Credentials / main areas of expertise

A common thread throughout my career, which is particularly relevant to my role at Covesion, has been my experience in starting up, growing and transforming technical businesses. My career has focussed on taking a business that was either just forming or that had been underperforming for a while and turning that business into something that delivers; more employment, more opportunities for employees, better products for customers and better returns for stakeholders.

One of the ways in which I do this is by translating between the business and scientific sides of the organisation. For a technical company like Covesion, it is vital to bring that commercial understanding into the technical environment and visa versa. I am a chemist by training  but have always had an interest in all branches of science and I have used my broad science base to understand how, for example at Covesion, PPLN works and then how that can be translated into a business benefit, how can we grow, what markets we can pursue.

As with most people, I have learnt a lot along the way, and it is important that you take the successes and the mistakes and apply them to whatever role you are in. You change as a person as well – I look back at the person I was when I was involved in starting up Alpheus Environmental aged 21; I am a very different person now. You have to understand that you and your team will change as well.

Favourite part of your job

Seeing something change, seeing something become better. I like targets, I like tangible achievements. One of my weaknesses is that I am constantly beating myself up that things are not happening fast enough. I like to see things change so that when you look back at something that you have done, you can see that either that person has changed or developed or the business is in a much healthier place now. I also think that I have probably stuck with the science and technology field because I am a little bit geeky and I do like a bit of science. It’s where I trained, it’s where I came from, it is what I will always be interested in, so there is that side of me.

Career highlight so far

There is probably a couple of examples. The first business I helped to start was called Alpheus Environmental. I set up one of the divisions delivering liquid waste management at a treatment works, I had to understand the impact of the waste on the treatment processes and walk a fine line between what was commercially beneficial and what was technically possible. I took on a Supervisor for one of the waste disposal sites. He came into the business right at the ground level, bearing in mind the field of business that it was, he was literally ‘mucking in’ every day. That same colleague took over as Director of my division when I left, and then ultimately became the Managing Director of the whole business. That to me is a fantastic achievement. When you have taken someone on, right at the ground level and then they have really made it. A lot of it was obviously his own effort and talent but I hope I played a small part in developing him, giving him the confidence and belief in himself and his abilities, and I am proud of that.

The second career highlight was when I was working at Smithers Rapra in Shropshire. When I joined the company, they were just coming out of administration, the team were really demoralised and there was an uncertainty created by the new ways of a foreign owner. By our united efforts we were able to pull through that and turn into a strong, growing company. In the three or four years I was there they grew 30% despite the challenges of the financial crisis which wiped out ~£1M sales within a month. It was a real success story. We ended up with a vibrant, enthusiastic team, a positive outcome and something that I look back on as a huge achievement both for myself and for all of the stakeholders. Like any business, science and technical companies are all about the people. If you have good people you can build a success.

Personal background

I grew up in a little village in Buckinghamshire called Mursley with my Gran, we were not very well off but we had fun I wouldn’t swap my childhood with anyone.

I left school at 16 and completed an apprenticeship at Plessey the electronics company. I gained an ONC and started an HNC through them and then moved to Anglian Water. Part of the reason I moved is that Anglian funded me to complete my HNC and then sponsored me through a part time degree at Leicester University. I did seven years day release which was a struggle at times. I was working four days a week and then had one day at College. Assignments and other study filled up almost all of my evenings and weekends but I still did find a bit of time to enjoy myself!  There was one stage towards the end of my degree, when there was a little bit of an overlap between me finishing my degree and starting Alpheus. That was tough, trying to start a business and finish a degree at the same time.

What values drive you?

I think the way in which I was brought up taught me to work hard. If I wanted something, I had to save my paper round money. I think it has helped me, having to struggle a little. I don’t give up, if something goes wrong and I have to work hard to get something, I get on and do it. I also like to see integrity in people and like everyone, I like to be respected. But I want to earn that respect. I don’t want to be respected because of my position in a company, I want to be respected for what I have done and what I have achieved and how I help other people along the way.

Who inspires you?

I look back to my Gran when I was a kid. She came from South London, moved to the East End, she was quiet, hardworking, got on with things, very, very genuine sort of person who everyone loved.

I am also inspired by certain sports personalities because sport is a big part of my life. I look at people like Alistair Cook, Graham Gooch, both good Essex boys of course (and I happen to support Essex CCC). They are not necessary the most fluent people in their fields, but they are gritty and determined. They have become great because they have got that stubbornness, that core of iron. I think they are the people that I can relate to.

 Interests outside of work

Mostly playing cricket and watching rugby. I love most sports it’s probably down to my (overly) competitive nature and I have my family; they keep me busy! My daughter is very into her sport. She plays cricket for the county and swims competitively, but I am lucky that Mum’s taxi takes most of the strain – I don’t think I could get up at 5.30 twice a week! My daughter has just started playing senior cricket and last year’s highlight was us playing together for the first time. I like reading as well, mostly nonfiction, a lot of history, especially Roman history.

Meet other members of our team

RongRong Xu

Head of Sales at Covesion

Meet RongRong

Corin Gawith

CTO at Covesion

Meet Corin