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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Interview with David Falzani, SMF - Corgi "Big Bark" Award

Mentoring is vital for the future of innovation as it relates to leadership, management, engineering, and new technologies. While technology is marked by ongoing change and a focus on the future, a recognition of the past vis-a-vis experience and lessons learned is invaluable. This is where mentorship become a focal point. Welcome to an interview with David Falzani, who dedicates a large portion of his time to Sainsbury Management Fellows' Society, which provides educational scholarship and career development for aspiring young engineers. 

What is your name and your relation to career development?

David Falzani, CEO of business consultancy, Polaris Associates, and President of the Sainsbury Management Fellows’ Society (SMF), a charity that provides educational scholarships and career development for aspiring young engineers.  I was a beneficiary of an SMF scholarship.  I am also a Visiting Professor at Nottingham Business School (NUBS).  NUBS is a centre of excellence in the development of enterprise and entrepreneurial skills, innovation and understanding the commercialisation of research.  I teach about the value to the economy of hi-tech wealth-creating industries and modern manufacturing, and how they can extract value from engineering and technology.  I share my experience of steering entrepreneurial businesses through the development of ambitious business and marketing strategies.  I aim to give students an insight into the challenges faced by a new business, from raising investment to scaling up an operation.

David Falzani, President, Sainsbury Management Fellows' Society
What is the importance of interdisciplinary education?
The world is an increasingly interconnected place.  Consequently business problems, and their solutions, are becoming increasingly interconnected too.  For example, today, every organisation is an information business and data is the most valuable asset to the operation.  The ability to interpret and understand data and information in a business context is a major benefit because it creates opportunities to add value to a business and thus its performance and success. To achieve more elegant and effective business solutions, we need better ways to handle higher levels of complexity.  The best way this can be delivered is through broader approaches to problems, rather than through the traditional single ‘silo’ disciplines.

That’s where SMFs’ philosophy and scholarship scheme comes in.  The Society promotes the benefits of a combined business and engineering education to help improve the performance of the UK economy.  We believe that by equipping engineers – experts in understanding how to best apply technology – with business knowledge and experience, they can use their mix of skills to build new products and services that enhance business performance more rapidly and ultimately improve both the UK economy and people’s lives.

What is the SMF programme?
SMF aims to improve the economic performance of UK engineering, manufacturing and construction businesses.  This is achieved by providing highly motivated professional engineers with MBA scholarships to undertake a first-class business education in an international setting.  This helps them to embark on leadership roles in business with a high level of confidence.

Through its scholarship programme, SMF enables professional engineers to add business, finance and marketing expertise to the diverse skills gained through their engineering training and qualifications.  SMF awards £300,000 worth of MBA scholarships each year to engineers with exceptional education qualifications and leadership potential.  SMF has already awarded £7m worth of scholarships.

An award of £30,000 each is made to 10 successful applicants annually so they can do a full-time MBA course.  The Award is given on condition that the candidate obtains a place at one of the 12 business schools (in Europe and USA) that participate in the SMF programme, which is administered by the Royal Academy of Engineering. 

Candidates must be UK citizens normally domiciled in the United Kingdom.  Candidates should ideally have a first or upper second class honours degree in an engineering subject and have Chartered Engineer status or be making substantial progress towards it.  Given SMFs’ goal of getting more engineers into business leadership positions, candidates must have the potential and ambition to achieve senior management responsibility early in their career.  To learn more about applying for an SMF scholarship click here.

 On graduation, scholarship awardees become Fellows of the Sainsbury Management Fellows’ Society and gain access to an impressive network of professional contacts and activities including networking events, the opportunity to participate in special projects such as round table debates that are important to the UK economy (e.g. Energy Round Table), publications, career advice and mentoring from within the SMF network and from external captains of industry.  They can also participate in the SMF LinkedIn Group Engineers in Business.

There are now 300 Fellows – 10 of these are studying for their MBA degree currently.  Nearly 90% are employed in industry or services to industry and 70% of these are based in the UK or work for UK firms.  Sixty Fellows are entrepreneurs and own and manage their own enterprises.   Some of these recipients have already gone on to create new businesses worth in excess of £500m, whilst others have helped further develop some of the UK’s largest corporations, creating economic wealth and providing jobs for many thousands.

 Who is Lord Sainsbury?
Lord Sainsbury is the founder of the Sainsbury Management Fellows’ Society.  You will know him better as David Sainsbury, former businessman and politician – he was the Minister of Science and Innovation from 1998 to  2006.  Now a life peer, he sits in the House of Lords as a member of the Labour Party.

In the 1980s, David Sainsbury (now Lord Sainsbury of Turville) felt that there should be more people in the boardrooms of British industry who have both the knowledge of how things are made and effective management skills.  By contrast, he found that many overseas companies, particularly those in Japan and Germany, were succeeding because their senior executives and boards included qualified engineers.  To help bring about a change in business culture in the UK, in 1987 Lord Sainsbury set up the Sainsbury Management Fellowship scheme to develop UK engineers for future leadership roles in commerce and industry.

How can engineers improve the performance of companies?
SMFs (and other professional engineers who also have high calibre business degrees and real life business experience) have a unique combination of technological and commercial knowledge and experience that makes them particularly suited to strategic decision making processes.

Yet, historically, professional engineers have not been seen as a natural choice to sit on boards of blue-chip companies, however, things are changing.  Business leaders are starting to recognise that once equipped with the essential financial, marketing and leadership skills, professional engineers have a myriad of talents that help businesses grow faster.  A professional engineer’s ability to span both the technological and business spheres enables him or her to help in the rapid commercialisation of new products and technologies.  While there are many facets to the successful launch of a new technology or product, the speed of commercialisation can be the difference between success and failure – the faster a new technology or product can be brought to market, the more benefit a company and its shareholders will reap.

SMFs can take a view on internal and external factors that influence business that a director without an engineering background may not take because they start from different perspectives.

SMF has produced a downloadable publication Re-engineering the Board to Manage Risk and Maximise Growth, which explains the transferrable skills that engineers bring to business. 

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