Delivering innovation and opportunity for the UK – Martin McCourt
Martin McCourt, Non-Executive Director, Tharsus shares his thinking on the UK’s opportunity to solve big global problems through innovative “tech that matters” and the importance of finding and engaging the next generation of innovators to create it.
Innovating to make a true impact
As experts in manufacturing and product design, we deliver innovation that goes beyond the North- East and benefits the UK as a whole. Just like my former company, Dyson, Tharsus is a major force of innovation on the world stage. And just like at Dyson, our ambitions go beyond the UK. Dyson started with a single factory before growing into a £6 billion per annum business with sites across the whole of Asia. At Tharsus, we are on track to make the same ambitious leaps forward.
While we at Tharsus are solving a different set of challenges to Dyson, we have a similar attitude to technology, ideas and invention. We believe in the power of great ideas and understand that new products can change the world. We know from experience that when we develop technologies that are on a different level to the incumbents, we create incredible potential to disrupt the established order.
While some ideas evolve, invention is often about changing the game. A quote often attributed to Henry Ford goes: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Invention is about changing people’s attitudes and expectations. Before the car came along, people were quite happy with the horse and cart. One day, no doubt, we’ll see the same thing with the car. That’s what innovation is all about: making breakthroughs that transform established ways of living and working.
In the UK, we have a long history of innovation. British industry has always punched above its weight in terms of the size, population and access to resources. Many of the great inventions over the years have come from Britain. From Alexander Fleming to Alexander Graham Bell, the UK has a track record of delivering innovation to the world. While China may play a growing role as the world’s manufacturer, the UK and its businesses need to take the opportunity to embrace our expertise and deliver on innovation and technological disruption.
Disruption, of course, comes in many forms. From businesses such as Tesla that make transformative products to ‘middleman’ operations like Amazon, Deliveroo and Uber that disrupt traditional markets, these disruptors are finding opportunities in industries that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. In recent years, Amazon has disrupted industries, from consumer retail to grocery distribution. Studies have demonstrated that the Amazon Effect has influenced shopping centres and offline retailers to place greater emphasis on the shopping experience and increase their incorporation of technology to make offline shopping more fun, convenient and fast to encourage shoppers to choose bricks-and-mortar stores over eCommerce. With new technologies and ways of working, Amazon has ensured that established players in a wide range of sectors keep a keen eye on what they are doing. As a consequence, Amazon has – directly or indirectly – sparked innovation in almost every industry that it has entered.
At Tharsus, we follow a similarly innovation- led approach with products that aim to redefine our customers’ industries. One of our key principles is to create tech that matters. While there is no shortage of clever, head-turning ideas, we always put each new idea to the test by asking: ‘What is the point?’ For each idea, there has to be a strong answer to that question in order for us to invest and take the idea forward. Unlike evolution, true invention transforms expectations and behaviours. This is the heart of ‘tech that matters’. Products that are relevant, game changing and have a major purpose. These are the ideas we take forward. The ideas that change the way we live and work in a meaningful way.
Solving challenges that matter
Ultimately, our belief in creating tech that matters is about solving the big problems that need to be solved. From designing new products that directly impact the sustainability or healthcare fields to driving efficiencies in supply chains that reduce fuel consumption and emissions, our aim is always to solve substantial challenges and tackle problems that matter at the national and international level.
From my time at Dyson, I saw the potential of Tharsus to solve important challenges and drive success through tech that matters. The UK has always been a great driver of innovation but as a rapidly growing business, a key driver is the need for the best talent.
When recruiting the future talent of the industry, it’s important to be able to show new recruits why the products they are creating matter. Creating technology which, for example, contributes to the increase in alternative, greener means of low-cost transport. Through meaningful projects, we can inspire the next generation to develop the training and skills to solve real world problems.
Inspiring the next generation of innovators
At Tharsus, we believe that every business has a responsibility to inspire the next generation and help them to understand what goes on inside the walls of their company. From an organisational perspective, it makes perfect sense. By being transparent and showing young people how they can solve important problems and grow, it not only helps boost recruitment but also ensures that when they step into the working world, they can make informed choices about their careers. That is what we aim to do at Tharsus, and it has helped us not only to attract some of the best people around but also to retain team members for the long-term which, in an increasingly mobile labour market, is an important strength for any business.
At Tharsus, we are proud of our long track record of apprentice and graduate intake. We see our role in the community as more than a business. As we look ahead, there are so many potential opportunities, from apprenticeships to a more active dialogue between business and the education sector, that could increase opportunities for the next generation. In Blyth, Tharsus is always working with our local universities and schools to ensure that young people are shown the opportunities on offer and the relevancy of the work that we do. As an industry, we need to be working with government and our educational institutions to make the right interventions, get the right talent, and teach students the skills that matter, now and in the future.