UK Boards need more engineers - Business Works
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UK Boards need more engineers

David Falzani, President, SMF Society A recent US study by Identified revealed that a growing number of company founders and CEOs today are far more likely to hold advanced engineering degrees than MBAs. An encouraging trend, given that professional engineers have not historically been associated with holding 'c-level' (top) executives' roles. According to Identified’s Revenge of the Nerds report, the demand for engineering talent is growing rapidly resulting in a dramatic increase in their pay scales.

The UK’s Sainsbury Management Fellows (SMF) has, for nearly 25 years, been championing the merits of having professional engineers on the boards of British companies. Its founder, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, argues that in order &qupot;To increase the competitiveness of the UK economy, we need more directors in our boardrooms; people who have both the knowledge of how things are made as well as first-class management skills. This will help us to drive organisations forward while controlling the inherent risks in rapid-growth businesses."

SMF enables engineers with leadership qualities to study for an MBA by providing ten scholarships each year. Talented young engineers compete for a scholarship of £30k each, allowing the successful candidates to study at one of 14 leading international business schools. After graduation, Fellows gain access to an incredibly diverse and vibrant network of professionals, as well as support with their career development, for example, by being paired with a captain of industry for mentoring.

To date, SMF has awarded over £7 million in scholarships and produced 283 Fellows who between them hold 220 directorships. In addition, many Fellows hold multiple non-executive director positions, bringing the total number of directorships across the Fellowship to 400.

For SMF, the solution to building and running thriving enterprises is not to segregate those with professional engineering skills from those with MBA qualifications and experience, but to bring these two skills sets together to create a powerhouse of talent for British businesses.

The spectacular failure of high-profile organisations in recent years has resulted in unprecedented challenges to the experience and skills of directors. Financial, legal and accountancy qualifications and experience have not been enough to avoid disasters.

At such times, directors need to re-evaluate all aspects of the business – including the calibre of the board – to ensure it is robust, able to manage risks and create new strategies that will achieve its goals. Yet, traditionally, board directors have not been trained to identify and manage the risk of failure positively by working with variables where mistakes, unknown consequences or side-effects might develop. Competence in risk analysis is an integral part of the skills set of professional engineers who also have complementary business education and experience.

This combination of skills and their application by professional engineers outside purely technical problems, may at first, seem to be against conventional wisdom. However, there is a growing body of opinion that boards are not sufficiently diverse in their knowledge and skills to ensure that they can manage risks and opportunities across many facets of business (eg. operational, IT, legal, financial, R&D, supply, HR, marketing, PR). Diversity of boards is a hot topic and, in our view, the debate should be about more than gender or ethnicity – skills diversity is vital to the success of British business.

SMF has produced a booklet which debates the importance of re-engineering the board to manage risk and maximise growth, which identifies the skills and attributes of the professional engineer with business education and experience, and the benefits of having them on boards.

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