Joining Sheffield-based innovator Gripple is like coming home, according to newly appointed managing director Ian Farquhar.
The 44 year old, who worked for Rolls-Royce and David Brown before joining the Savile Street East firm, firmly believes that employee owned businesses like Gripple, with their sights on long term success, rather than short term financial gain, are the future.
“There is more than one way of running a business, but, unfortunately, too many companies in the world adhere blindly to a set of corporate rules, structures and controls that limit what people can do and the influence they can have,” says Mr Farquhar.
“They squeeze out any kind of inspiration or innovation.”
Companies like Gripple, which recently celebrated 100 per cent employee ownership at its Continental European operations, in Obernai, in France, show how different business models can be successful.
“There are people out there who believe there is a different way of running a business.
“I believe that those companies that lead the way and show there is a much more powerful and effective way to work will win out and more people will elect to work that way.
“I also believe there are a lot of people who want to work in companies like that, which is why employee owned businesses are growing.
“Gripple is a fabulous example of that and has lots of potential to continue in that way. I feel very fortunate. I feel very much at home, in terms of the way I want to run a business and the type of team I want to work for. I think I have a very exciting number of years ahead as we work together to develop the vision we have for the business.”
Among the challenges Mr Farquhar sees ahead is retaining the company’s ethos and what he describes as its “fantastic spirit” while it continues to grow in Sheffield and across the world.
That, and retaining the fun and humour that he sees as central to the business.
“Of course there are deeper values, but fun runs through the business,” he says.
Ian Farquhar believes Gripple will continue to innovate, using its own expertise and that of its partners – or customers – around the world.
“One of the great things about the business is the relationships that have been built up around the world. We help each other way beyond the bounds of business and that results in a lot of opportunities to innovate and develop further.
“My job is to make sure there are no boundaries to ambition. There is a real sense here of being one of the custodians of British manufacturing and it is our job to look after that heritage and build on it.”
Ian’s employment history
Ian Farquhar spent 13 years at Rolls-Royce, running factories and acting as business improvement director for one of its divisions with operations in the Midlands, Bristol and Indianapolis.
“Rolls-Royce is a really special British business, with exceptional people and a real mastery of what they do. That was fantastic training,” he says.
“I was very fortunate to be able to go and learn about improvement techniques that were being used across the world.
“I saw some incredible businesses and the thing that marked out these very successful, world class businesses was that they usually had a very strong, passionate leadership and the clear view that their people were the business’s greatest asset.
“They had no hierarchy and were very inclusive. That was inspirational and shaped my style of leadership.”
In 2002, Ian Farquhar received an offer he couldn’t refuse – to join David Brown to develop the operational excellence of factories on five continents around the world.
“It was very interesting. All the cultures were quite different and I had to work out how to affect the changes in these different cultures.”
Ian Farquhar went on to run one of David Brown’s UK businesses which was in need of some attention and presented a different type of cultural challenge.
“The factory employed 400 staff; half of them had been there for 25 years and a tenth had been there 40 years. It was a big leadership challenge to work with them and draw out their expertise to achieve the transformation the company wanted,” he says.
As part of that, Mr Farquhar moved the company into building gear boxes for the next generation of giant off shore wind turbines.
“The business became very successful,” says Mr Farquhar, so successful that it was sold and he decided to move on.
Gripple, with its perpetual – and award-winning - focus on improvement, its target of achieving a quarter of its sales from products it has created during the last four years and its employee ownership ethos seemed to Mr Farquhar to be an ideal home.
The company’s executive and employee boards agreed.