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How the new industrial revolution could help a Detroit – and wider US – upturn

Detroit and the state of Michigan have been in the headlines a lot over the past few years  - mainly as a result of a welter of grim economic news including the city's  slide into bankruptcy.  But more recently have come some signs of a significant  improvement in the fortunes of the region, driven partly by indications of greater optimism and investments by local manufacturers including the big car companies. Among the Michigan manufacturers that have been hiring more workers and expanding production is Fullerton Tool, whose chief executive Patrick Curry is pictured here. Cheered by receiving positive news about their fortunes from Mr Curry and other local business people, I made a speech at an event in Detroit on September 17 examining the health of Michigan-based manufacturing.  The event was organized by the Detroit Manufacturing Renaissance Council, an offshoot of the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council. In the chair was William Jones, chief executive of Focus: Hope, a Detroit community development and human rights group. For background, read this good article by William Hemphill on the manufacturing renaissance movement in the US. YOU CAN DOWNLOAD MY PRESENTATION HERE Detroit Manufacturing Renaissance Council seminar on future for US & Michigan manufacturing, Detroit Read about details of an earlier talk in Chicago at a previous meeting organized by the Chicago manufacturing renaissance council.

Why Americans love manufacturing: and how to improve it

Manufacturing Renaissance Councils: Models for Success? By Thomas Hemphill Americans generally agree that they want their nation to remain the global leader in manufacturing. According to Leadership Wanted: U.S. Public Opinions on Manufacturing, a 2012 national survey, 90% of respondents rated manufacturing as “important” or “very important” for their economic prosperity and America’s standard of living. This survey reinforces the importance of the manufacturing sector to the good health of the American economy. While continuing to expand its productivity over the last two years, the U.S. manufacturing sector has only modestly expanded its employment base. Since December 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported an increase of 231,000 manufacturing jobs, for a total of 12,028,000 employed in the sector. Yet the need to develop a long-term, stable supply of next-generation employees for advanced manufacturing industries is a challenge that needs to be undertaken now—not later. With an anticipated surge in retirements from an aging workforce over the next few years, the demand for high-skilled workers will be needed for replacement and continued expansion. There has also been a recent groundswell of business, government, labor, and academic support for the creation of a U.S. manufacturing strategy.... Read full article

By |August 31st, 2014|Categories: Observations, Opinion|0 Comments

Fashion: A better business model

Inditex has become the world’s largest fashion retailer. But how long can its dizzying expansion last? By Tobias Buck, Financial Times, June 18, 2014  A few weeks from now, young women all over the world will decide that what they really want to wear this summer is a long, flowing trenchcoat with a buckle belt and soft shoulders. They don’t know it yet. But Manuel Ruyman Santos knows, and Inditex knows, and €17bn in sales says they will be right once again.  For the moment, the trenchcoat is a prototype, hanging on a clothes rack at Inditex´s sprawling headquarters in Arteixo, northern Spain. But Mr Ruyman Santos, one of the designers of the new garment, is confident it will be a success. Soft trenchcoats have sold well in recent months, so he knows the new creation will tap into a broader trend. For Inditex, the biggest fashion retailer in the world, the success or failure of one trenchcoat is of marginal importance. It is just one of 18,000 individual designs made every year for its chain of Zara shops alone. Add in the group’s seven other brands – from upmarket Massimo Dutti to casual Pull & Bear – and the number rises to more than 30,000. The new coat is nothing but a tiny thread in a much bigger story – but one that illustrates how a small family-owned clothes manufacturer on the edge of Spain turned into one of the most striking corporate success stories of recent years. The rise of Inditex holds valuable lessons.... Read full article

By |July 2nd, 2014|Categories: Observations, Opinion|0 Comments

The world struggles to keep up with the pace of change in science and technology

By Peter Marsh, Financial Times, June 17, 2014 Among the many champions of their own specific area of science and technology, at least Jennifer Holmgren, chief executive of Lanzatech, has something to shout about. The Illinois-based company is developing a chemical treatment capable of turning the carbon-rich waste gases of many industries into valuable chemicals and fuels. Ms Holmgren estimates that if all the waste gases of the global steel business alone were treated using her company’s process, the world would instantly find a way to create a fifth of the annual fuel requirement of the global aircraft fleet. The Lanzatech technology “challenges our perceptions of waste and will have a game-changing impact on the way we think about commodity sourcing and supply”, Ms Holmgren says. The ideas under development at Lanzatech are just one instance of the range of technology-based concepts that look capable of transforming people’s lives over the next 30 years. The statistics behind the trends are impressive. This year, according to projections by Battelle, the US science and technology development group, the world will spend about $1.6tn on research and development in a range of engineering-related disciplines from robotics to social media. The numbers of people working in technology-related research now stands at more than 7m, with growing numbers in countries such as China, India and Brazil that have only in the past 15 years started to register in the top league of technology. Read full article

By |July 2nd, 2014|Categories: Observations|0 Comments

Seven reasons we should celebrate manufacturing

By James Woudhuysen, Spiked Online, June 14 2014 Despite the slew of advertising for fashion, cars and appliances, hostility to ‘stuff’ – manufactured products – has grown enormously in recent years. Books have been published in America, Australia and Britain on the subject of what they call ‘affluenza’, the nasty and even infectious side-effects of owning too much stuff. Since 2011, two American corporate high-flyers, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, have together penned seven books on so-called minimalist consumer habits – quite a feat of trees-to-paper consumption in itself. The London-based futurologist James Wallman has popularised the idea of ‘stuffocation’  – the feeling you get ‘when you look in your wardrobe and it’s bursting with clothes but you can’t find a thing to wear’. And every Christmas, the Guardian denounces consumers for a ‘peculiar form of mental illness’: buying toys, smart cuckoo clocks or mahogany skateboards, and failing to feel guilty about it. Read full article

Manufacturing takes the stage at Ways with Words festival in Devon

By Peter Marsh, May 25 2014 The UK features many great literary festivals - and of these the long-running Ways with Words event held in the splendid location of Dartington Hall (pictured left), in the countryside in south Devon, is one of the best. It's not often that the world of industry receives an airing at these occasions. But this year, there is a difference. I will be speaking on The New Industrial Revolution and its implications for the UK at the Ways with Words festival on July 10 at 6.30pm. Tickets are £10, available from the festival website. There are many other highly interesting speakers at this year's event, which starts on July 4 and lasts for 10 days. If you want to listen to Michael Meacher MP, he is speaking immediately before me, and afterwards it's Sir Harrison Birtwhistle in conversation with Fiona Maddocks. Other people giving talks include Lord Ashdown, Claire Tomalin, Roger Scruton, Julie Bindel, Gerard Lyons and Sir Mark Moody-Stuart.  The closest railway station is Totnes, connected by trains from London Paddington, and from here it's a 45 minute walk along the River Dart or 15 minutes by car. The festival programme titles my talk: "Industry: Past, Present and Future" and goes on to say:  "In a thrilling display of ingenuity, the world's factories every year produce 10bn types of products from a limited stock of materials. Now manufacturing is undergoing a revolution from which Britain, unexpectedly, is poised to benefit. Peter Marsh tells the fascinating story of industrial change, from the Iron Age to the biochip."        

By |May 25th, 2014|Categories: Observations|0 Comments

Europe’s niche manufacturers make a mark in difficult economy

By Peter Marsh, Financial Times, May 19, 2014 The future is far from rosy for many manufacturers in Europe but Roberto Gavazzi, chief executive of Boffi, a top Italian maker of upmarket kitchen and bathroom units, is upbeat “I am very confident that the current difficult markets are getting better for the best brands,” he declares. Underlying this sentiment is Gavazzi’s belief that Boffi – like many other European manufacturers of a similar mould – has built up strengths not just in product creation but in using service and design skills to offer customers something special that would be hard to obtain from rival businesses. “Consumers are even more selective – they want to choose only those products that have a real added value,” he says. “So [they choose] not only design and function, as is normal for our collections, kitchens and bathrooms, but now they want increasingly to buy something that gives them a very special mood or atmosphere. Here, I think we can do well.” Read full article

By |May 25th, 2014|Categories: Observations, Opinion|0 Comments

End game nears in the war of the wheels

By Peter Marsh, May 9 2014 It is high noon in one of the world's longest running business battles. In beginning their competing efforts to acquire the prize of Alstom's electricity generation arm, Siemens  and General Electric have entered the final bout of a marathon heavy-weight contest to determine the identity of the global leader in power equipment. The German and US engineering giants have been sparring for well over a century for pole position in what could be termed the 'war of the wheels'. We live in an age dominated by passage of invisible globules of information passed silently over the internet. But the the global economy would come to a standstill without the spinning turbine machines central to the creation of electricity. Siemens and GE - set up within 30 years of each other during the 19th century's great burst of technology innovation - both attached great importance from early on to building up leadership in power generation machines. They were helped in this by the invention in 1884 of the steam turbine by the UK engineer Sir Charles Parsons. In what is now an immense global industry - supplying products and services worth about $150bn a year - Alstom has in the past decade occupied the number three position behind the German and US leaders by dint of its acquisition in 2000 of the power generation division of the Swiss-Swedish ABB. But it has been obvious for some time that the French company's position has been slipping as a result of missteps in both technology development and in global market penetration, while its big two competitors have been moving further ahead. As Siemens and GE start what will be a politically charged

By |May 3rd, 2014|Categories: Observations, Opinion|0 Comments

An outsider’s approach at giant German Mittelstand business

By Peter Marsh, March 26 2014 Moshen Sohi has come a long way from the time – as a six-year-old in his native Tehran – he became fascinated by pictures of Caterpillar bulldozers and decided he wanted to be a mechanical engineer. Since those formative days, Mr Sohi has forged a career in manufacturing largely in the US, but has ended up in the quiet south German town of Weinheim where he is chief executive of Freudenberg, a family-owned business making everything from aerospace seals to mops. Holding forth in the company’s airy headquarters, Mr Sohi says he has been fortunate to experience a lot of different ways of running businesses, from the divergent styles of some of the big US companies that he worked for, to the time after joining Freudenberg in 2003 when he helped to run a big Japanese joint venture. Read full article

By |May 3rd, 2014|Categories: Observations, Opinion|0 Comments

A French mid-sized success story in exotic technologies

By Peter Marsh,  April 15 2014 As a purveyor of subsea drones, blast doors and 3D printing machines for making replicas of human skulls, Raphaël Gorgé could be a James Bond villain in the making. But if Mr Gorgé has any threatening aspects to his personality, he disguises them masterfully as he describes his efforts to build up his collection of exotic high-tech businesses into a global force. Indeed, the chief executive and part owner of Groupe Gorgé is the personification of calm reasonableness, displaying a pleasant sense of humour as he explains what induced him 10 years ago to abandon a career in finance to join his father Jean-Pierre in an industrial company the latter had started in 1990. “My dad had achieved some progress but I felt with my background I could help steer the business in a new direction,” he says. “Finance is a great field: if you do well, everyone thinks you’re smart, and if you fail it’s because someone else [running the business being supported] has been stupid. I thought an industrial job would be more challenging and satisfying." Read full article 

By |May 2nd, 2014|Categories: Observations, Opinion|0 Comments