After my youthful dreams of becoming a footballer were bombed, I was forced to completely rethink what I was going to do. It was hard to accept but I knew I had to, so I set out on a completely different career path. In 1994 I secured a job in the automotive industry as a production controller for a firm called KIGASS (now named Internal Automotive Components), while studying for a degree on an evening. I joined ZF TRW, which was then known as TRW, in 1998 and became plant manager in 2008.
During my first year at the helm of the plant, we were hit by the financial crisis, which triggered a significant volume drop within the automotive sector. Our workforce was cut from 750 to 450, and while the majority of those who lost their jobs were temporary employees, many permanent staff were also affected. This was an awful time for everyone at the plant, myself included, but we had to react aggressively for the long-term future of the business.
Customer expectations have also changed a lot since I started at TRW. Previously, we were only serving a couple of manufacturers with products more related to air bag control safety units rather than the diverse portfolio we have now.
To be successful in the automotive sector, you have to be tenacious and flexible because it’s so fast moving and constantly changing. In my opinion, that’s what ZF TRW has done very well over the past few years.
Customer expectations today are very, very high. We are working with a lot more OEMs and technology within vehicles has changed massively. Cars today come with so much technology, which has enabled us to expand and enhance our product portfolio significantly, opening us up to new markets. We have to keep up with the market expectations and can never stand still and never be complacent. The North East is very well positioned to capitalise on the growth of the automotive industry globally, and the initiation of the North East Automotive Alliance – for which I sit on the advisory board – has helped massively.
The negative side is that we’re facing a shortage of the right skills to fulfil the business that we could potentially have in the North East region. We have to generate our own talent locally to continue growth in the future.
ZF TRW is well placed to be part of what I believe will be the evolution of driverless cars on the road. Our technology will be at the forefront of that industry with the cameras and radar products being made by the company.
For the Peterlee plant, it’s definitely an exciting time. We’ve got ambitious plans to continue to recruit, including apprentices, and fully expect that within two years we’ll employ over 1000 people here. Considering that less than ten years ago we employed 450 people, it’s a massive achievement.