Belfast Telegraph

Engineered to succeed

The Apprentice has won many fans for boosting interest in the business world but one of the programmes proved the boss isn’t always right. Joanne Stuart takes Lord Sugar to task over his dismissal of some of our top engineers

In episode seven of The Apprentice, Lord Sugar fired Glenn Ward, stating he had “never come across an engineer that can turn his hand to business”. Well, Lord Sugar, you should come to Northern Ireland where we can introduce you to a large number of engineers who will prove you wrong. Northern Ireland, with its heritage of engineering excellence, continues to produce world-leading, innovative and profitable engineering companies founded and run by engineers across all disciplines, including mechanical, electrical, software and aeronautical.

One of Northern Ireland’s leading industrialists was Fred Wilson OBE, who founded engineering firm FG Wilson in 1966 with just six employees. Fred, an engineering apprentice, built a firm which became a global supplier of electrical generators. Today, FG Wilson, part of the Caterpillar Group, is a pioneer in the design and manufacture of diesel and gas generator sets and is run by Dr Mark Sweeney OBE, a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, with a first-class honours degree and PhD in mechanical engineering. Mark is global operations director for Caterpillar’s electric power division, with responsibilities for the operational facilities in Northern Ireland, the USA, China, Brazil and India.

Dr Hugh Cormican was one of the founders and chief executive of Andor Technology, one of three publicly listed Northern Ireland companies, which is a world leader in the design and manufacture of high-performance imaging, microscopy and spectroscopy systems. Hugh is a chartered physicist and engineer (doubly unworthy according to Sugar). He guided Andor through its successful stock market listing in December 2004. Hugh has since founded Cirdan Imaging, an exciting medical device development company.

In the world of software, Asidua, led by Dr Steve Brankin, provides application and data integration solutions to government and corporate clients delivering projects to customers based in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, mainland Europe, the USA and the Far East. Dr Brankin has a BSc and PhD in electrical and electronic engineering and has successfully run the company since it formed in 2002.

Michael Ryan MBE graduated with an honours degree in aeronautical engineering and joined what was then Short Brothers. The company was acquired by Bombardier Aerospace in 1989, and in 2000, Michael was appointed vice-president and general manager of Bombardier Aerospace in Northern Ireland.

One of our most successful companies, Bombardier Aerospace specialises in major aircraft structures, including fuselages, wings and flight control surfaces.

It is also Bombardier's global centre of excellence for composite technologies. With first-class capabilities and some 5,000 highly skilled employees, Bombardier is the largest manufacturing employer here because of, not despite, its engineering excellence and leadership.

We don’t mind Lord Sugar making entertaining TV, but equally we, in the real world, need people to understand the truth, that science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) professionals are proving they have the skills and qualities to create and drive successful and thriving companies and continue to lead in the pursuit of economic success for Northern Ireland.

Matrix, the NI science industry panel, through its Horizon programme, highlights the technologies and markets that will create social and economic benefits for NI.

Panel members vociferously argue that we must attract more of our young people into Stem education in pursuit of exciting, future career opportunities within a growing economy.

Fortunately, our business leaders don’t agree with Lord Sugar, and they are one of the most vocal stakeholder groups in “Success through Stem.” They take a leading role in the Stem Implementation Steering Group, which I chair, and recognise that businesses must be involved in all aspects of Stem promotion from partnering with primary schools to develop children’s interest, through supporting careers guidance, facilitating CPD for teachers and lecturers and building Stem awareness generally across society.

We are delighted to see that we do have budding business leaders in NI though the calibre of projects that our young people present year on year to competitions such as Young Enterprise, Sentinus Young Innovators and BT Young Scientist.

These young entrepreneurial engineers, technologists and scientists must be encouraged to recognise that they have the talents to win in business. Their dreams should not be scuttled before they start.

And as for Lord Sugar, well he changed his tune when it came to investing his money, as the eventual winner of The Apprentice, and Lord Sugar’s new business partner, is Tom Pellereau who graduated with a first-class honours degree and a masters in... mechanical engineering!

Belfast Telegraph