Q&A With Interim Consultant

by Nick Behan, Director at Norman Broadbent Interim 

Robert Jeakins MBA, BSc. (Hons) has 29 years of extensive manufacturing business experience in the UK, Central and Eastern Europe, Denmark and China.

For ten years, he has worked in strategy to operations for an international management consultancy, where he has completed many time critical projects that required ‘best practice’ or ‘automotive standards’.

Previously, he led the start-up for three factories fostering lean operations as Operations Director he led 1,650 people, five factories and the supply chain into profitability. He has excellent training and experience in factory design, operations and sourcing.

He has also managed and developed tier 1 automotive factories with complex assemblies and processes. This includes the crisis recovery and development of a Chinese automotive factory with 800 people. As Management Coach to the factory MD, he advised on upgrading LEGO Production s.r.o. in Czech.

We sat down with him to discuss his history and experience.

Why did you choose to pursue a career as an interim consultant?

It was not by design. In 1990, at the age of 24, I stumbled into it when I joined Lucas Industries to work in their manufacturing research and development centre in Birmingham. However, when I started, I was told that their design for manufacture R&D unit was being merged with their, then new, Lucas consultancy business.

I worked at Lucas for seven years, during which time I was focussed on lean manufacturing and the new product introduction process. This also included concurrent engineering methodology and IT driven integrated design and manufacture tools and techniques.

It was the great results I achieved at Lucas that persuaded me that I was not only very good as an individual at what I was doing, but wanted to pursue a career as an interim consultant

How did your corporate career prepare you for being an Interim Consultant?

I learned a lot from some very clever people at Lucas and had defined new ways of designing and managing manufacturing and new product development. Their training also included appraisal training, organisational design, multi-site management and other really great stuff. The experience of having people rely on me for the answers and knowing how to analyse in detail and make the new big picture prepared me well for my career as an interim consultant.

Describe the most demanding assignment you have undertaken – why was it so challenging and what were the outcomes & results?

It’s fair to say that many of my assignments have been stretching – they’ve certainly all been fast paced. But one of the most challenging and critical assignments I’ve had was the turnaround of a company in Denmark making large complex safety critical machines. I led a team of three and it quickly became clear that we were the last chance for the business. We examined all the possible ways in which we could make it work and went through the financials in detail to ensure that time had not run out.

Realising that if we got the strategy wrong, or if we got it right but then failed with the implementation – the years of investment into what are still truly remarkable products, would have been lost along with all the jobs.

Unfortunately, as a key part of the strategy, we had to close one of the factories and in order to keep the largest factory open and three quarters of the people employed, we embarked on a hugely ambitious project.

As part of my remit, I had to close the site and transfer products to the remaining factory while at the same time make it all ‘lean’, find key suppliers, outsource two ranges of major subassemblies to China and India, transfer production and equipment and ensure supplier training and quality. This was not easy, especially with the significant cash flow constraints and the safety critical nature of the product. Despite all of this the project was a huge success, they made a profit the next year and the business was sold.

What advice would you give any Client hiring an Interim Manager?

Set the scope of the role with a focus on what the interim consultant should achieve. Support them with key information and ensure all staff and managers cooperate fully, as she or he will be an outsider.

Also, putting weight and support behind the key tasks is important, holding frank and honest discussions and debating with the interim consultant may also be very important.

From your experience, what are the greatest benefits clients get from hiring an interim consultant?

I think a good Interim Consultant within strategy to operations or a turnaround situation is able to see the full picture and develop the future state. They will not shy away from the hard decisions that are often critical to the company’s success, but will bring new ideas and will be able to explain the reasons for adoption at each level. An Interim Consultant can also get on board very quickly and simply ‘hold the fort’.

An interim consultant may also take on an important project role that might not be permanent but needs extra resource, special skills and commitment, all within a budget. This was the case when I was asked to source and supply electric pylons and foundation sets for a large project based engineering company. I sourced, ensured quality assurance and supplied welded pylon sections up to 14m long for a new green electric highway 172 km long. This type of project was a great interim role.

What achievement are you most proud of in your Interim Consultancy career?

I have worked for some great companies, but I think my LEGO roles were very interesting.

I was coach and advisor to the MD of one of the new European LEGO factories that after my assignment featured on National Geographic’s ‘Mega factories’ TV series.

Later on, at group level, I led a team putting together the data and criteria needed for the future LEGO European footprint. My kids were quite young and I’m sure that it was the point that they were most proud of what their Dad was doing. In their minds going to work and making LEGO bricks each day must have been the most fun job ever!

If you would like to be featured in a future insightful Industrials Q&A, or if you would like to find out how Norman Broadbent Interim can help your organisation, please get in touch with Nick on nick.behan@normanbroadbentinterim.com or +44 (0) 0207 484 0106


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