As Operations Director for PDS Engineering, Annette Weekes is part of the technical team behind record breaking projects such as the Thrust supersonic car, the rebuilding of Donald Campbell's Blue Bird boat and the Inspiration steam-powered car that is intended to achieve a new land speed record in August 2008.
But she has 'jet propelled' her own career and the growth and diversification of her family's business by focusing on developing her skills as a manufacturing leader.
Annette is a final-year student on The Manufacturing Institute's MSc in Manufacturing Leadership, awarded by the six-star Lancaster University Management School.
Global market influences and competitive threats from overseas are key issues affecting PDS, which specialises in hard metals engineering.
Weekes states: "The globalisation module of the MSc gave me a wider understanding of the worldwide market we operate in and the potential threats we face. It reinforced the importance of PDS seeking competitive advantage through speed and agility in responding to local needs of our customers, and new opportunities in other markets.
"This is something we are already very good at, and was demonstrated in the post-9/11 period, when there was a temporary aerospace slump and we were able to quickly seize new opportunities in the museums and exhibitions sectors. I have a much better realisation now of the importance of keeping an eye firmly on the global picture and working to make our business even more nimble so that we can be one step ahead of market forces."
The critical importance of effective leadership has been drummed home to Annette throughout the course and, while developing her own skills to rise to the position of Operations Director, she has realised the importance of developing future leaders.
To this end, she has instigated a succession planning strategy, involving management training for section leaders. She explains: "The job market for skilled engineers is impossible. We need to ensure that talent is properly developed from within, which will also help to retain key staff. At present, 50 per cent of staff are working towards NVQs or other qualifications, which is helping to differentiate PDS as a knowledge-driven company."
She has also applied her MSc learning on world-class manufacturing practices to boost productivity by 20 per cent - using skills in Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and lean best practice to improve machine productivity from 55 per cent to 92 per cent. On-time delivery has improved by 31 per cent, while 'right first time' quality of 99.19 per cent is also consistently achieved.
One of major strands of the MSc programme is the Generating Wealth in Manufacturing module and Annette has applied the cost and accounting models she learnt directly to PDS, which has an impact on bottom-line performance.
Weekes comments: "Using new methods we now record the right data and understand exactly how profitable each job is and each part of that job. We are also able to re-visit old jobs to make sure we are generating the right returns and provide realistic quotations in future. Our new costing system is ensuring that we take on the right work and will pay dividends in improved profit margins."
The MSc is designed to minimise workplace disruption, with only 15 days devoted to off-site training per year. Students have access to a highly interactive e-learning system that incorporates a forum for discussion with other students. Weekes says: "The forum is a very lively area of the online site. It is really helpful to be able to share ideas with colleagues from other sectors. I also find the lectures really interesting and the presentations by industry guest speakers, from companies such as Unilever, are fantastic."
Applications are now open for the MSc programme and funding is available to North West manufacturers. For more information go to www.manufacturinginstitute.co.uk.