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Big Interview
By Nicky Godding, Editor 13 Apr, 2017

The Williams Martini Racing Formula 1 team has been home to some of the world’s fastest racing drivers since 1977: Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve are among the most exciting drivers of their generations. However, it’s the Williams name itself which stands out as the mark of automotive excellence.

As Williams launched its FW40 car for the 2017 season, Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams talked about working in the business started by her father Frank. She admits it hasn’t always been an easy ride.

Did you always want to work for the family firm?

I never really grew up aiming to forge a career in Formula One because my father told us he didn’t want us working at Williams. He rightly wanted us to make our own way in the world and didn’t want to be accused of nepotism. Nevertheless, I had a passion for the sport as I was exposed to it from an early age. My first job after graduating from university (Claire studied politics) was as a press officer at the Silverstone Circuit. I loved my time there, and after two happy years, Williams’ then head of marketing, Jim Wright, approached me about joining the communications team. My father had no idea, as Jim knew he would be against it, but the role interested me. Jim lobbied Frank hard to hire me, and eventually, in 2002, he relented.

What was it like when you began working for Williams?

My first feeling was of pride. I was finally being paid to work at the team I love. I suppose I was also a little bit awestruck that I’d been given the opportunity. But most importantly I felt I had to quickly get on and prove myself. I was a girl in a man’s world and the boss’s daughter. I needed to show everyone I could do the job and that I deserved the job.”

Did you ever consider becoming a racing driver yourself?

My passion for Formula One never extended to wanting to become a racing driver. I’m extremely competitive but I didn’t have the talent to win so left it to the professionals

What are your best memories of growing up in the industry?

It’s difficult to pinpoint one memory. My happiest is probably of Nigel Mansell winning the 1992 Championship in Hungary. It was one of the first races Dad took me to by myself, rather than going to the British Grand Prix as a family.

I still picture Nigel at the end of the race with journalists and fans swarming around him. I remember the music being played in the garage at the end of the race: ‘The Final Countdown’.

It felt a privilege to be part of it.

  What were your biggest issues as Deputy Team Principal in 2013?

2013 was a challenging season to say the least, finishing ninth in the Constructors’ Championship. Turning the team around seemed an almost impossible task. So finishing third in the 2014 Championship was phenomenal. It was the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people who wanted Williams back on track. We left no stone unturned, we analysed our weaknesses and put a plan in place to rectify areas of concern. If you want to change something you have to roll your sleeves up, take a deep breath and get stuck in. It was a real exoneration for me personally, but also for the team and everything it means to our family.

What do you most enjoy about being at Williams?

Everything. But if I had to pick one thing it would be the sound of engines firing up after a long winter filled with withdrawal symptoms. I love the sounds and smells of the cars. To me, and my Dad, the cars aren’t inanimate objects; they are almost part of the family.

What are you most looking forward to in 2017?

The 2017 season marks our 40th anniversary - a phenomenal achievement. So that’s definitely something to look forward to. I’m also hoping it can be a successful year, but it’s going to be difficult. With the new regulations there’s an opportunity, but we’re a team that always pushes and always fights.

What keeps you awake at night?

The biggest focus every year is ensuring we have the budget to compete. This is a priority and something that I work really hard to oversee. I’m lucky to work with some of the best people in the business at Williams, which makes my extremely varied job a little easier.

Talk us through the innovation going on at Williams’ Grove HQ

We first dipped our toe in the commercial world by creating a business called Williams Hybrid Power to take the flywheel technology developed for our F1 car into other industries such as public transport.

Motorsport can bridge the gap between research and production, acting as an enabler for technologies that may have struggled or at best been delayed for years. Williams Advanced Engineering assists industry with this.

The focus is on transferring technology from the pinnacle of motor racing, Formula One, to applications in the automotive, motorsport, defence and life sciences sectors, including green tech, a key growth area globally.

We harness know-how and expertise learnt in Formula One, such as aerodynamics, advanced lightweight materials, electrification, simulation and training, and apply them to applications outside motorsport to support and promote UK innovation.

How is Williams celebrating its 40th anniversary?

We have a series of exciting events and special Williams 40 content planned for our fans, partners, media and our many friends in the paddock. We kicked off our Williams 40 celebrations at this year’s Autosport International show in Birmingham, with an immersive experience allowing fans to look back on our 40 years of history in Formula One, and we have a lot more exciting events coming up, which we’re looking forward to sharing with our fans.”


Established:                 1977

Head Office:               Grove, Oxon

Group Revenue:         £80 million

Employees:                 750

Williams Grand Prix Holdings Ltd comprises a Formula One racing team and an advanced engineering business. It is based at Grove, Oxfordshire on a 33-hectare site which is a hub for the Group’s research, design, manufacturing and commercial activity.

The racing team has secured nine FIA Formula One Constructors’ Championship titles and seven Drivers’ Championship titles, making it the third most successful team in the sport’s history

Williams Advanced Engineering provides world class technical innovation, engineering, testing and manufacturing services to customers across the automotive, aerospace, defence and energy sectors

4 Facts on Claire Williams


1.         Her favourite car is her Audi RS6. “It’s a monster”

2.         If she wasn’t in motorsport, she’d pick a career in politics

3.         Paws for thought: Time out from F1 is time walking her two labradors

4.         While men are in the majority in motorsport, she considers gender irrelevant in F1. “There isn’t scope to carry someone who isn’t performing simply because of their gender. The sport is a meritocracy.”

Claire Williams, 
Williams Martini Racing
Big Interview
By Nicky Godding, Editor 13 Apr, 2017

From Kazakhstan to Korea, clever chemistry developed and engineered by Gloucester-based Advanced Insulation is being applied to new products which are keeping oil and gas pipelines, ships and oilrigs protected from the heat, cold — and attack by sledgehammer (of which more later).

Nothing can stop a new business thriving if it hits the market at the right time, with the right products driven by decisive leadership, even during a global recession.  

The men who’ve steered Advanced Insulation from zero to superhero in less than ten years (annual turnover is now £58 million), are managing director Andrew Bennion and technical director, Simon Shepherd. Andrew and Simon met at Alderley Plc, another globally successful Gloucestershire company in the oil and gas sector headed up by Simon’s father Tony.  

I met Andrew at Advanced Insulation’s factory at Quedgeley, Gloucester to find out more about the man behind the business.  

Andrew graduated from Birmingham University as a chemical engineer. He took his first job at Monsanto’s Aspirin plant, North Wales so he could slalom canoe on the River Dee in his spare time. A move to the Laporte chemical company in Widnes saw him running several of the company’s sulphuric acid and effluent treatment plants. This sounds unenviable, but I clearly don’t appreciate the scientific achievements behind the processes. He also ran its power distribution plant and worked on processing edible oils and copier paper.

He moved to Alderley Plc and into general management. Here he completed an MBA at Henley Business School and became Alderley’s group finance director. In 2008 he and Simon completed a management buyout of the company subsidiary Alderley Materials and named the new company Advanced Insulation.

Investing to grow

The new company’s growth strategy was based on a commitment to research and development. “We’ve always invested around 10% of turnover in R&D,” explains Andrew. That’s a lot, and unusual for an industrial company where annual R&D investment usually averages around 2-3% of turnover.  

Advanced Insulation’s core products are based on phenolic chemical compounds. A breakthrough in the company’s development came through collaboration with multinational energy company Statoil. Advanced Insulation adapted its formula for application on subsea structures at the oil producer’s North Sea Kristin plant. This opened up a rich new seam of business.

New grades of phenolic products were developed to meet the increasingly technical demands of the oil and gas sectors. Advanced Insulation then developed a new range of industrial insulation and protection jackets for large and complicated-shaped equipment such as valves. These removable fire protection covers are as efficient as bonded insulation materials.  

Manufacturing across the globe

While the design and engineering of compounds and products is done largely at Advanced Insulation’s factory in Gloucester, the application of insulating material happens at the client’s site, and takes a great deal of skill.  

“We do a lot of training because every skilled engineer must perform at their best in front of the client,” explains Andrew.

The manufacture of fire protection covers is also best done close to the end user, so the company established a manufacturing facility in Dubai. The facility now has around 75 employees and Advanced Insulation has since opened jacket manufacturing facilities in Kazakhstan, Korea, Brazil and closer to home, Nottingham (which supplies the company’s North Sea business).

Technology drives oil and gas development

It’s no secret that the oil and gas industry is having a tough time, so can Advanced Insulation’s success continue? “We believe the oil and gas market will come back,” says Andrew.

“Traditionally we focussed on upstream oil and gas because there were so many opportunities. Now we are diversifying into other areas such as sustainable energy, where our technology can be adapted to fit.”

And don’t write off the oil and gas industry yet, he warns. “There is less capital expenditure in oil and gas at the moment but we’ve lived through a number of cycles, though this is the longest. As technology evolves, oil fields can be developed in more hostile environments. Many of these fields are operating in extreme temperatures: hotter or sub-zero, so our new product innovations are ideal.”

Advanced Insulation’s MS400 innovation has won many awards. Half the weight of other insulation products, it can be applied to the underdeck of an oilrig. “Weight is a massive issue on oilrigs and MS400 is much more robust than a standard system of fibrous insulation held on by a stainless steel shell,” says Andrew. “Our product is bonded using the same glue used on A380 wings.”

Advanced Insulation’s MS400 innovation was so radical that one client, not believing its properties, took a sledgehammer to it.

That didn’t work. He had to resort to a hammer and chisel on the bonded product before he could chip anything off.

Where there’s a need, there’s a solution

Advanced Insulation’s growth through innovation is complemented by strategic acquisitions. In 2014 the company acquired Plymouth-based Manuplas, which develops polymers for the marine, offshore, renewable and leisure markets.

The following year the company purchased Nottingham-based Covertherm to manufacture insulating jackets for use in the North Sea.

From £3 million turnover in 2009 to £58 million in 2017, what continues to motivate him? “I get huge satisfaction when a decision goes well. When I see our success, I see the individuals involved and how they’ve developed and taken ownership of projects.”

Andrew has an unshakeable belief that if his sales team can identify a need, Advanced Insulation can provide the solution. “We are best at adapting core chemistries to solve new and existing problems.”

Advanced Insulation is going to need a bigger awards cabinet. Added to its Queen’s Awards for Innovation and International Trade, it’s won many awards from respected engineering and manufacturing support organisations and was ranked 30th in the seventh annual Sunday Times HSBC International Track 200. Track 200 ranks Britain’s mid-market private companies with the fastest-growing international sales.

Quick Facts on Advanced Insulation

Advanced Insulation is one of the region’s fastest growing companies. It designs and engineers insulation and fire protection products and systems. The company has worked primarily in the offshore oil and gas subsea sector, but is expanding fast into sectors such as marine and wind energy. Operating globally, the company has recently secured its first contract in China.

Established:                 2009

Head Office:               Gloucester

Group Revenue:         £58 million

Employees:                 430

4 Facts on Andrew Bennion

1.      Studied chemical engineering at university (little known fact: so did Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, and Bob Gore, the inventor of Gore-Tex)

2.      Former slalom canoeist. Now a cyclist

3.      Has competed in the world’s largest cycle race, the Argus Cycle Tour, in South Africa

4.      Has no excuse for being late for work. He lives 10 minutes away from Advanced Insulation HQ, Gloucester

Andrew Bennion, 
Advanced Insulation
Latest News
By Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 15 May, 2017
In Q1 of 2017, Gloucestershire continued to experience strong levels of activity, a trend which we expect to continue, say Hazlewoods, who advise on a wide range of deals in the small and mid-market sectors…

The Private Equity market continues to see high levels of activity as investors seek well run private companies as acquisition targets. Private Equity houses and UK Plc companies alike are currently holding strong cash balances, which is expected to lead to increased activity in the coming months as pressure mounts to deliver a return on these funds. Our own experience of the broader marketplace is consistent with this. Gloucestershire firms are showing increased interest in making acquisitions to consolidate growth, as well as many business owners seeking advice on exit options to allow them to enjoy retirement or pursue other opportunities.

Recent and upcoming political events in Britain and across Europe are not currently impacting on activity, indicating confidence in the economic outlook over the medium term.

During 2017, Hazlewoods will publish a series of articles on a range of topics relating to the growth and success of a business. In this article we focus on raising funding for SME’s which could be used to make an acquisition, assist with growth plans or simply to re-finance existing debt.

Finance for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Obtaining and securing SME finance can present a major challenge.
Accountants and other advisers are useful tools in not only making business owners aware of financing options, but also in ensuring that businesses are ‘investment ready’.

Business Plans

A solid business plan (management’s pitch) is key to securing funding. The plan presents management’s plans for the business in one concise and coherent document. The plan should:
  • Set out a concise description of the business;
  • Set out management’s vision and goals for the business;
  • Be capable of withstanding due diligence;
  • Quantify how much funding is required for what and when it is needed; and
  • Detail how lenders will get their money back and/or investors will see a return.
  • A business plan provides a potential lender/investor with the critical information they need to know about a business and its objectives.

Types of Finance

Finance types are broadly analysed as:
  • Debt finance: banks/asset based lending companies.
  • Equity (shares in the business): business angels and private equity.
  • Grants, if available.
The type of finance sought should match the needs of a business. The overarching decision is between equity (shares in the business) or debt. In certain instances, the only option is equity, e.g. start-up and knowledge based businesses where the lack of asset cover makes it difficult to access debt finance. The lack of available profits/cash to fund repayments also restricts the availability of debt finance, particularly for growing and seasonal businesses.

Debt Finance

Bank overdrafts and loans are the most common source of finance for SMEs, with facilities often being secured on business assets and/or by personal guarantees provided by owners. Rates are currently low. Hazlewoods have recently been involved in transactions where bank finance has been provided at less than 2% plus Bank of England base rate (0.25% at time of publication). The main advantages and disadvantages (as compared to equity finance) are summarised below:

  • Retain ownership (and control) of the business.
  • Fixed repayments – easy to forecast cash impact.
  • Often cheaper than equity finance (tax relief on interest payments).
  • Security requirement, often including personal guarantees.
  • Locked into rigid repayment schedule.
  • Can be repayable on demand (if a business exceeds facility limits and/or breaches financial covenants).

Equity Finance

Equity finance involves the raising of capital in turn for an equity stake in the business. Investors often realise the majority of their return on sale/re-finance of the business, having seen the value of their stake grow. A clear exit/growth plan is therefore often required.

  • Investors have a vested interest in the success of the business.
  • Access to large sums of equity finance; follow up funding as a business grows.
  • Private Equity board representatives can bring a wealth of experience to a business.
  • Dilution in owner’s share of the business.
  • Obtaining equity finance is often demanding, costly and time consuming.
  • Board influence – need to provide investor information.

The main providers of equity finance for SMEs are venture capitalists/private equity firms, business angels, friends and family.

Venture Capital/Private Equity

Venture Capitalists and Private Equity Houses are keen to invest in products or services with a unique selling point/competitive advantage. They tend to avoid start-ups, unless backed by a credible management team with a proven track record. They typically invest £1,000,000 plus for the medium to long term, 3 to 5 years, often bringing with them a wealth of experience, working with the investee company to introduce operational improvements, improve business strategy etc.

Business Angels

Business Angels are high net worth individuals who make equity investments into high growth (often high risk) businesses, typically investing £10,000 to £1,000,000, often as part of a syndicate. Business Angels are particularly attracted to businesses where they can add value, such as first-hand industry experience and a network of contacts.

Before entering into any financial agreement, it is important to get advice. The role of the Corporate Finance adviser is vital; not only because of their experience in raising finance, but also because of their links with appropriate financial institutions. Hazlewoods have an experienced team of 28 Corporate Finance Professionals, who would be pleased to advise on these matters.

For further information, or to arrange a free initial meeting, please contact:

Paul Fussell
t: 01242 680000
e: paul.fussell@hazlewoods.co.uk

By Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 12 May, 2017
This summer, WMG has 20 places available for manufacturing organisations to host a talented student or graduate to work on a strategic project in their business.

Part funded by the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, WMG’s SME group at the University of Warwick has been delivering this internship scheme since 2010, with over 120 businesses so far benefiting from a range of impactful outcomes.

The scheme encourages students studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects to consider careers in the manufacturing supply chain. Coupled with this, it supports SME manufacturers to increase productivity by embedding new technologies and processes into their businesses for minimal cost (£2000 per 8-week project).

One of the companies to benefit last year was Threeway Pressings Ltd. They took on University of Warwick Engineering student James Burt to explore novel manufacturing methods and materials for a particular product that they were sourcing in the thousands from the far east. The project helped to determine how they could manufacture the product in-house and re-shore the product type back to the UK.

Philip Stanley, Director at Threeway Pressings said: “It has been valuable to us to have someone look at a high priority challenge in our business. James was very diligent and his findings useful for the future direction of our business. The results of this project could help us save costs in the business, generate a new income stream, and bring more manufacturing work back to the UK.”

Sado Nuuer, another Engineering student from the University Warwick worked with two of her classmates Lewis Wing and Navid Mehrabi to solve productivity challenges using Lean Six Sigma for three West Midlands based manufacturers – Autins Group, Exactaform Ltd and Precision Technologies Ltd. She said: “What I gained from the internship was how the theoretical knowledge from my course can be applied in practice and also some of the constraints to ideal application. Furthermore, this internship cemented my interest in working in the manufacturing supply chain in the future.”

Dr Mark Swift, CTO of WMG’s HVM Catapult centre said: “Our internship programme acts as a valuable bridge between our students’ academic studies and a future career in the manufacturing industry. Our small manufacturers are able to get access to fresh new thinking, backed up by WMG centre HVM Catapult expertise. This is crucial if we want to tackle the well documented UK skills gap.”

Any SME wanting to register an interest in this scheme or more information about the range of support that WMG offers SMEs in the region should email wmgsme@warwick.ac.uk by 19th May 2017.

What does WMG’s SME internship programme offer?

  • 8-week summer internship based at the host business, starting early July until the end of August
  • 50% of intern costs funded by WMG (intern paid national living wage - £10.14 per hour including holiday pay)
  • SME accesses WMG supervisor and equipment as well as talented student/graduate
  • Administration management provided, including the writing of job specs, advertising the role, setting up interviews and monitoring progress
The interns will be employed by WMG, University of Warwick, for the duration of the project and SMEs will be invoiced £2000 to pay for half of the costs. The intern can be based between both the host SME and WMG.

  • Must be a registered business
  • Must be an SME (an organisation with < £35 million turnover and < 250 employees)
  • Must be a manufacturing organisation in the UK, or deliver activity that adds value to the UK manufacturing supply chain)
In general, projects should relate to the expertise available in the WMG team including manufacturing, materials, product development, digital systems, factory 4.0, and automation.
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