David Broadhead is all for a return to Victorian values – at least when it comes to revitalising Britain’s entrepreneurial spirit.
His Christmas present wish list includes steeplejack Fred Dibnah’s book Victorian Heroes. Says David: “The Brunels and the Telfords had belief, ambition and endeavour to built these fantastic railways, bridges and ships.
“We live in a ‘can’t do’ society where we seem to look for reasons not to do something. We have ‘me too’ businesses that simply copy others instead of trying to be innovative. Businesses need to be looking ahead, looking over the horizon instead of staring at their bootlaces.”
By accident or design, David seems to have been at the cutting edge throughout his career.
He grew up in Dalton and after passing his 11-plus went to King James Grammar School.
“I was always fascinated by cars and motorbikes and engines,” he says. “I wanted to be involved in designing racing cars, but I never achieved that particular ambition.”
Instead, David took a degree in design engineering at Huddersfield Polytechnic. Sponsored by David Brown Gears, his final year project was the design a twin layshaft waggon gearbox – only for the company to pull out of that product sector. It is the type of gearbox manufacturers like Volkswagen fit into their cars.
At David Brown, he got involved in gearbox design and development for the British Army’s Challenger 2 tank. Says David: “It was immensely satisfying – in my early to mid-20s – to be designing these big test facilities and helping to get a 60-ton battle working!”
Undertaking management training during those early years at the company introduced David to “people, rather than bits of metal”. He says: “I learned about how things interact, how to make things work and how to think ahead.”
David was then promoted to lead a project to design and build transmissions for rocket launch vehicles. The Lockwood-based company won orders worth many millions of pounds for the transmission units in the UK and Europe.
“It was wonderful to build a team, developing people, see them flourish and achieve things they thought they could not achieve,” says David.
However, he soon experienced the “downside” of management when the 1990s recession struck.
After running David Brown’s fabrications business at Penistone, he was given the unhappy task of closing a number of the company’s operations and cutting jobs. “It was very challenging,” he says. “My experience had been about improving and developing – building things. It made me thing about what’s important and what isn’t.”
David left the company in 1993 to set up his own consultancy, helping firms find more efficient and effective ways to work through better management.
He also began lecturing part-time at Huddersfield University’s business school, working with mature students on their MBA qualifications.
He set up Partners in Management in 1999, initially delivering the university’s courses on a franchise basis across the UK and in countries such as Poland and Greece as well as running session at a training facility in Armitage Bridge.
He used “action learning” techniques – working with groups of six or seven to talk through problems and combine academic and practical ideas to help their organisations improve.
Says David: “My philosophy is that I don’t believe I can teach anyone anything – but they can learn a lot from me! It is about facilitating learning through my experiences.”
David worked with public and private sector organisations – recognising that the same management-related issues apply in both.
David also began developing a new concept – bringing together a group of senior managers and leaders from a variety of organisations to meet and debate “the big issues” for the UK economy.
Its quarterly deliberations have proved remarkably prescient. Back in 2009, for instance, forum members were already discounting hopes of an early recovery from the credit crunch.
Earlier this year, they warned that UK manufacturing would struggle to exploit any opportunities provided by world economic growth and advantageous exchange rates – while arguing that the public sector had not yet seen the cuts necessary to balance the economy. They also warned against over-ambitious economic growth projections and the need to find new sources of finance for firms to invest.
Partly as a result of the forum’s early forecasts, Partners in Management also developed its RIDFEAR self-coaching model to help people facing challenges such as redundancy to develop self-belief, find the skills and qualifications needed to thrive in an uncertain business environment.
“We realised that the country was heading for a so-called decade of austerity,” said David. “We could see that coming in 2008 with the combination of debt and the inflationary pressures caused by rising demand from emerging markets like China and India.
“We knew we were faced with difficult times and that we would have to develop better leadership and management skills – and that we would have to be innovative.”
Says David: “A lot of traditional management education focuses on knowledge – teaching and testing. But a key aspect of being a manager is personal development, knowing yourself and others and growing and developing as an individual.
“One of the things we have designed into our programmes is to get people to think about themselves, their abilities, their achievements, their attitudes and their experiences.”
David, an ambassador for the Chartered Management Institute, is looking forward to 2012. His goals for next year also hark back to its early ambitions surrounding fast cars!.
“I spend a lot of time reading and writing on my area of expertise and I exercise by going to the gym,” he says. “But I also have a couple of Triumph Spitfires and several motorbikes in various states of disrepair.
“It is the 50th anniversary of the Triumph Spitfire next year and I want at least one of them to be in working order for that!”