Panellists discussed how management crisis strategy changed during Covid-19 and Brexit.


A virtual panel discussion entitled ‘Leading through change’ brought together experts from the UK manufacturing and transport industries to discuss how Brexit and the global pandemic has altered business strategy, and the role of the leader in adapting to change in a time of crisis.

On the panel were Sir John Parker, former Royal Academy of Engineering President and current SOE Patron, and Stacy Trewin, Group Managing Director at Filtration Control Limited (FCL). Ian Foster, Group Engineering Director UK & Ireland at Metroline and Martin McVicar, Managing Director of Combilift were joined by Group Engineering Manager at Gray & Adams, Ian Smith, and Margaret Renshaw, Senior HR Consultant, Make UK. Jonathon Backhouse, Director at Backhouse Jones Solicitors completed the line-up and Transport Engineer and Operations Engineer editor Will Dalrymple moderated.

Each panel member was asked about their experience of the past 12 months as the UK faced challenges arising from two entirely new events: Covid-19 and Brexit. The panel provided examples of how their businesses have adapted, many using foresight and previously untested methods to overcome obstacles and maintain revenue.  

Ian Foster talked firstly about how the upheaval of the early stages of the pandemic created great pressure on the Metroline management team to anticipate employment changes and government regulations. A bus operator on the front line of the pandemic, Metroline faced challenges of adapting its vehicles while ensuring the safety of passengers and drivers, said Ian.

Combilift MD Martin McVicar spoke about how preparation for Brexit regulations has helped the company thrive amid rising sales during the pandemic. Customs documentation required for businesses post-Brexit moved the organisation to secure Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) status three years ago and, in doing so, kept in place a seamless supply chain that was free from further legislation. From January it introduced weekly Covid testing for its 650 employees.

Society Patron Sir John Parker said that in times of crisis - and in the case of the pandemic, a crisis ‘without a playbook’ - there must be an immediate focus on liquidity, cash preservation and in some cases, survival. Sir John spoke about his experience as Non-Executive Director of cruise operator Carnival Corporation, where the company suddenly had 105 cruise ships, 130,000 employees and zero revenue as the pandemic took hold.

Stacey Trewin told the audience how her company took two approaches when the pandemic struck: diversify its existing product range and fast-track the development of products that would be in-demand post-pandemic. Hand sanitiser and face masks were mass produced, and a joint project with Bombardier for anti-viral heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) filters – now being used on buses and coaches in cities all over the world – helped combat Covid-19 and maintained FCL revenue.

Ian Smith from Gray & Adams, a manufacturer of temperature and bespoke vehicles, spoke about his company’s adjustment to the new working conditions during the first lockdown and how it prioritised the protection of its employees. Good leadership meant regular meetings, and constant strategising allowed employees to safely return to the factories within a month of the pandemic first wave.

Champions of engineering and manufacturing in the Britain, Make UK, were represented at the panel discussion by Senior HR Consultant Margaret Renshaw. Margaret gave examples of several companies that adjusted their manufacturing processes to meet the demand for critical medical supplies to the NHS as crisis mode struck. Regional advisory boards at Make UK helped the organisation identify critical issues to better support businesses in times of crisis.

Jonathon Backhouse from transport law firm Backhouse Jones talked about how his employment law staff worked day and night to answer a multitude of questions about the furlough scheme, health and safety challenges and return to work risk assessments.

Panellists were then asked to respond to various questions from attendees, ranging from apprenticeship programmes to new working conditions post-Covid. View the webinar in fill here: