Practical tips for planning ahead: Andrew Cowdery, Co-Chair of the Defence Growth Partnership

Silverstone Technology Cluster

25th March 2021

Andrew Cowdery is Industry Co-Chair of the Defence Growth Partnership. Over a 40+ year career he has worked in senior roles at companies including Marconi, Ferranti, BAE Systems, Astrium (now part of Airbus) and most recently Leonardo.

Andrew was recently appointed as a Be the Business Fellow. In this role, he is providing specialist advice and assistance to the Silverstone Technology Cluster as part of the recently launched partnership between the Silverstone Technology Cluster and Be the Business.

We sat down with Andrew to hear his thoughts on one of the most important areas of business success – planning and strategy.

It’s been a very challenging and different kind of year. What are the big changes you’ve seen in how companies think, plan and run their business?
Clearly, one area where businesses have seen a marked change in the past year has been the increased use of technology. We’ve seen it both in day-to-day operations, and as part of extending their existing product or service offering.

To pick one aspect, the use of technology to enable both ‘business as usual’ operations and improve productivity has stood out for me. The ability to work remotely for such a long duration would never have crossed many managers’ minds two years ago. However, with the use of videoconferencing software, cloud technologies and modern IT systems, businesses have not only been able to continue their work away from the office, but achieve more productive operations.

Another thing I’ve clearly seen is the response from businesses. Those who panicked and struggled to change their work to the new requirements and realities have struggled. Those who adapted quickly, implemented new technology and changed working practices have been able to continue successfully.

The other trend I’ve seen is outside the business. Customers are in the same boat, and as a result have become much more empathetic. Companies that can capitalise on and cement this new style of relationship can deliver an improved customer experience and have a much better future.

What things do you think should be on every company’s radar as they plan the next 1, 3 and 5 years?
Corporate memory is often short. It’s natural we remember most vividly the things that have affected the business most recently, and over the last 40 years I’ve seen we tend to revert back to old patterns and ways of working quickly. However, I do think many of the changes we’ve seen over the past year will stick this time.

The shock of the pandemic will have seen many companies conduct detailed analysis of their risk forecasts, supply chain, and cash flows. These are important practices to continue as we emerge from lockdown. Any business planning should be thinking about how to keep on top of these fundamental issues.

Also, big business will be looking to work with and monitor its supply chain very closely from now on. If you’re a supplier to a big corporate, it’s well worth thinking about what you need to do to demonstrate the productivity and security of your supply.

I’ve always said to companies that it’s vital to have a thorough understanding of your risk profile. That’s become even more vital now. Even if you’re a high-growth, high success company, take the time to understand your finances and how much cash you have in the bank. And look properly at your biggest risk factors: what could go wrong, and when will you need mitigation plans in place?

Overseas markets need a lot of thought now too. Even if you’re a business that’s always sold domestically, look again. Brexit is already changing things. Don’t retreat from overseas markets, look at what’s possible and speak to the Government to see how they can help.

The other area that cannot fail to be part of planning for the future is technology adoption. Businesses in the Silverstone Technology Cluster are naturally tech-literate, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily use tech to the best of its ability for their own business performance. Again, take stock and plan how to better use technology in the coming years. Doing so will not only prepare you well for changes in working patterns, but also ensures you are able to improve productivity across your operations.

When it comes to stepping back and taking the big decisions, what tips have you learnt over 40 years in business?
I can’t overstate enough the value of mentors and support networks. This is one of the main reasons I’m happy to be working as a fellow for the Cluster in 2021.

Having a support network of colleagues, advisers and useful contacts to bounce ideas off, get feedback from, and discuss plans with can be invaluable. It definitely helps to have access to independent and trusted advice when developing effective strategy and taking the big decisions.

A second pair of eyes before confirming your approach. A chance to learn from others’ experiences, or to see things from a different perspective. Seeking out mentors and leaning on your network would be my number-one tip for decision-making. It can be lonely at the top, but not if you have people beyond your organisation to look to.

The other thing I’ve always believed in is continuous learning and expanding your knowledge. Read as much as you can – as widely as you can and as in-depth as you can. The better your knowledge base, the better plans you make. And the wider your understanding of the world, the more you can join seemingly disparate pieces of information together when planning your future strategy.

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