The Technical Director’s cornerstone of responsibility has always been and will continue to be quality, safety and legality of product; overseeing teams, sites and processes that ensure finished product reaches the consumer at its best. However, as quality is becoming increasingly important as a means of differentiation from the competition; safety is getting broader and requirements more detailed following such incidences as the ‘Horse Meat’ scandal; and legality is as important as ever, particularly when concerning allergens, it is no wonder that the role of a Technical Director is one that has evolved dramatically in recent years and will continue to do so.
Today’s Technical Director is no longer always found in the factory. They must be a visible member of the wider business team, develop and nurture effective working relationships with customers and suppliers, and network amongst the wider industry to keep up with issues such as the latest technologies or potential new legislation. The ‘people’ part of the role, by which I mean team motivation and development, relationship building, influencing, communication, etc. is now seen as a critical part of the role and focused on with the same importance as technical skill during the hiring process.
It is not hard to see why. The ‘Horse Meat’ scandal threw technical teams into the spotlight and emphasised how essential a good technical leader and their team is to a manufacturing business. It highlighted the need for strong and open relationships between the supplier and retailer, and how dependent retailers need to be at times on the technical expertise within their supply base. It highlighted the importance of manufacturers knowing their supply chains and suppliers in depth, and it also emphasised the attention to detail, resilience, leadership, project management and strength of character that is needed by today’s Technical Director.
Technical Directors hold a wealth of information about every part of their business. They of course know the product and the manufacturing processes inside and out, but they now also need to understand and have involvement in the full end to end supply chain, commercials, packaging, CSR, marketing and every part of the product life cycle.
The vast majority of senior technical leaders absolutely love what they do and have thrived as the role has evolved and offered them new opportunities to learn and develop themselves professionally. It is certainly a job that is hard to do without passion.
As safety threats become more advanced and difficult to detect, technical is given increasing prominence in business strategy, commercial pressures continue and developing a pipeline of talent within the industry becomes even more critical, the role of a Technical Director is more important than ever.
Katie Hart is an Associate Consultant specialising in Technical, Quality, R&D and NPD appointments.