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Big Interview

Business & Innovation Magazine

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 24 Aug, 2017
World-leading aeronautics manufacturer Airbus sells helicopters for military and civil use. Now it’s seeing a growing demand for private urban air transport

Interview by Nicky Godding

Earlier this year Airbus Helicopters, based at Oxford Airport, was awarded a £500 million contract by Ascent Flight Training which will run until 2033. As part of their proposed and selected solution, Airbus Helicopters will provide 32 new helicopters to meet the RAF’s training capability requirement and number of contracted flying hours.

The contract includes full support and maintenance services for the rotary wing aircraft as part of the UK’s Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS). The rotary wing element of the world class training system will be based at RAF Valley and RAF Shawbury, where both Princes William and Harry learned to fly helicopters.

Airbus was up against tough competition, according to the company’s Managing Director, Colin James but the company was the only original equipment manufacturer which didn’t have to partner with a third party to deliver against the MOD tender. “We will be supplying helicopters and delivering full service and maintenance support,” he said.

It’s the latest major contract win for the Oxford-based company, which expects to double employee numbers from the current 270, by 2020.

More widely known for manufacturing passenger jetliners and private jets, Airbus also designs the world’s leading brand of helicopter, but it doesn’t manufacture in the UK. The company operates a world-wide industrial model, with helicopter manufacture taking place mainly in Germany and France.

Airbus Helicopters’ unique UK capability is adding value to helicopters destined for the military, civil and private markets into which it sells.

“Here in the UK, we are very close to our marketplace,” explains Colin. “The aircraft we receive from Airbus Helicopters’ manufacturing sites are the basic commodity on which we build.”

It’s seldom a customer wants just to buy a helicopter. They will invariably need special equipment, additional capabilities, training and a full maintenance package to keep it flying for longer. Steve Pickston is Head of UK Support and Services at Airbus Helicopters. His team is directly responsible for the maintenance schedules of dozens of Airbus helicopters in civil, private and military service, and provide spares and support to hundreds of others.

Growing worldwide demand for helicopters

Demand for helicopters is set to grow, particularly in emerging countries. In the developed world, the requirement is largely for replacements, or for helicopters adapted to 21st-century needs, such as transporting valuable cargo (highly-trained specialists in the armed forces, or power network professionals maintaining powerlines), or to reach offshore wind and energy installations. If you need to cross treacherous terrain, whether flying across the Bering Strait or crossing the M1 at peak hour, a helicopter is probably the most efficient form of point to point transport.

Airbus Helicopters is even trialling a public service in São Paulo, Brazil (a city renowned for its overloaded infrastructure), which runs on the Uber app principal, where a helicopter can be booked in slots of eight minutes. The project is helping the company understand how to operate future passenger drones in a commercial environment.

Helicopter flight will never be a cheap form of transport, but sometimes it’s the only way difficult locations can be reached with urgency, hence their importance for police and air ambulances. And because they are not mass market, there is also an exclusivity about owning one among those who can afford to buy and operate them privately.

Transporting the globally connected

Sales of bespoke Airbus helicopters are rising within the private sector. The European head of Airbus Helicopters’ private and business aviation brand, ACH (Airbus Corporate Helicopters), Renaud Lambert, reports that more people see helicopters as a flexible form of transport.

That they can be branded and the interior fitted to personal taste is also attractive to private users. Last year an Airbus H175 7.5-ton helicopter was customised in order that it could land on the back of a customer’s superyacht. The increasing demand for unique fittings also means that innovation at Airbus is second nature.

Richard Atack is head of Airbus Helicopters’ UK Design & Engineering in Oxford. His team is working on enhancements to helicopters, including light armour protection systems using composite materials, to blade enhancements, and even cyber protection as helicopters become increasingly digital and automated.

Airbus Helicopters’ apprenticeship programme at Oxford has run continuously for more than 35 years. It’s not difficult attracting apprentices: helicopters are exciting and make a valuable contribution to society. From being used to monitor train tracks, and supporting the UK’s network of lighthouses (critical to maritime trade and security), to powerline maintenance, they play a major role in our world.

A high-flying career

After completing a degree in computer science in 1992, Colin James accepted a job with MBB Helicopters in Germany (which became Eurocopter, the precursor brand to Airbus Helicopters).

His degree studies had focused on real time systems, a prescient choice as helicopter flight was moving from analogue to digital. However, one of his first jobs was more hands-on than he’d anticipated: He had to roll up his sleeves and solder cables to integrate newly developed software into the helicopter computer hardware. This was needed to build a power supply with a cooler system, allowing the helicopter software developers to install their system.

Within six months he was running a team of five to six people. Eurocopter, as it was by then, had spotted a rising star.

Management training followed, although to begin with Colin wasn’t keen. “My dad had worked in a UK factory and his reports of management practices in the 70s and 80s wasn’t very complimentary. So the first leadership course I went on was a pleasant surprise.

“We were taught to always be honest and take both the technical challenge and the human element into account when making decisions. It was all about living your values and being your own person.”

This was management training German-style. “German management training brings people together,” explains Colin. “Whatever objective you set, it’s always about the execution, and that only happens if everyone feels a part of it. Only then do we obtain high productivity and high efficiency.”

Colin spent 23 years working for Airbus Helicopters in Germany and 18 months in France, leading large teams working on multi-million pound projects.

But despite all the years away, and bringing up a family in Germany, he was surprised how instantly he felt at home when he returned to the UK.

“It was the right time for us to come back. My children had spent their whole lives in German education, but it didn’t take long for them to flourish in the English system.”

When Colin joined the team at Oxford, it was a lean and efficient business, well-known within the Airbus group for its niche capabilities. Colin is elevating its abilities, thinking globally rather than nationally. “Our success doesn’t have to be confined to these shores.”

FOUR FACTS ON COLIN JAMES
  1. Doesn’t fly helicopters, but does have a fixed-wing aircraft license
  2. Compares flying in a helicopter to a ride in Willy Wonka’s glass lift.“That incredible feeling you get of being suspended in the air”
  3. Speaks fluent German (well, of course, he worked in Germany for two decades)
  4. Loves bringing ideas to life

QUICK FACTS
  • Airbus Helicopters UK Ltd is part of Airbus, the global leader in aeronautics, space and related services
  • It employs 270 people at Oxford Airport, and plans to double employment by 2020
  • The company is responsible for nearly 450 military, civil and private helicopters currently deployed across the UK

Airbus Helicopters will be exhibiting at Helitech, Europe’s largest helicopter exhibition, taking place at London’s ExCel from the 3 October. Entry is free.

Colin James, Managing Director, at Airbus Helicopters
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Big Interview

Business & Innovation Magazine

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 24 Aug, 2017
Few have a better outlook on the region’s property development and investment landscape than Simon Tothill, Property & Development Director at Robert Hitchins Ltd

Interview by Nicky Godding

If you believe that a good work environment improves the quality of the decisions you make, it’s no surprise that Robert Hitchins has been so successful.

The company’s headquarters are at Boddington Manor, a 19th century Grade II listed manor house built in the Arts & Crafts style, although its history goes back beyond the English Civil War.

Robert Hitchins is a regional strategic landowner, promoter for the residential development market and a major commercial property and development company. Its commercial arm has a portfolio of more than 1 million sq ft of income-producing properties, predominantly industrial and office space.

Simon Tothill has been the company’s Property and Development Director since 2014 and has strong views on the sector.

“Change is a difficult concept for many people but we seek to develop for the better. Development has to be in right location at the right time and of the right quality,” he says.

“Development is quite rightly challenged and tested through the planning process. We seek to extol the virtues of development and reassure that planned development will enhance and improve the status quo and provide new and further employment opportunities.

Economic growth is needed to create and retain jobs, he says. “We are in a competitive environment from other towns and cities in the UK and also, given the increasing pace of globalization, internationally.

“We recently lost one of our tenants to the USA. If we can’t attract new companies into the area while retaining and encouraging existing businesses to expand, as a region we will falter.”

Land for commercial development?

But there is a lack of development land. “As well as an ongoing housing shortage, there is also a shortage of well-located employment land close to existing centres of population, with suitable infrastructure,” says Simon.

“Quite rightly there is a focus on finding sites suitable for new housing, as the acute lack of supply is causing residential markets to become unaffordable to the local population. However, employment land is also needed for companies to invest and expand.”

The problem is compounded by many office buildings having been converted to residential or student use.

“Gloucestershire and the surrounding area has a huge number of high-tech, innovative engineering companies, from aerospace to nuclear and cyber, wanting bespoke buildings to allow growth,” added Simon

Simon develops commercial properties where they’re needed, delivers a return on current company investments and is broadening Robert Hitchins’ geographical reach across the South West, South Wales and Midlands.

Commercial rents had, until the last couple of years, risen little since 2008, but with construction costs rising and with a greater level of occupier demand chasing dwindling supplies of industrial and office stock, the market is now experiencing significant pressure on rents, he says.

A significant proportion of the Robert Hitchins development portfolio is in the office and industrial sectors: the company owns properties from Tewkesbury to Bristol and across South Wales. A particularly interesting site owned jointly with Redrow Homes PLC is the 300-acre site known as Westgate, next to the M49 and opposite Severnside on the outskirts of Bristol.

The company has been working with Redrow and others to secure a decision by Highways England to locate a new M49 motorway junction adjacent to the site which will provide a much-needed connection into the Avonmouth and Severnside Enterprise area, and unlock a major employment site.

Elsewhere, development opportunities are starting to crystallise for Robert Hitchins. In Oxfordshire, the company is building a 20,000 sq ft office building for Air Tanker, a major employer in Carterton which delivers aircraft, infrastructure, service, training and expertise in support of Voyager, the RAF’s new generation tanker transport aircraft.

A soft spot for retail

Simon has a soft spot for retail, having undertaken some big retail projects across the South West.
That expertise will come in handy as the company progresses a major development project at Tewkesbury, after Tewkesbury Borough Council backed a £60 million designer outlet centre at Junction 9 of the M5.

The proposed 180,000 sq ft outlet village should create around 1,000 jobs. The location is as good as it gets: in easy reach of Birmingham, Bristol and immediately accessible to Tewkesbury, Gloucester and Cheltenham.

“We are not trying to be a Bicester Village,” says Simon. (Bicester Village is the epitome of luxury outlet shopping and attracts millions of overseas visitors).

“Tewkesbury will offer more accessible outlet shopping, and we have been delighted with the response from retailers interested in committing to the scheme.”

Designs are being worked up for consultation, which include plans to develop an 80,000 sq ft garden centre alongside.

With a career spanning 30 years, what project is Simon most proud of? The answer is unexpected: A B&Q in Torquay.

“This project had it all. We had to assemble five land interests including part of a private road and achieve planning for an out-of-centre retail development. Having pre-let the building to B&Q and started on site, we were hit by an 11th hour High Court legal challenge in respect of alleged access rights over the road. After many sleepless nights we won. It’s not necessarily the best architectural project that I’ve been involved in but it involved many facets of development.”

And the project with the most potential? “Junction 9 on the M5,” he says. Expect a little retail therapy from Robert Hitchins over the new few years.

Simon Tothill on town centre retail

“High street retail will never fail because people are inherently sociable. We like meeting and talking to each other. Online retailing makes life easier but you can’t stroll around a website and stop for a cup of coffee with friends. Retail is a fashion business and although the provision of space within the high street may reduce there will always be a demand for it.”

Where does Gloucestershire do retail well? “Cirencester is beautiful, with a wealthy catchment, attractive environment and plenty of independent shops.”

And Cheltenham’s coup in securing a new John Lewis store shouldn’t be underestimated, he says. “Cheltenham had to provide John Lewis with enough certainty that it could deliver, before the retailer agreed to invest a huge sum in a new store. The council had to pull out all the stops and they did. With the work at The Brewery and on The Promenade, Cheltenham is on the up.”

QUICK FACTS

  • Robert Hitchins Group was established more than 50 years ago. 
  • Still a family-owned business, it has developed more than 17,000 houses and more than three million square feet of commercial property. 
  • It has extensive land interests across Gloucestershire, to the edge of Birmingham, into Oxfordshire and down to Bristol and South Wales. 
  • Originally a highly successful housebuilder, Robert Hitchins Ltd no longer builds houses itself, but has become one of the region’s predominant strategic landowners and promoters for the residential development market, and a major commercial property and development company.

Simon Tothill, Property & Development Director at
Robert Hitchins Ltd 
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Latest News

Business & Innovation Magazine

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 21 Sep, 2017
Tewkesbury Park now offers, newly built premium conference facility with stunning panoramic views, following £3m investment. Tewkesbury Park has completed a key phase in the extensive two-year redevelopment with the addition of a brand-new conference and events suite…
 
The luxury Cotswolds Suite and Berkeley Bar, with floor-to-ceiling glass façade, and panoramic views across the Cotswold Hills and Severn Valley, really does offer what the regions business community has been crying out for…
 
Patrick Jones, general manager, of Tewkesbury Park, recently hosted the grand-opening of its new events space – The Cotswolds Suite. The evening took on a theme, of all the fun of the fair, with a selection of yesteryear stalls, including a coconut shy and hook a duck! A sweet stall, complete with candy floss and ice-cream were also available for guests to enjoy.
 
Patrick commented: “The hotel has undergone a complete transformation and now with the addition of the Cotswolds Suite, we are the ideal events venue. Not only are we a great leisure hotel, with our 18-hole golf course and leisure club, but with the investment that has been poured into our meeting facilities, coupled with our superb location, logistically we are perfect for the corporate user.”
 
Accommodating up to 200 guests, the new Cotswold Suite can be subdivided into three equal sections. Located on the terrace immediately outside the Cotswolds Suite, a wood-fired pizza bar & BBQ is a new addition too, providing guests with a cool place to grab a pizza and a crisp glass of wine.
The completion of the Cotswolds Suite brings the total investment of the hotel up to £9 million. This follows last year’s extensive renovation, which resulted in the addition of nine luxury historic suites, two spa rooms, two meeting rooms, an orangery and a cocktail lounge. The health club, guestrooms, main foyer and reception were all completely refurbished.
 
Tewkesbury Park has an 18-hole par 73 parkland golf course, academy course, practice range, putting green, golf boutique and squash and tennis courts. A fully-equipped leisure and fitness suite has an excellent gym, indoor swimming pool, outdoor hot tub, sauna and steam room. Tewkesbury Park is only five minutes from M5 junction nine, on the doorstep of Tewkesbury and within easy reach of Cheltenham, Gloucester and Worcester.
 
For information and reservations, please call 01684 272300, or email reservations@tewkesburypark.co.uk,
or visit www.tewkesburypark.co.uk
 
by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 21 Sep, 2017
GO Vehicle Rental announces it has formally partnered with Gloucester Rugby Club to become their official Van Partner and sponsor of Gloucester Rugby Club.
 
The two-year partnership will see GO provide Gloucester Rugby with all their van and minibus requirements, including providing Gloucester Rugby Club with a dedicated and official Kit Van, which sports joint branding,
 
GO will also be taking some prominent advertising locations at the Kingsholm Stadium.  To celebrate their love of Rugby and this new partnership agreement, GO are offering all Gloucester Rugby Club season ticket holders an exclusive 10% discount of all car and van hire.
 
Commenting on this partnership, Richard Caine, Manging Director of the GO Transport Group said “we are delighted to enter into this partnership with GRC. Our two organisations have always worked really well together and it’s great to support and sponsor such a fantastic local club and team. We hope that our exclusive discount to all season ticket holders will further enhance our great relationship with the fans”
 
Mike Turner, Commercial Director at Gloucester Rugby Club commented, “We are thrilled to be partnering with GO Vehicle Rental. Our organisations share a lot of the same values and cultures, and it’s evident that GO’s plans are as ambitious as those of Gloucester Rugby Club. We look forward to promoting the great offers and discounts GO are offering to our season ticket holders.
 
GO Vehicle Rental, part of the GO Transport Group, is Gloucestershire’s fastest growing vehicle rental business. They offer a wide range of car and van hire solutions for businesses and retail customers, from daily hire, long term hire and contract hire.  The GO Transport Group, is a privately owned local Gloucestershire business, employing over 110 members of staff. They provide a wide range of transport and vehicle related services, including Vehicle Rental, Vehicle Repairs, Passenger Transport, Bespoke logistics services and fleet management solutions to local businesses.
 
For further information contact Richard Caine, Group MD on 01452 713375 or at caine@go-transportgroup.co.uk
 
www.govehicleservices.co.uk

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