When new Master Cutler Neil MacDonald left Firth Rixson, after helping to turn the forgings group into a major international player, he didn’t have a clue what he was going to do.
“I was only 50. Firth Rixson had been my life. I spent 20 years there, which is a huge chunk of your life. I didn’t want to retire and I didn’t really have any other interests at that point,” says the chartered accountant who readily admits he gets a buzz out of manufacturing.
Now still aged only 56, the big question for Neil MacDonald is not so much what to do, but how to find the time to do it.
Since deciding it was time to move on from Firth Rixson, he has been finance director at Rotherham’s leading profit maker AES Engineering – a role he is now relinquishing to be Master Cutler – and held a series of non-executive and voluntary roles.
Until last year, he was a non-executive director of Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust, helping the Trust as it adapted to its new status, powers and the need to develop financial controls.
He has been a Sheffield Theatres trustee since 2005 and is currently the trust’s vice chairman and is also on the boards of Sheffield Children’s Hospital, the Cathedral Archer Project and Whirlow Hall Farm Trust, in addition to being a member of Sheffield University’s Finance Committee.
On the commercial front, he is on the board of specialist construction group, Horbury Construction and has been advising Penistone Road-based Independent Forgings & Alloys.
“One of my major problems is an inability to say no!” says Mr MacDonald, but he doesn’t regret that.
“The way I look at it is it is a great opportunity to give something back. Sheffield and the region has been good to me, it is nice to be able to give something back and it is really quite fulfilling.”
Neil MacDonald is looking forward to being manufacturing’s leading spokesman in Hallamshire – an historic region which takes in much of what is now the Sheffield City Region.
“I am proud to represent manufacturing. I get a buzz out of manufacturing and I have spent nearly a quarter of a century involved in it.
“I have never classed myself as a typical finance director. I have always found people to delegate the boring numbers bit,” adds Mr MacDonald, who was most excited by the opportunity to play a leading role in mergers and acquisitions which Firth Rixson and then AES offered him.
Neil MacDonald is optimistic about the future of manufacturing and the Sheffield City Region.
“Our position is not as bad as some people want to make out. It’s still patchy. Retail is struggling, construction is difficult, but the best are surviving and getting through the current situation by building a niche.
“I’m fairly optimistic. I have become more of a glass half full person. Sheffield is an exciting place to be, with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, the University technical College, the City Deal and what Sheffield University is doing with its engineering faculty.
“The Local Enterprise Partnership has made considerable progress, compared with other LEPs, which aren’t working as well with their local councils and we will see what the Enterprise Zone brings in terms of inward investment.
“Then there is the City Deal and developments which will give the region much more control over its own purse strings.”
Neil MacDonald also highlights the success of local initiatives like MADE: The Entrepreneur Festival and the Global Manufacturing Festival, as well as the opportunity that next year’s centenary of Harry Brearley’s discovery of stainless steel brings to promote Sheffield’s name and reputation for innovation, excellence and entrepreneurship.
Within the Company of Cutlers itself, he sees opportunities to build on what has been achieved in the last three years in terms of representing manufacturing at local, regional and national levels.
Mr MacDonald also wants to keep pressing ahead with the Cutlers’ Curriculum initiative, launched by Past Master Pam Liversidge, which is designed to provide school leavers with the basic skills they will need in the workplace and the guarantee of a job interview.
And, he has pledged to raise the profile of women within the Cutlers’ Company.