"Both sides of the House [of Commons] recognise manufacturing is critically important to the future of the country."

"Both sides of the House [of Commons] recognise manufacturing is critically important to the future of the country."

Mike Baunton is interim chief executive at the UK's Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and has worked in manufacturing for 40 years with global experience in engineering and production. He talked to Simon Warburton at the SMMT's recent Open Forum event near the UK Midlands city of Coventry.

Baunton began his career in 1969 as a trainee at Automotive Products, serving as strategic planning manager from 1974 to 1976. He joined Quinton Hazell in 1977 as manufacturing manager of the Transmission Division and held numerous positions at Quinton until 1985, including general manager of the exhaust and transmission divisions and manufacturing director of Quinton Hazell Automotive.

He joined Monroe Australia as managing director in 1985, and then served as managing director of Monroe Europe from 1987 to 1993. He was president of Walker Manufacturing, a division of Tenneco in Racine, Wisconsin from 1993 to 1995. He joined Perkins Group as group chief executive in 1995 and served as divisional managing director from 1996 to 1998. He was vice president of Caterpillar from 1998 to 1 May, 2009, where he was responsible for the Europe-Africa-Middle East (EAME) product development and operations division.
 
He served as SMMT President from 2002-2003 and is the current chairman of SMMT Industry Forum. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and was awarded a CBE in 2004 for services to the automotive and engineering industries in the UK.

j-a: How is the search progressing for a new chief executive following the departure of Paul Everitt?

MB: Paul Everitt has done a fantastic job for the last few years. We decided to go through a very thorough process of getting a new chief executive - that person is now heading a very high-profile organisation.

We had more than 80 people on the list. We have put each of them through a Paxman-style interview [and] had the short-list selection panel and are in the process of making an offer. We would like to be able to announce [the new chief executive] at the Test Day in May.

j-a: Paul Everitt's successor will take the reigns of the SMMT just two years out from the next general election in the UK. Are you concerned any new administration will mean a change of direction with regards to the auto industry?

MB: Any new government will potentially want to change direction - that is why it is critical for us to have a long-term commitment - government is talking about ten years. It would be very difficult for an incoming government to reverse that.

Both sides of the House [of Commons] recognise manufacturing is critically important to the future of the country.

We create employment and create exports - I would hope it is not a change in direction.

j-a: UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has been extremely vocal in support of the British auto industry, for example, attending the recent launch of The Proving Factory supplier initiative in Sheffield. Are you pleased with his involvement?

MB: Vince Cable was at the [recent] launch of National Apprenticeship Week. He is extremely supportive and actually quite strident in his views.

j-a: The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer presented his annual Budget last week - what was the SMMT's reaction to it?

MB: The most important thing in the budget was there were no surprises - we have been working hard with the various people in The Treasury and Business [Department] to make sure the incentives for R&D and low emissions, [that] the commitment for money for [the] long term strategy was in place.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is in a tough spot and we are not expecting huge [handouts] - it is matched funding.

j-a: There has been discussion that between GBP3bn (US$4.6bn) and GBP6bn could be the possible opportunity for the UK supply chain - would you agree with that and are the current travails of the Eurozone affecting the UK car sector?

MB: Realistically, whether [it] is GBP3bn or GBP6bn, the opportunity is enormous. Some of that gap can be breached, absolutely. There is a much better view of investment in the UK than there was a few years ago.

We are not going to be in the Euro and from an international perspective, it is a probably more of an advantage than a disadvantage.

j-a: Are you satisfied with the work the Automotive Council is doing - it has attracted much praise from overseas supplier bodies for example.

MB: The purpose of the Automotive Council is to create a joint set of initiatives. Vince Cable and Richard Parry-Jones [Automotive Council chairman] decided there were clearly opportunities in the supply chain - they are also encourage [ing] advanced technology.

It is easier to sell into a growing and advanced technological area than a conventional component area.

j-a: The SMMT organises a number of high-profile events such as the recent Open Forum and Meet the Funder Days - do you see that as a key area for your organisation?

"We can create and facilitate the forum where people can get together."

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