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60 second interview - Thomas Vale to motor through improvements


Dr Richard O'Connor has been appointed business improvement director of Thomas Vale Construction.

He talks to Joanna Booth

What was your path into the industry?

I did a production engineering degree and PhD, and then took a position at Birmingham University where I ended up heading their operations, management and logistics department.

After six years I was headhunted to be part of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders industry forum, where we worked with Japanese master engineers to learn about the business processes, tools and techniques that make them so successful.

In 2002 I worked with Constructing Best Practice on the DTI sponsored pilot to see if those techniques applied to this industry.

When did you join Thomas Vale Construction?

I'd worked with the company during the pilot scheme and in September 2003 I became their lean improvement manager ? the first in the industry.

As well as sorting out improving the business in-house, I also set up a consultancy to do similar work externally.

Now I'm back in-house full time as the business improvement director, to help achieve the ambitious growth and increased profitability put forward in their business plan.

What are those targets?

We've been g row ing 20 pe r cent year on year for the past four years, and the turnover this year will be around £143 million. The target is to continue at the same rate.

We want to improve ou r bottom line profitability to between 3 and 4 per cent.

We would be near 3 per cent already except for the acquisition of Collier and Catley and the setting up of a new office in Stoke.

What does your role involve?

I'm responsible for making sure we use the most efficient business processes.

That includes back office stuff in management and administration, delivery of all activities throughout a project's life, taking the waste out of how things are run, site layout and logistics and improving.

I will also work to extend that to our supply chain, and to our clients. There are many principles used in the automotive industry that can apply here but are not fully used.

I'm also responsible for innovation ? things like modern methods of construction and new products ? and rolling it out through the business. It's a big remit, but my role will be to direct and co-ordinate the work of the whole company.

Does business improvement really have any effect, or is it all just jargon?

I'm trying to move away from terms like 'lean management', as it can mean people think it is all just jargon. But we have plenty of statistics that prove it is having a real effect.

Our on-time delivery is up by 20 per cent from last year ? the average project is now just 0.6 weeks late. Out target for next year is zero. We've seen improved productivity of up to 45 per cent and improved quality of 70 per cent for specific trades on some projects.

Profitability is increasing, which speaks for itself.