Man’s Irau, where I was given the honour of a new name – Agan Tadun – which means ‘the man who can stride from the Earth to the Moon in one step.’” As a result of his adventures, Nigel speaks French “at a survival level”, and is fluent enough in German and Bahasa Malaysia to “get about quite successfully”.

His exposure to the ways of different people and approaches to life has taught him sophisticated collaboration techniques, a vital skill when the hardest part of his decade long journey with Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) has been bringing together the private and public sectors so that they understand and trust each other – and CPI – “to let us get on with the job.”

He’s certainly qualified enough to get on with the job: as well as being a Fellow and past Technical Vice President of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, he’s a Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. He has an MA in Engineering Science from the University of Oxford, and is an alumnus of the Accelerated Development Programme at London Business School and the Entrepreneurship Development Program at MIT. He was also elected as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2010 and is a Visiting Professor at Newcastle University.

Following ICI, Nigel joined PricewaterhouseCoopers for 18 months, focusing on the development, consolidation and evolution of the European High Technology Sector. In 2003 he was tempted away from London when he was appointed a Director and Chief Executive Officer of CPI.

CPI started as a regional initiative under One North East, and in just a decade Nigel has ramped it from start-up to a staff of more than 200 high calibre scientists and engineers. “We have a sensational team of people who work tirelessly to make CPI perform,” says Nigel. “Without them, CPI wouldn’t be where it is today.”?Today, it’s widely viewed as an exemplar of the public and private sectors working together to establish innovation supply chains in new technologies – a vital competence much needed in the UK, which has been recognised by CPI becoming part of the Government’s first elite High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

CPI worked “long and hard” to establish the Catapult concept, devised to help companies reach higher Technology Readiness Levels and have a better chance of getting products to market. As a result of this collaboration with Government, Nigel now spends a great deal of time working with policy makers and industry to ensure that the environment CPI works in and how it responds to opportunities maximises its contribution and success.Perhaps one of its most important achievements to date is a letter from Herman Hauser, of The Hauser Report fame, telling Nigel that he hoped he liked his report, as it was largely based on CPI.

With customers and partners in 35 countries, CPI is seen as World Class in much of what it does, and European Class for everything else. Says Nigel, “It’s much bigger much more successful than I had ever envisioned it would be, and has exceeded my wildest dreams. I’m hugely proud of what we’ve achieved.”

But, perhaps not surprisingly, Nigel is already looking to the future.

We must get the £38m National Biologics Centre (part of the Government’s drive to grow health industries) into successful operation, but we’re already looking beyond that at how we grow CPI further. We have a number of ambitious projects and ideas that we’re working up and looking for support for. Perhaps the most immediate is the creation of the National Formulations Centre, which will serve and support companies whose products are formulations – sophisticated mixtures of the materials where the effect of the sum is much greater than the parts, such as paint and personal care products.”

Although from the North West of England, Nigel has had a house in the North East since 1979, “so I really have two homes.” He lives with his wife, stepson, dog – and 50,000 bees. An amateur beekeeper with five colonies, this number grows to around 250,000 in summer.

While travel is now mainly limited to the UK – “permanent jet lag is something to be avoided” – his bucket list is littered with international destinations: climb Mount Mulu in Borneo; become a ski instructor for Saga Holidays; go to Antarctica “before it becomes a no-no”; visit Australia. “Many things. I’ve learnt to try to do loads and, amazingly, you tend to achieve loads: I got to fly on Concorde transatlantic by accident on my fortieth birthday – I could never have planned that.”?

So, as a leader of technology and innovation in the UK, what one piece of technology could Nigel not live without? “Literally, my replacement hip! What a brilliant piece of medical engineering technology. Otherwise, I’m sad to say, the Internet and my iPad.”


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