Retiring Managing Director of JCB Finance Ltd
Paul has worked in managerial jobs for JCB Finance Ltd for over 40 years. He worked his way up to Managing Director and then became Director at Finance & Leasing Association. He has also received a Fellowship and the Sir Henry Fildes Award from the Chartered Management Institute.
What are the global challenges for business leaders?
"The first challenge is globalisation and one of the greatest indicators of globalisation was the COVID-19 pandemic itself which has caused some lasting impact.
Globalisation has been involved in creating a new production method for many companies in the UK and the western world and has been very reliant on long supply chains. These supply lines and production are vulnerable if it all doesn’t work smoothly. Globalisation has had a big impact in being successful but is also now making people scratch their heads.
The second thing I would like to relate to about the challenges is energy. With energy we just focus on gas and oil but actually gas, oil and coal, are also raw materials in so much of what we have come to rely on in the world. So, gas and electricity for heating and other supplies, oil for petrol and diesel but it also produces the chemicals for fertilisers, the plastics that we all rely on. Going forward there is going to be difficulty in that comfort that we have enjoyed over so many years.
Back in March 2020 when the pandemic struck in the UK and when we are all transitioning to working from home, we as a management team started to consider what will the new normal be like when we come out of the pandemic. The more I think about it today, is that the new normal is reflecting back at the complacency that we had about those extended supply lines and the time of plenty.
The next thing to mention is this relatively new thing called ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance). Three initials that are going to ring loud within the corporate and small business world.
My next item is working from home itself. We have got used to, for those people that can, working from home. There has been criticism of the Government and the civil service as they don’t want to go back working in the offices. Frankly, if you have a two-hour commute, both ways, then I can understand people being resistant to coming back, particularly when customers and other people reliant on services have not noticed a great deal of difference in the service. In general work from home is here to stay.
As an employer I may say to myself I don’t need people who are in 40 miles of my operation I have actually got the world to play with. I can cast my net wider than just the local area. If I decide I can do my job sat on a beach in Barbados that is my option to try and find an employer who is comfortable with that.
There is an issue about productivity when we can’t see people in an office. How can we ensure normal or better levels of productivity are achieved? In my experience there has been no change in productivity, in fact people have been working longer hours whilst based at home. Culture to me is very precious. It is the special thing that sets businesses and organisations apart. When you join a new organisation, you feel that culture. How do we maintain that depth of culture and specialness if we are working from home when we don’t get that face-to-face contact?
The final point is the speed of change. Businesses are certainly speeding up their change and digital is certainly propelling that change. We must be careful that we don’t offer the same digital offering as everybody else. So, what is the differentiation? I think that is the challenge for business leaders today.
The skills needed to be a leader have not really changed. Leaders have to have mastery of their topic, have to be visionary. I am a firm believer that leaders have to show mastery over their topic, they have to be visionary and are authentic."
What role do universities play?
"The role of universities is fundamental to a modern economy and developing talent. Businesses and organisations in the UK need state of the art, educated students and bright calibre graduates. A place like Aston has such a reputation for this and I am really envious that I never spent time at Aston. Other things universities could do is deliver depth of knowledge in behavioural economics and nudge theory. Also, human relations and how we interplay with other people and create alliances.
The world is full of means to communicate and I think we’d agree the quality and standard of communication today has never been poorer, so we need to choose our words carefully. An old boss of mine used to say words are the tools of our trade and in many cases they are. Let’s use words wisely, lets have restraint where we see difficulties in communication."
Why did I want to become a Visiting Professor?
"I am a humble Midlander and to find myself in this position at Aston is an honour and privilege. I will be working alongside Professor Tim Baines and the Advanced Services Group. We will be exploring Servitisation and outcome based contracts and their implications and benefits for this net zero transition. I am really excited about this and have received a terrific welcome. The moment I walked onto the campus I realised this was a place of serious learning and if I can give back some of my experience that will be a job worth doing."