Blog: Dave LeggettSMMT jamboree

Dave Leggett | 24 November 2010

It was the SMMT's annual dinner last night. It was held at the Hilton, Park Lane, and was the usual agreeable occasion – a few new people to meet, a few to catch up with, and the wheels of social interaction well lubricated with some quality alcohol.

There was nothing too unexpected on the business side. Outgoing SMMT president Joe Greenwell delivered a speech that highlighted the things that you would expect him to highlight: the industry in the UK hasn't been performing too badly in the circumstances; there are some interesting technology initiatives; the SMMT has been effectively lobbying on behalf of the industry and so on. He was polished.  And it will be interesting to see how GKN's Nigel Stein shapes up in the president's role; GKN is a very successful British engineering company and one that has built up a solid business over many decades (not just the Constant Velocity Joints - CVJs – it is well known in this industry for; it was pretty brave to take on Airbus wings business a few years ago).

The guest speaker from outside the industry was John Humphrys – a well known journalist and broadcaster with the BBC. I have a lot of respect for the guy, who is perhaps best known for his tenacious and dogged interviewing style, which has upset more than a few slightly precious and/or slippery politicians over the years. I thought we might get something good given the circles he mixes in, the people he has interviewed and we'd hopefully get an interesting perspective on the industry from someone like him. It should be thoughtful, provocative even...

I have to say it was slightly disappointing. I'm not sure how much after dinner speaking he does, but I got the feeling it might be quite a bit; there was a formulaic feel to the anecdotes and some of them weren't really all that funny – oddly distasteful even - and fell a bit flat. And then he dredged up some of the UK auto industry’s unhappy history, which I don't think we really wanted to hear about for the umpteen millionth time on an occasion such as this. I also don't quite believe that today's ten-year-olds are more interested in average CO2 than top speed, supercars, 0-60 and so on. Have 'Top Trumps' cards changed much lately? I doubt it. Lighten up John! And 'know your audience' – easy to say I know, but he was not quite coming across as the sure-footed cerebral operator many of us would have expected. Maybe I set my expectations too high. 

Anyway, well done to SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt for wrapping up the proceedings very succinctly afterwards (no over-the-top presentation about how great the SMMT is) and giving everyone plenty of time to mingle. And I should say thanks again to my table hosts at xchanging – a business process services company that is into outsourcing. They are also big into sponsoring the annual 'boat race' we have here (a quaint and slightly eccentric sporting affair, two rowing teams from Cambridge and Oxford universities head-to-head in rowing gigs, racing down the Thames - it gets huge national media coverage considering what it is; long may this wonderful example of British daftness continue).

UK: Next SMMT president is GKN's Nigel Stein


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