Founder views: Peter Taylor, Chairman of The Technology Partnership (TTP)
In the first of a new series of interviews with Cambridge Network's Founder Members, Peter Taylor, Chairman of The Technology Partnership (TTP) and a longstanding Cambridge Network Director, outlines some of the challenges facing TTP and its fellow Cambridge businesses. He says local companies need to recruit the right people, get to customers, and communicate effectively with markets...
What makes your business distinctive?
TTP has a distinctive track record of outcomes in terms of new products and technologies, but I believe the real issue is about how you achieve them. There are similar collections of scientists and engineers grouped together in various places, but the way we operate is different.
We don't have titles and the structure is flat. We give people freedom but we support them, and try to create an environment where every individual can thrive, where ideas can be allowed to emerge. I think the organisation – or lack of it – is what makes our culture distinctive. Rather than having structured procedures, rules and regulations, as much as possible we encourage people to take the world as it comes and take control of it.
Risk is the flip side of opportunity and we are good at managing and taking risk. A lot of the aspects are central to innovation and entrepreneurship, and they typify our organisation. We also have high customer orientation; we are committed to doing great things for our customers, and happy customers means happy staff.
What are the greatest challenges your business faces, and how will you overcome them?
Recruitment is a challenge faced by so many companies in the area. We take on graduates but we also like to recruit people when they've had some experience; when they've figured out what they want to do and what they like. They find the freedom of what we do exciting.
We have something like 30 nationalities at TTP and in recent years, more than half our recruits have been educated overseas: we take people who approach us from abroad and help them relocate if they're the right candidate.
But we are reasonably convinced that we’re missing a lot of people in the UK because they don't know about us or the career possibilities here, so we are trying to make sure we are better known. Being part of the Recruitment Gateway helps. We’ve also been developing our employer brand through alumni links, and trying to communicate more with undergraduates. We’re adopting a more active approach – marketing to the candidate community, using PR and experimenting with other activities.
What are the greatest challenges Cambridge faces?
Recruitment is an issue for many Cambridge Network members: to grow you have to recruit people, or growth creates the need for recruitment. And recruitment is tough if your standards are high.
Another overriding challenge is getting to customers and that's what drives business. It's a constant challenge. And nowadays there is a lot more noise in the marketplace. We have been global since we started and getting out there is important. I am involved with UKTI technology strategy marketing activity, and bringing the world closer is something that will help all SMEs. What’s hard to do is to market globally, and that is partly what the Cambridge Network is about – presenting Cambridge to the rest of the world and making sure we are on the map. Cambridge has a great brand.
Our challenge is to communicate with the markets in a way which is consistent. There is a huge amount of technology and innovation here and what’s important is maintaining the message and making sure it's not lost, given the increasing amount of noise.
As Cambridge grows, it needs to be careful about empowerment and creativity. The university has independence, and researchers and colleges have freedom, but it’s important that they keep the ability to collaborate with an amazing peer group and look for opportunities outside. We need to be careful we don’t lose that. There’s now a generation of angel investors that influences things and reinforces that creative culture. Large corporations can also help to optimise growth, but a lot of them have difficulty getting things off the ground. Taking off relies on the culture of the cluster as well as that of the companies.
I'm not a great one for worrying about the local infrastructure because to a certain extent, these are hygiene factors. Cambridge has grown despite everything. It's almost like a Darwinian challenge: if you have the right business, it will succeed despite impediments.
Who or what has influenced you personally in your business career?
I remember a quote from my headmaster: ‘Your education is everything you remember after you’ve forgotten what you were taught’. I have been influenced by an enormous number of colleagues. I’ve also been exposed to clients and companies around the world so I have been influenced by many people, by the decisions they make and the attitudes they take. Some people running businesses are isolated or in silos – finance, manufacturing and so on – but in my career I have been surrounded by really bright people doing great stuff in many different ways.
Gerald Avison, a co-founder of TTP and the Group chairman for many years, has been a huge influence. I have worked with him since 1979 and he makes me think of a Chinese saying: ‘Great leaders are applauded. Bad leaders are hated, but the very greatest leaders say very little and the people say “we did it!” ‘ He exemplifies light touch management, which means not getting in people’s way or telling them what to do, but asking the right questions at the right time and making small but important suggestions.
What’s the best thing about Cambridge?
The attitude – it’s special. There’s an atmosphere. It’s a combination of geography and historical circumstance and you end up with this cluster. There are some things you can’t force. For example, there’s a coffee area in one of our buildings and it’s a meeting point for people. It’s just the right scale and it just happens – you couldn’t design it. It’s a collaborative, multidisciplinary community, and it’s the same with Cambridge.
The Cambridge Network is facilitating bringing people together and there is an enormous amount of capability in the area. There is a critical mass of people setting the right example: it is very powerful and the more we get our act together, the more powerful it will be.
Peter Taylor was in conversation with Judi Coe, Cambridge Network Editor
At TTP Group plc, (TTP), we make new technology and new products possible by the way we work. We build teams of talented, bright, accomplished people and give them the freedom to share their knowledge and enthusiasm within the business. We have a commitment to world-class science and engineering and firmly believe it can have a huge impact on the commercial success of our clients.