David Holt: Making it work

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As Managing Director of BGB Innovation, David Holt may be following in his father’s footsteps, but as he drives the company forward, he admits to having a rather different style of leadership.

Meanwhile, his dad, David Trevor, who is now company Chairman, continues to take an active interest in the fortunes of the Grantham business he founded, popping in a couple of days each week to work in the office next to his son.

Think of almost any industry, from wind power generation to waste water treatment, packaging machinery, roundabouts, radar and revolving theatre sets, and you will discover that they all have a need for BGB’s products.

Follow this award-winning company’s track record and it is obvious that its success is down to sheer hard work and diversification. But David (Jnr), who found himself sitting in the “hot seat” earlier than expected, remains confident that it has the ability to go much further.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Life threw a curve ball

“I joined the company in 1997 and concentrated on marketing and developing our IT infrastructure, before becoming Managing Director in 2011,” said David.

“At that point we didn’t follow a succession plan as my father, nor I, were ready to take that formal step. However, unforeseen circumstances intervened. He was taken ill, forcing that decision. It was a case of reacting to the situation facing us.

“We’re proud of what we have achieved. Dad saw great success deploying empowerment at operational level. Strategy decisions continued to be controlled at board level.

“I am however keen to see everyone working for us taking ownership and being accountable for what they produce. I want it to be their trainset, making the tactical decisions and offering up strategic options to the directors. I’ll be there as support,” said David.

Despite having to grasp the reins at an unexpected moment, David has helped BGB to maintain a steady performance in excess of £20 million. It remains an important employer – now of some 110 people.

Ten years ago the business, which started life as BGB Engineering, rebranded to be called BGB Innovation. That milestone reflected its sheer diversity and the way it has expanded to have engineering, marine and telemetry divisions. Stand-alone businesses also include US-based BGB Technology, Inc. and BGB SILS.

The Engineering side of the business – designs and manufactures electrical and electronic slip rings assemblies (electromagnetic devices which allow the transmission of power and signals from stationary to rotating parts) and the associated brush holders incorporating carbon brushes.

This “division” contributes a majority £18 million-plus to sales and it is still exploring new opportunities in sustainable markets.

“In 2004, we acquired another Grantham business, Aquabeam and we now produce a range which includes underwater lights for fish farms, nuclear pools and architectural applications,” said David.

“Our underwater lighting was actually used as part of the set for the television series Gladiators.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Creative development

The firm’s Telemetry division – which produced about £1.5 million turnover, promotes the use of future technologies, including Fibre Optic Rotary Joints – contactless slip rings which allow for the high speed transfer of data.

“BGB SILS is an exciting development in contactless yacht lighting. Our SILS systems can be fitted without the need to drill into the hull of a vessel and the owner can operate the vessel’s lighting remotely, using a smartphone,” said David.

Today 90% of BGB’s products are exported to world markets, stretching from Europe to Australia, India, America and China.

However, despite its success – and having celebrated 40 years in business this summer – the company is not about to rest on its laurels.

True, it is already multi-faceted, and you only have to take a (very long) walk around its headquarters and meet the shopfloor teams working in their various cells and see the wide variety of equipment to understand that this is a business with a mix of traditional engineering and modern technical skills.

That means it has the capability and agility to respond to anyone, from a customer needing a replacement part for a dated piece of equipment, to a client looking for a smart solution which taps into latest technology.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Ambitious for high growth

“We are now at a point where we need to be more pro-active, if we are to tap into new markets and grasp profitable, high-volume opportunities,” said David.

“We are restructuring; a new MD is to assume my seat as from January 2017 and a Senior Management Team will be formalised to support him as I move to a Group CEO role. The changes are extremely exciting.

“Physically, we have almost outgrown our current premises, so we have just taken the lease on a 13,000 sq ft unit in nearby Turnpike Close.”

Staff working within BGB Discovery – a section supporting new business development – will include Research & Development, product development experts and employees working on our latest contactless systems,” said David.

“We have been discussing plans with South Kesteven District Council to potentially bring all parts of our business together under one roof in, say, three to five years’ time. But it is a case of securing the right location to support our aspirations.

“We would really love to stay in the local area. For a start, there are the emotional ties. We have loyal and committed workforce, with several long serving staff, and a handful of people who travel more than 25 miles to work at BGB. With the A1 on our doorstep, we also have good transport links,” said David

“In the past, we have usually taken on a couple of apprentices a year, in collaboration with Grantham College. We want to get back on track with that as we employ long term succession plans.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

It’s about attitude and mindset

Whilst respecting the highly-skilled members of the BGB team, particularly those with traditionally-honed engineering and specialist moulding and assembly skills, David is starting to take a very modern approach to building the workforce of the future.

“We are changing our tack a little recruitment-wise, when it comes to skill sets and experience. We are now more interested in an applicant’s personal values and finding people who are enthusiastic, motivated and who have the right attitude and supportive mindset. We are happy to invest in our people and train to fill skills gaps.”

And it seems there will be plenty of encouragement for those who are.

“Staff are incentivised to come-up with bright ideas for helping us to work more efficiently and effectively, and it is working well.

“Previously successful schemes were no longer truly motivating the majority of the workforce, so now rewards are being more aligned to values and behaviours, team and individual performance against set objectives.”

BGB’s Management Team has been working on a new strategy to take the company forward. “We have already had workshop days with strategic experts to look at where we go from here, but we are talking about high growth opportunities and we are aspiring to win higher volume orders,” said David.

“We already see opportunities within the wind, tidal wave and other sustainable industries, but I believe there are also good future opportunities to win valuable aerospace, military and medical sector orders,” said David.

Naturally, these ambitions will need to be matched by further investment in research and development and in gaining the necessary certifications to allow the company to tender for aerospace orders, in particular. You sense that BGB will have no problem rising to those challenges.

When he’s not in his office, in meetings or talking to his team mates, David enjoys spending time with his family, watching live sport, playing golf and dipping into a good book.

He recently read Maverick! by Richard Semler. It about the success story of the World’s Most Unusual Workplace, which is built on forgetting the rules and letting the workers make the decisions.

A few months ago he was introduced to Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” by a trusted coach. Its content and themes truly resonated with David, and perhaps have paved the way to help him achieve what it says on the tin.

This feature interview was first published in issue 98 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.