04 Dec 2014
I’ve already done some lyrical waxing on this blog about the job that’s been done to complete the regeneration of the Clyde Waterfront west of the Squinty Bridge, so I won’t go over it again.
Our speaker Charles Berry took over as chairman of the Weir Group in January, and his predecessor has meantime become a household name. I think we can all now put a face to the name of Lord Smith of Kelvin, who has had quite some year.
But amongst all the noise and colour of a well delivered Commonwealth Games and the publication of a commissioned report on Scotland’s constitutional future, we shouldn’t forget that Lord Smith also handed on to Charles Berry a Weir Group which is in very good health. As one of Glasgow’s most important and successful companies that is not to be overlooked.
The message from Charles at our Glasgow Talks session makes absolutely clear that we should be roundly optimistic about the future for the Weir Group - and indeed for Glasgow as a centre of engineering.
It helps that Charles is a Glaswegian through and through, born in Springburn, educated with an engineering degree at Glasgow University, and having had apprenticeship experience at the Weir Group. He also has entries in his CV with Barr and Stroud in its Pilkington phase, and with Scottish Power, so there is barely a part of Glasgow’s engineering industry that he hasn’t touched to some extent through the years.
Under his leadership the Board of the Weir Group remains centred on hard work, deep attention to its customer base and a practical commitment to innovation. That is simply good news for Glasgow, since it means we have the headquarters of an engineering company operating all across the world in minerals, oil and gas and power in the most challenging physical and climactic environments.
The Weir Group has global reach and perspective and it is working on partnerships with academic institutions here in Glasgow through its centre for advanced research at Strathclyde University. Indeed the depth of that relationship is proven by the recent confirmation that Professor Sir Jim McDonald will soon become a non-executive Board member at the Weir Group.
Now there is nothing that Charles said about the Weir Group that you won’t already find in the public domain - his relationship with the Group’s shareholders ensures that they always know first. But there were a few observations on the Glasgow economy that were especially interesting.
With a number of other non -executive directorships and chairing roles in power and engineering that give Charles a truly global perspective, it was really encouraging to hear him say that he could see in Glasgow many of the features he knows well in Boston where he attended Massachussets Institute of Technology.
The quality of our universities and the close relationship they have developed with businesses like Weir are working strongly in our favour.
We have a fantastic opportunity in Central Scotland to build our own shale gas industry and we should not be afraid of fracking technologies which are already safe and continue to improve.
The consequence of shale gas exploration in the US on domestic energy prices is leading to forecasts by such as the Boston Consulting Group that as much as 30% of US domestic industry currently offshored in China could be reshored by 2020. What scale of opportunity might there be for similar moves in Scotland?
But we also need to do much more to encourage the young into engineering. Charles highlighted figures from the Royal Academy of Engineering that as many as 830,000 new engineers and technologists are needed by 2020 just to replace those that are retiring.
Charles Berry has a fantastic job chairing the Weir Group, and he is a shining example of how home-grown engineering talent can succeed. Let’s have thousands more young Glaswegians following that example.
PS: There was one fabulous graph in Charles’ presentation which as a Greenockian I could not overlook. He showed the movement in world population over 20,000 years (yup 20,000!) and showed just how explosive population growth has been in the last 200 years of those 20,000. This we know, but Charles’ belief is that James Watt and his steam engine development was the key to unlocking that explosive growth. Now next year is the 250th anniversary of James Watt’s original innovation, and of course James Watt was born in William Street in Greenock just down from where my grandfather had his business. So it is therefore obvious that Greenock is essentially responsible for the modern world!