Industry Forum

It’s hard to imagine how a company hit by an overnight 40% drop in volume in March 2020, might one year later reflect that Covid-19 restrictions were the best thing that ever happened to it. It may also be hard to fathom that the same company, which remained open for business throughout the pandemic, is actively eschewing face-to-face meetings in favour of conducting all business communications virtually and digitally.

Meet managing director of G&O Springs (and Microsoft Teams evangelist), Steve Boyd, who, with some outside help, has used everyone else’s annus horribilis as a golden opportunity to transform his family business.

Since the industrial revolution, G&O Springs’ home town of Redditch has been known for its production of coiled springs, stemming from the needle and fishing tackle trade. As with other traditional industries, manufacturing in the area has declined in recent years. Yet leading up to the pandemic, G&O Springs was enjoying double-digit growth, year-on-year. These were the rewards of efforts to carve out a strong niche leadership position at the high tech performance end of the springs market, predominantly in the aerospace sector.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

“Actually, no,” disagrees Boyd, “We were so busy and fraught, we were losing control of the business, fire-fighting and limping from one challenge to another. Things were slipping. We were being left behind. The business wasn’t progressing, our systems and internal processes couldn’t cope. We were prioritising the customer but behind the scenes, the basics such as appraisals, 5s and TPM activities, as well as essential admin, weren’t getting done.”

Despite an order for 80,000 springs for Rolls Royce as part of the Ventilator Challenge UK, the arrival of Covid saw plummeting orders and the writing on the wall, at least for a few years, for the aerospace industry. The company was at a crossroads; it could shrug its shoulders and wait for 85% of its business to possibly never return, or reform – to use the enforced downtime to get its house in order and relaunch as a fitter business, ready to take on new opportunities.

Like so many businesses, headcount was one of the first areas to address and the 50-strong workforce was reduced by half by June 2020. G&O knew it had to rebuild from the ground up with a new strategy, and management and planning processes. It accessed funding through the SC21 C&G (Competitiveness & Growth) programme for supply chain companies in the aerospace industry. The delivery of consultancy and training, via manufacturing experts, Industry Forum, involved the adoption of new frameworks, organisational skills, competences and HR best practices. Boyd and his team were coached in new, systematic ways of working. “Industry Forum provided us with all the joined up thinking we needed,” he says.

As part of redesigning how the new-look company was to be organised, Boyd discovered Microsoft Teams. “We took the Industry Forum approaches and transferred them over to Teams so they became living, breathing entities – our own holistic, high-performing work system if you like. Every single aspect of the business is now run remotely through Teams. All our meetings, plans and documents – even our 5s and TPM daily, weekly and monthly audits – are run virtually, on Teams and using Microsoft Forms. Issues are raised as actions, pictures are taken, owners are assigned and timescales set. Team members are emailed automatically when they need to do something.

“The effect on our culture has been staggering,” he continues. “By digitalising and liberating our information and processes to everyone in the business, we have become a much closer, high-performing and connected community than we were before. We have a centrally-managed inbox that everyone can see. Everything is transparent. We all feel involved and openly collaborate. Trust has followed. We have a continuous improvement culture that we didn’t have before. We have very enthused people because they’ve been given responsibility.”

G&O has introduced new HR practices and Teams has provided the platforms to facilitate them. “We ask employees to vote on company plans. We reward people for their contributions and those contributions get fed into appraisals. We offer ways for people to recognise their peers. They are encouraged to make suggestions and we set people objectives.”

We know from the news headlines that the aerospace manufacturing sector is not going to bounce back in the immediate short term. So, one has to ask Steve Boyd, where his current positivity comes from.

“Specialising in high end aerospace, while maybe appearing risky, remains a strength, even now. Many of our competitors for whom aerospace represents a minor share of revenue are ditching it. We expect to be much bigger than before Covid. We think the growth back will be more significant than the drop. We’re recruiting again as our volumes are recovering.

“We are winning new business again; mainly opportunities we would not have been able to seal pre-Covid. We wouldn’t have been organised or coherent enough to entertain some of the new parts, new programmes and new customers all over the world that we’re talking to today. Existing customers see that our support, delivery and quality is better than it’s ever been, so there’s growth there too. We’re responsive. 98% of orders are delivered on time in full,” explains Boyd.

So what message does Steve Boyd have for fellow UK supply chain manufacturers? He replies passionately: “Firstly, you really cannot wait for this to pass. Things are never going to go back to the way they were. You’ve got to make it work. If you leave it any later, it will be too late. This is an opportunity to sort out all your problems.”

He encourages manufacturers to seek the help that’s available, from utilising technology to to looking into the support provided by the SC21 C&G programme (or NMCL as it is known in the automotive supply chain manufacturing sector). “We were one of the first companies to use SC21 support a few years ago and won their bronze award for performance in 2010. I sit on the Midlands Aerospace Alliance supply chain performance group and heard about the latest package. Simply put why wouldn’t you take the money?”

At G&O Springs, use of the latest IT tools are enabling new forms of communication between staff.
Audits are now all conducted on Teams, more transparently and accountably.