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2018 Year of Engineering

To mark The Year of Engineering, here's  Sydney Padua's envisioning of my personal engineering hero, the one and only Isambard Kingdom Brunel:

If you haven't already read it, check out Sydney Padua's comic novel The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, featuring the founders of computing and other Victorian engineering heroes in all kinds of bonkers derring-do. (T-shirts, coffee mugs, etc. are available from Zazzle).

The UK Government has designated 2018 as The Year of Engineering, and launched a campaign to promote engineering in all its forms as a career.  I still think of myself as a systems engineer; the skills I learnt have been invaluable and widely applicable throughout my career as an executive and director.
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In which I talk about life, the universe and everything

Access Granted, the online podcast channel, focuses on NZ tech sector and related themes. They interviewed me recently. We discussed change, tech, research & education, construction, and directorship. We covered a lot of ground. If you've got a spare hour, here's the link:

Is innovation sufficient?

Governments, business theorists and business media are obsessed with innovation. Vast sums of money are expended on government-sponsored research. Something’s bound to pay off with a ground-breaking new technology that will increase jobs, wealth and foreign-exchange earnings, won’t it? However, innovation is only the start of the process. We’ve got plenty of innovation, and we aren’t short of new businesses either. The problem is creating better, larger businesses that can foot it internationally (with full overseas operations, not just exporting).

The Economist explored the same issue, reporting on those who question the fear of US companies being overwhelmed by technological innovation coming out of India and China.
So does the relative decline of America as a technology powerhouse really amount to a threat to its prosperity? Nonsense, insists Amar Bhidé of Columbia Business School. In “The Venturesome Economy” ... he explains why he thinks this gloomy thesis misunderstands innovation…

The move from manager to executive

Many young technology companies do very little to build the leadership skills of their people, relying on recruiting or being acquired to solve their future leadership needs; and where’s the payback if a fast business sale is the aim? More established businesses and public sector organisations send their people on courses to acquire entry-level technical, commercial and team leadership skills. Some governments actively encourage this by subsidizing industry training programmes. But what about developing senior management?

Promising managers are often sent to various executive education programmes, although less so in mid-size organisations, despite increasingly valuable and relevant programmes targeted at them. But even in the most committed organisations, if there is no supportive context for the manager to move up to the next level, he or she may struggle to make the shift, and fail. Professor Doug Ready of MIT's Sloan Business School has published several papers on making the mo…

Bank on your back? Act like a receiver

I’ve had this conversation often, including with myself on a couple of occasions. Most businesses go through a major financial crisis at some point. You just don’t hear about most of them unless they prove fatal. The banks are very tough on anyone in breach of their bank covenants (key financial targets which have to be met or the bank can call in its loan).

Assuming your business is salvageable, the best way to keep the bank from sending in the receivers is to be tougher than they would be. By that I mean that you should think like a receiver - drastically chopping expenditure, cutting staff, closing branches, taking a large axe to management, killing off non-profitable products and services, and so on. Not half-hearted measures, but really tough-minded ones. If you’ve got a plan that the bank can easily see is tougher than what they’d do, you’ve got a chance of staying in control - providing you actually do what you said you’d do. And you’ve got a better chance of preserving some …