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Profile: Robert Wainwright

This is a company that’s been built on engineering excellence

was a natural step for BVM to bring together the various skills and partnership relationships we have, to offer a complete solution. A key challenge and barrier to entry for this emerging market is the fragmented elements of the value chain and technologies, hence our approach, which includes the ‘one-box’ hardware, airtime, operating system and distribution.” But as well as focusing on external

relationships Wainwright has also looked to address problems closer to home. “It’s easy to come in to a business and be a whirlwind of activity but that’s not always the right approach, from my experience. It’s more important to look and listen and actually get to understand the business and how it works. And by doing that you very quickly identify the priorities that need to be addressed. The board were very receptive. They knew change was required and I was the new broom brought in to make it happen. Often it takes an outsider to not only identify the problems but to uncover the ‘diamonds’ that exist within the business. “This company is all about meeting customer demands and I think that is what makes it very different; I like to think we’re a great company to do business with!” It’s that ‘great to do business with’ ethos which is at the heart of how BVM operates and it highlights the importance attached to partnership and teamwork, whether that’s between staff and customers or with suppliers. As Wainwright says, “This approach goes hand-in-hand with our core capabilities of technical expertise, development, responsiveness, production and partnership, what the company calls its 5Cs.

“As a company we’re described as

hardware development partners and that’s what we do - work in partnership with our customers to develop markets and take existing products into new areas. We want to be instrumental in identifying and developing the next opportunity.”

Commercial approach The commercial approach that he’s brought into the company is certainly paying off. BVM is far more pro-active than in the past and last year the company saw growth of over 20 per cent, and unlike many other companies this wasn’t your typical ‘bounce-back’ from recession in 2009 but rather growth on top of growth. “By any conventional measure we’re a

small business, but I like to describe us as a big company with fifteen people. Look at our list of clients and how we’ve re- energised our relationship with Microsoft. This has always been a well run business but I’ve been able to bring a fresh pair of eyes to the way it operates.” How hard was it to drive change at


“The owners wanted to take the business forward - that was obvious. We have a great technical reputation in the market and most people recognised that in a tough economic climate we needed to make changes in order to go forward. There were so many hidden gems or diamonds in this company - all it needed was someone to come along and give them a polish!”

BVM has had a long and deep

relationship with suppliers based out in Taiwan that goes back over ten years. Major partner factories include Commell and IEI and for Wainwright it has been vital that the company continued to communicate the changes it was undertaking directly with them. “We visit our suppliers in Taiwan

regularly, we were over in Taipei in June, as there is nothing to beat face to face contact to develop a real understanding of the opportunities available to us.“ Wainwright is clear about the future

direction of the company and that it needs to be based on customers having confidence that the company is able to deliver whatever the project undertaken to time and on budget. “We like a challenge, our engineers like a challenge and we’re very focused on research and development. The key is once you have established a relationship, a partnership, we can work together to see where that product can or could go. It’s all about being proactive and talking to customers and suppliers.“ With the evidence mounting that the UK economy is flat lining and unlikely to show significant growth over the coming few years the lack of certainty in the market is the company’s and Wainwright’s chief concern. “Ideally we’re expecting to see similar

growth to that which we saw last year. We’re doing all the right things but we’re dependent on the state of the economy. In terms of specific vertical markets growth is coming from the mobile space and I see BVM Mobile playing an increasingly important role. Interestingly enough our micro-systems division, which we expected to weaken, showed strong growth last year, and we’re expecting this tried and trusted technology to remain a good earner going forward.”

My background is sales and marketing and this was an area of significant weakness. I’ve ensured that a disparate sales team is exactly that - a team. We have regular meetings, I’m in touch with them constantly and their focus is on sales. I don’t burden them with bureaucracy, but it’s important that they feel empowered.” Earlier this year BVM opened a branch in

Ireland. Located on the outskirts of Dublin, BVM Ireland represents the next phase in BVM’s long term growth strategy and the expansion into Ireland is designed to enable the company to offer its full range of products and services to the local market. BVM Ireland is being used as a showcase for the company’s newly launched BVM Mobile. Exports currently account for 12 per cent of the company’s revenues and while Wainwright is keen to grow that his focus is on growing the company’s presence in the UK and Ireland.

“Focus, because if you start too many

projects, you’ll end up doing none of them well.”

Early years Wainwright has worked for some very different companies over the years and as an experienced general manager his career has embraced start-ups, turnarounds, strategic management and sales and marketing. He’s got a good track record when it comes to stabilising businesses and then taking them forward. In fact before joining BVM he had been running Innovations, a business he had set up to offer sales, marketing and distribution services to help companies access the UK and Irish markets. Born in Shropshire, his parents had their own automotive business and Wainwright spent his early years growing up around the motor trade. After leaving school he joined the family business and when it was sold decided to stay with the acquiring company, Automotive Products, and work with them.

The company has four key divisions and has worked hard not to become dependent or over exposed to one or other vertical market. Times are changing and Wainwright concedes that might have to change going forward, “At this stage let the economy do what it is going to do, and as things develop we may look to drill down into selected vertical markets.”

Sales & marketing

While the company has been long established one area that had been neglected was its sales and marketing division. Wainwright’s appointment brought a much greater focus and the team was expanded significantly. “We needed a sales team on the road.

“It was a straightforward decision and within two years I was a branch manager. I really wanted to prove myself within the business. I became part of a team that travelled around the UK visiting other divisions and branches teaching best practice. After a few years I was approached by another company, a Spanish company called SEA Tudor, who were looking for someone to launch a new division in the UK. A specialist in industrial,

automotive and commercial batteries my name had come up in conversations with various customers whose paths I’d crossed. “I think I got the job because I certainly had the energy they were looking for and I had the right skill set to make a success of a new division. To launch it effectively you needed to know how distribution worked, how to develop sales and marketing and have a deep understanding of the overall supply chain. You also had to have the ability to make things happen.” While with SEA Tudor Wainwright was encouraged to go to University where he studied Business Management and that proved a useful experience when he became general manager when he was just 31.

“By then the business was under intense

pressure and it needed to be restructured. We changed a lot of things - big and small - from cutting printing costs to restructuring the company’s supply chain. The market was very tough and going through significant changes globally. Europe then, and the UK in particular, was a very fragmented market. We had to live off very small margins and that required a lot of creative thinking as to how we could do things differently. By the end of my time there our products were more profitable, we’d gained market share and we’d taken out a lot of costs.” From SEA Tudor Wainwright moved on to raaco International, a specialist in steel capped boots. Quite a move. “To be honest I didn’t want to become industry restricted. I wanted to expand my experience and I like the challenge associated with taking on new businesses in different industries. I was MD at raaco. It was a long established business that supplied factories with safety footwear. When I joined I took the view that we should be supplying them with all their personal safety needs from hard hats and fleeces to shoes - the complete product range and that approach proved a real success.

“They also had brands like Tuf that

weren’t being used. I took it and re- launched it.”

After nearly seven years with raaco

Wainwright moved on to Ewbank a consumer goods industrial retailer that supplied floor cleaning products. Around since the late 1890s it had been a famous brand that had fallen on hard times. “I took over from the retiring MD and

As a general manager or MD I like to get out and about. It is so important in business to be proactive

realised that the business needed to change. It had a lot of brand awareness in the market among a certain age group, and that provided the base from which we began to reposition and re-launch the brand. I went on QVC to sell products, we worked with Argos, brought new products to the range and even managed to get some product placing on Big Brother.” It is that approach that typifies

Wainwright’s way of doing business. As he explains it is all about aligning the business to the market it serves.

“As a general manager or MD I like to get out and about. It is so important in business to be proactive. I do feel sometimes that too many senior managers in UK businesses don’t adapt and respond to the needs of their markets. It’s too easy to blame the recession or unfair competition when the problems are often nearer to home.“ I don’t think that’s an accusation that could be levelled at Wainwright. ■

Components in Electronics July/August 2011 15

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