I've just returned from presenting a series of intensive courses on Industrial Automation covering everything from process control, PLC's and industrial data communications. A subject close to my heart and vital to our long term success in maintaining viable businesses and engineering jobs. As I note below.
An incredibly successful application of industrial automation was highlighted this week with the death of Nicolas Hayek, who 'saved' the Swiss watchmaking industry. You may recall that during the 1980's, the Swiss - although originally the largest in the world in terms of making watches - were racking up massive losses with the inevitable cut price competition from Asia. Nothing different from other industries you may exclaim. Presumably, the banks who were funding these dying watchmaking companies also went to the Swiss government begging for handouts and were rebuffed, and Hayek (as a consultant) was hired to sell off these failing companies and recover 'der money for der banks'. However he took the reverse tack and transformed the industry into what must rate as an international success story in manufacturing and marketing.
Hayek never invented the Swatch (a cheap, plastic and colourful watch); but his genius was in identifying, managing and nurturing the talents of others - engineers, managers, and marketing types in turning the Swiss watch making industry around. The swatch was invented by someone else (Ernst Thomke) who worked out ways to reduce the number of parts and to use highly automated production lines to make watches that were disposable. This was dovetailed with brilliant marketing to make them a 'must have” fashion accessory. This enabled the Swiss to beat the Japanese at the bottom end of the market. Hayek also attacked the top end of the watch market by driving the marketing of their luxury appeal to another responsive market. Thus a two pronged strategy in attacking both low and high ends of the watch market and which was extremely successful. Last year, Swiss firms exported nearly 23m watches worth more than $12bn and now have an incredible quarter of the world market. An amazing transformation from a basket case in the eighties.
What can we learn here ?
• Avoid brutish simplifications in competing – eg. If the competition is simply about price, think of other ways of creating enormous value
• A firm needs talented leadership to grow and lead the interlocking people in an organisation
• A wide range of interlocking talent is essential for businesses to be successful – engineering, marketing, administration, operations and so on.
• Change is a constant when a business has to grow – examine all options
• Engineering must be tied closely into marketing and the overall business case.
• Think laterally about challenges to your jobs and your company's health
• Keep identifying new technologies and ways of doing things – learn new approaches on a daily basis
And above all – never give up.
I believe Bill Cosby's take on (engineering) success:
I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.
Yours in engineering learning