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Nigel Stein: oration

Read Professor Richard Butler's oration on Nigel Stein for the honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering in June 2015.


Chancellor, it is my pleasure to introduce Nigel Stein, an industrial leader of high renown.

Nigel was born in Glasgow. He graduated in Engineering Science from Edinburgh University and gained a postgraduate diploma in Accounting at Herriot Watt University. This combination placed him in a unique position for leadership of technological business.

Following university, he served a three-year accountancy apprenticeship before joining a manufacturer of diesel engines. There followed roles as Finance Director for two manufacturing companies before Nigel joined GKN in 1994. His rise through the company, from Divisional Financial Controller to Group Finance Director to CEO of automotive Driveline, and now Chief Executive of the GKN Group, is built upon his firm management of resources and risk. He personally visits a GKN factory every few weeks, and recognises the need to innovate - both technologically and organisationally - in order to maintain and grow the rich legacy of this fine British engineering company.

To some people, engineers conjure up the image of nuts and bolts. GKN may well have helped create that image.

GKN originates from the Dowlais Iron Company, set up in South Wales at the dawn of the industrial revolution by John Guest. By the time his grandson, Sir John Guest, owned the company, it was one of the largest steel producers in the world. After Sir John died, his wife Charlotte successfully managed the company when it was deeply unconventional for a Victorian woman to hold such power. Attitudes have changed but she provides an enduring role model for women in engineering. At that time, Arthur Keen patented a nut making machine, set up business and through some astute deals, took over the Dowlais Iron Company. Guest and Keen acquired Nettlefolds, becoming one of the world's largest manufacturers; from coal and iron ore extraction, to finished products - including nuts and bolts, for which it was famous.

Over the next 100 years, Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds (or GKN) left the steel industry and left the nuts and bolts industry. Through a series of acquisitions in Europe and America, GKN is now the world leader in powder metallurgy. In aerospace, it supplies the world's most advanced aerospace programmes. Nigel’s leadership of the automotive business successfully navigated the 2009 recession; moving it into All-Wheel and electrical drives and establishing GKN as the global leader in driveline products.

Today, with Nigel at the helm, the company employs over 50,000 people in more than 30 countries with annual sales of £7.5bn. Although listed in the FTSE 100 under Automobile Parts, it supplies a vast range of world-class products, from jet engine turbines to constant velocity joints, from composite airliner wings to fighter cockpit canopies. Nigel is passionate about the need to outgrow markets and invest in R&D. He is also aware of his responsibility to engage in wider debates about future industrial policy, skills development and EU membership.

The University of Bath is proud to be associated with GKN and delighted that this relationship is endorsed by Nigel. In Aerospace, the company supports research in composites analysis - helping to design and manufacture the next generation of ultra-efficient aircraft. It also has a link with the Change Management research of Professor Veronica Hope-Hailey in the School of Management.

Although it doesn’t make them anymore, GKN is still a “nuts and bolts” company, because it embraces the critically important task of putting things and people together to enable creative, world-class manufacturing. These activities require constant innovation to compete globally but they unlock stable jobs and create wealth. Nigel Stein is leading today’s development in this company’s rich engineering legacy.

Chancellor, I present to you Nigel Stein who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Engineering, honoris causa.

Professor Richard Butler

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