GKN – A British Industrial Success Story

Published: 18 December 2013

At our recent Annual Midland Board dinner, Nigel Stein, CEO, gave a fascinating insight into how GKN has transitioned from a UK Manufacturer to Multi-National organisation, and embraced the challenge of operating in worldwide markets.

GKN today is a truly global engineering company with sales next year expected to be close to £8bn from four business sectors - Aerospace, Driveline, Powder Metallurgy and Land Systems. GKN products are on almost all the worlds large commercial aircraft, drive almost half the World’s cars, and help power much of the World’s agricultural equipment. The company strap-line of "engineering that moves the world" is factually correct.

GKN supply products from about 160 manufacturing plants around the world through 48,000 employees. They have a clear, straightforward five point strategy summarised below:

  1. Lead their chosen markets - That means being number one or number two in the World market. With increasing globalization you have to strive to be the best in the World at what you do
  2. Leverage their global footprint - Using their experience and expertise in operating around the world to better serve customers, who increasingly also operate globally and want one Worldwide supply contract
  3. Utilise technology - The best technology helps to drive margins and keep ahead of commoditisation. You have to offer something special to your customers. Something that differentiates you from your competitors. Increasing the investment in Research & Development is a key component of the future strategy
  4. Continuously improve and strive for operational excellence - Ensuring the delivery of highly engineered products safely and on time, every time, at near zero defect quality
  5. Grow at a faster rate than the competition by adhering to points one to four

GKN believe in a balanced financial approach: between organic growth, sustainable margins and delivering a decent return on invested capital – all at the same time. This can be further augmented by growth through acquisition.

Their strategy is underpinned by three core ingredients of GKN's DNA that make the difference between success and failure:

1. Keep close to the customer – Listen and meet needs with innovative and totally reliable solutions

2. Long term thinking and persistence – Don’t succumb to short-termism and be resilient to overcome problems and setbacks

3. Engage with people, the most important ingredient - Have a committed workforce that is proud of the company and wants it to succeed. At GKN there are four ingredients to employee engagement: Vision, Trust in Leadership, Listening and Integrity

GKN is a first class example of British success in manufacturing. The above insight offers a useful perspective on how good values, intelligent global leadership and long term thinking can drive impressive performance.

At Berwick Partners, we undertake work to find our clients the best leaders and innovative, forward thinking employers are valued customers. Often, they will have structured succession planning in place and are looking for us to strengthen this internal map with exceptional external talent. Whether your business is as well run as GKN or has significant challenges to face, we can support the shaping of your leadership team and help to ensure a bright future.

David Thomas is a Principal Consultant in the Energy, Manufacturing & Infrastructure (EMI) Practice at Berwick Partners

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