Bringing together four companies to create a single-source solution is the challenge facing Tony Lowe of ARRK Europe.
At the time of writing, Tony Lowe is UK managing director of product development specialist ARRK. However, as you're reading this, he is managing director of ARRK Europe. His position and responsibilities will not be changing significantly in the interim, but the company he leads most definitely is.
Traditionally, ARRK's four UK businesses (ARRK R&D, AARK PDG, ARRK Tooling and NPL Technologies) have operated independently, as Lowe explains: "In the past, customers have bought services from the individual companies irrespective of whether they're part of Arrk. In fact, I have examples of projects where customers have come to the Basildon centre for design and engineering services and then subsequently to NPL in Nuneaton for prototype or composite parts and finally to our tooling facility in Portsmouth, but they didn't do that because they were part of ARRK. They were independently selected as the supplier of choice. In truth, customers have sometimes been unaware that individual companies have been part of the ARRK Group."
This situation has been a legacy of ARRK's Japanese parent company's history of growing by acquisition. Says Lowe: "'Do your own thing' has very much been an ARRK philosophy up to now. That's fine when things are going well, but in a difficult environment, you need to highlight some areas that need improvement both individually and collectively. ARRK does have some real strengths in individual companies, but what it's not been doing is utilising the strengths of the combined units more effectively."
With this in mind, it has been decided to integrate the companies into one entity called ARRK Europe. This process has already begun with the merging of ARRK R&D and NPL Technologies, with the other businesses to follow at a later date.
Turning four companies into one is always likely to pose a challenge and the process has by no means been painless, but opportunities have arisen nonetheless. "The last year has been very challenging for all the businesses and the market as a whole," says Lowe, "but I think that has provided opportunities, painful though they have been, to really review each business and when you really examine yourself and ask 'what do we have to do to be here next year?', you start making harder decisions than when you're just ticking along."
Lowe is keen to point out, however, that innovation has sprung from these apparently unpromising circumstances, saying: "Necessity breeds innovation, but it's not always technological innovation like a new widget or a new 'silver bullet'. It's often more process innovation. How can we do this more cost-effectively? Do we really need these steps in the process? That's going to be a big part of the integration of the company: finding cleverer ways of doing things together."
And innovation is certainly something that ranks highly in ARRK's list of priorities. With a history of aiding the development process for clients in sectors including transportation, medical and defence. Indeed, Eureka was shown the Personal Rapid Transport system being used at Heathrow that the company helped develop at its Basildon Technical Centre, while it has also been involved with the development of products as diverse as a lightweight ultrasound system and even a high-tech riding saddle.
Going forward, Lowe sees significant opportunities for ARRK in the UK in areas such as marine, medical and in niche vehicle applications. "There are always ongoing new sports car projects around the country," he says. "Britain's great at doing that sort of thing. It's about low volume, competitive pricing and innovation as well, because they're developing a product at a price and they want innovative processes."
He is nonetheless scathing about government's attitude to industry in this country, saying: "I don't think they've been particularly supportive at all. They saw financial services as the cash cow and the holy grail. But now they've realised we actually need to create something to create wealth… Apprenticeship training schemes have also been poorly supported by government. It's basically down to the company to commit to apprenticeships and to pay accordingly. I'm proud to say that in a number of our companies we continue to support apprenticeship schemes because as painful as it is in terms of cost, it's the lifeblood of the business going forward and if you stop that then you cut off the feeder of good people through your business."
In spite of the difficulties facing the industry, however, Lowe remains an advocate of grasping opportunities by exploiting new techniques and technologies to maintain a strong position. He says: "You've got to be still taking chances. You've got to be prepared to do something different. It's too easy just to stand still with what appears to be high-tech today and find that in as little as a year's time, you're an also ran."
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