Gimme Five – Steve Roberts

Steve Roberts, managing director for Amphenol, talks to Steve Rogerson in our series of interviews for CIEonline. The interconnect company appointed Roberts as managing director in January 2013 coming after an established career within Amphenol having originally joined the company with the acquisition of Jaybeam in 2008. He served as general manager of Amphenol Jaybeam UK from 2006 to 2010 and, most recently, held the role of global director of worldwide site solutions for Amphenol RF & Microwave.

Prior to joining Amphenol, he was managing director of a UK-based aerospace and defence testing company. In his earlier career, he held leadership positions within general management as well as sales and marketing with several UK and global companies. He is a graduate of Manchester Business School and holds an MA in strategic marketing from Leeds Metropolitan University. He also secured a scholarship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Business School in the USA.

Leading teams of up to 700 employees, Roberts has worked in B2B manufacturing sectors including telecoms, chemicals, packaging and engineering. Exceptionally well travelled, he has worked in 70 countries and brings a wealth of experience to his present role at the Whitstable site in Kent.

Since his appointment and an investment of £2.3m, he has transformed the production and operational layout of Amphenol and established a dedicated design team of seven engineers to assist customers with design-in applications and rapid prototyping.

Living in Yorkshire with his wife and three children at weekends, he is based in Canterbury throughout the week allowing him plenty of time to focus on the demands of a rapidly changing business while also occasionally indulging his passions of supporting West Ham United and writing a book about circularity. He also loves building – extensions, brickwork, woodwork – anything, just so long as it is outdoors. And he has recently developed an interest in astrophysics

1. How key is it to forge closer links with your distribution network?

Distribution forms an increasingly important part of the mix. The market is more clearly defined than ever. The OEMs will always want to work closely with the manufacturer, but the distributors through their online networks have made access so much easier, and this is becoming more important and is likely to grow. The whole marketplace has changed dramatically with their investment in online technology. They have moved massively beyond the catalogue format with more global offerings and more design help.

Distribution is more integrated and more global with huge ranges available with short lead times. And customer demand for this is growing. A customer may once have had a loyalty to a certain channel but that loyalty has been eroded. If the product is available quicker from another online retailer, the customer will move.

2. What triggered your recent interest in astrophysics?

I think, probably, given that physics was my least favourite subject and I then spent the rest of my career with physics, it wasn’t a latent desire. I think I started with watching documentaries and seeing the way our understanding has changed in how much more we can see with things like the Hubble Telescope. But what we see is this huge horizon about which we know very little. It is of such a scale it is just hard to comprehend.

Think about it, the light from our sun takes eight minutes to get here and the light from the next nearest star takes four years, and that is just one star and there are billions more. It is exciting.

3. What is circularity and what is its role in business?

Circularity is a notion that I discovered as part of my masters degree that says outcomes are defined by interactions. Absolutely everything has a life cycle. The classical approach is that if you do this – open a factory, launch a product and so on – you will grow and make money, and it is all very linear. Circularity says if you do this it will provoke a reaction, and that can bring you down.

Freddie Laker introduced low priced flights and that produced the reaction that put him out of business, but it opened the door for others to offer low priced flights. It is about what you do and how there is a reaction.

If you have a successful business it will start to go into decline, but you manage the postponement of that for as long as possible. If you stop doing anything, the business will fail. Knowing that fundamentally changes your approach. Even if you are successful, you still do things as if you are failing, because really you are.

I hope to finish my book on this probably next year. It has been a huge project with notes added to it. I am now accumulating it into some semblance of order.

4. Is Sam Allardyce the right manager to lead West Ham United?

Leadership isn’t about the right or wrong person but the appropriate person for the time. If you wanted a club promoted or stabilised, you would go for a Sam Allardyce. But if you go through a bad patch, a change of manager can make a difference. I think we should have changed managers in January, but now it is too late and we should stick with him for the season. That wasn’t because he was doing anything wrong but because a change was needed. There is a right time for a person in lots of other areas. There was a time for a Margaret Thatcher and there was also a right time for a Tony Blair.

January was the opportunity for West Ham to bring in new players but now we have a lot less time and we have the faces that Sam Allardyce chose so we have no option but to stick with him. Changing manager changes the dynamics in a team.

5. Which is the most important – developing the best technology or delivering the best customer service?

So much of the success in any business is getting the balance between the two right. Without one, the other is irrelevant. Our business relies on outstanding technology, but if we can’t deliver it on time and with the right value, then it is irrelevant. The two have to go hand in hand.

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