10 Questions: Nigel Perry

December 7, 2018

Nigel Perry is chief executive at the Centre for Process Innovation. A Chartered engineer with 35 years’ experience in the global process industry, his career has covered engineering, operations, technology management, and project and business management across the UK, Europe, Asia and the US. Nigel was elected as a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2010, he is also chair of the Ethics Advisory Committee and a council member at Durham University, and a non- executive director of the National Physical Laboratory

What was your first break in business?

I grew up in the North West and worked with ICI before I went to Oxford University in 1976. When I graduated,

I came to the North East in ICI’s agricultural division, then chemicals and polymers, before roles in ICI Polyester, ICI Acrylics and then
at the headquarters in London. However, as ICI restructured, I found myself working in London with PricewaterhouseCoopers. I saw an advertisement in the Sunday Times for the CPI role and applied.

What did you want to be growing up?

I always wanted to be an engineer. When I was four, I saw the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol and announced to my parents that I wanted to build such things when I grew up.

Technology, science and engineering have always fascinated me and engineering was my first-choice career.

What attracted you to your current role?

Back in the early 2000s, One NorthEast developed a regional economic strategy that called for
the establishment of five world-class centres of excellence. These would be catalysts for fresh growth, by building on the region’s industrial legacies of shipbuilding, coal mining and steelmaking.

I joined One NorthEast in March 2003 and was subsequently appointed chief executive at CPI. We started trading in April 2004.

We’re now part of the Government’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult and employ more than 400 staff across sites at Wilton, Darlington, NETPark and Newton Aycliffe, County Durham. We are also expanding into Scotland with the Medicines Manufacturing Innovation Centre – a collaboration with the University of Strathclyde, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Scottish Enterprise and Innovate UK.

What is your organisation’s mission?

People in the North East led the industrial revolution. Here at CPI, we are channelling that spirit to boost innovation in UK manufacturing and strengthen UK plc.

We also work with SMEs, large corporate businesses and academia to support the development of new, innovative products and processes through to commercialisation. We de-risk the innovation process to help get more products to market faster at a lower overall cost.

How do you get the best out of your team?

The people at CPI are extremely knowledgeable and passionate and they get the best out of themselves. It’s one of the fundamental reasons why CPI is such a trusted partner. We also have a number of apprentices who carry that same ethos.

What has been your career highlight?

There are several. Taking 28 North Easterners
to Borneo to overhaul an ammonia plant is one. Setting up CPI is another. Funded initially by a public-sector grant of £600,000, with one employee (me), we are now internationally recognised, work with the largest names in industry, have created and supported new businesses and achieved a turnover in excess of £50m.

However, perhaps the one that tops it all is receiving my MBE. Meeting Prince William and celebrating CPI, engineering and the North East in such a public way will take some beating. The fact Nigel Owens, the rugby referee, was there too only added to the highlight.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Keeping the public sector engaged through General Elections, the change of political colour, various new Business Secretaries and getting the latter to realise the vital importance of public sector contribution to CPI. We – and the other Catapult Centres – are key to building our competitive position by enabling our world-class university research into the market.

Who or what inspires you?

Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was an engineer who not only designed things, but raised the money, managed projects, kept shareholders happy, delivered society-changing projects and technology – and all without a computer.

What are your organisation’s short and long-term goals?
The translation of ideas into new products and processes, and the development of inventions, will always be important, and we will continue to support that.

We will also continue to make a substantial contribution to the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge, which covers healthy ageing, future mobility, artificial intelligence and big data, and clean growth.

My ultimate wish is that CPI is seen as a preferred location to develop a career. People can progress here, and our commitment to apprenticeships also reflects that.

How do you achieve a good work/life balance?

Running CPI is a full-time job and when coupled with being on the council at Durham University and a director of the National Physical Laboratory, it means I seem to spend most of my time working.

However, when I do get away from the office,
I enjoy time at home, going for walks with my wife, Liz, and Angus, our gordon setter, travelling, skiing, and beekeeping – that gives me a buzz!


Scroll to next article
Go to

Supporting role: Emily Clark and Neil Dalus