The Business of People.
For someone who’s never lived in North East England, Phil sure is a fan of the area. He’s been heavily involved in its growth and development for many years during his time at BASF and now as CE for the National Skills Academy Process Industries (NSAPI). So, just what is the attraction?
“I really enjoy working in the North East and with the people there. The commitment to making the region a better place to work and the focus on young people comes through all the time – and it’s very inspiring,” enthuses Phil.
Phil was brought up in the Midlands, and studied at Coventry University. He worked in HR – his abiding passion – for 15 years at Austin Rover’s Longbridge plant (a baptism of fire, as it was during the big industrial disputes) and within various roles at BASF, before moving into consultancy and then General Management.
In my time in HR I saw the transition from Personnel Management to Human Resources, and it was NOT just a name change. In many companies the Personnel Department was a ‘tea and sympathy’ and grievance and discipline department, sitting between employees and the management, with very little influence on the strategy and direction of the business. The move to HR saw an influx of new talent. Often these people came from other disciplines, which brought a new perspective and strength to the HR function.”
The people side of Pharmaceuticals has also changed dramatically in the last decade. Ten years ago new entries into the laboratories were HNC and HND qualified; now they’re regularly degree and post-degree qualified, and this requires a greater focus on the management of talent. Phil believes career progression is essential if people are going to remain motivated as they continue to work for the company. Pharmaceuticals has also become a much more international environment, as production facilities are developed in China and India.
In 2002 Phil decided to try his hand at something other than big corporates, having become “less tolerant of the corporate politics and decision making”. Wanting to do something for himself, he began consulting to SMEs to support them with strategy, business development and growth.
Despite the consultancy not specifically focusing on HR, many issues faced by SMEs are people related, particularly as they grow. Says Phil, “Often, business owners who start their own business do so because they have a good idea, or because they have a particular expertise – they don’t do it because they’re good at managing people. So, when they grow their business they recruit people and have to manage them – and that’s when they need advice and support.”
In 2007 he sold his consultancy and was asked by emda (East Midlands Development Agency) to set up a High Growth Programme aimed at supporting companies in the region that had the potential for rapid expansion. The project was a natural extension of the work done in his consultancy and was very successful, to the extent that it was eventually copied by a number of other regions in the UK before the demise of the Regional Development Agencies in 2010.
But in 2008 Phil was approached about a role he found impossible to turn down – Chief Executive of NSAPI. “This was a role which combined all my previous experience: a focus on skills and training from my HR involvement, setting up and running a company from my General Management era, and the Process Industries from my time at BASF.” It was also the role that brought him back to North East England.
The Academy is a private limited company; it’s a commercial organisation but received support for its set up from government through the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). It’s licensed to be a National Skills Academy and its role is to support companies in the Process Industries as they seek to grow and develop world-class skills. Its focus is on process safety, competence and leadership and management, all essential issues for process industry companies, especially pharmaceutical companies working in a highly regulated environment where they need to compete on a world stage with world-class people.
Phil works at creating balance in his life. He cooks well and plays golf “very, very badly”, while family and travel are fundamental joys. But his personal goals for the Academy are clear and driving: to put the business on a very strong financial footing; and position it as the number one organisation for skills support for any company – large or small – in the Process Industries.