Cardiff Business Club interviews Warren East, Chief Executive of Rolls-Royce

Date Posted: 30 October 2019 Cardiff Business Club interviews Warren East, Chief Executive of Rolls-Royce

On Thursday 24th October, the Club was privileged to be given the opportunity to interview that evening's guest speaker, Warren East, Chief Executive of Rolls-Royce.

In July 2015, Warren East became Chief Executive of Rolls-Royce succeeding John Rishton. Prior to joining Rolls-Royce, Warren worked for ARM Holdings plc and was CEO from 2001-2013. He has also served as a Non-Executive Director on several boards of Engineering and Technology companies. 

Before taking to the stage, Mr East spared a few moments to be interviewed by Kara Buffrey from Clearly PR & Marketing Communications on behalf of the Club.

If you would prefer to listen to the podcast version of the interview, click here.

Or, you can view the interview below:

Kara Buffrey (KB), Warren East (WE)

KB: Rolls-Royce is an emblem of British culture - how has the brand withstood the test of time and remained competitive?

WE: Rolls-Royce is 115 years old, so the business certainly has endured the test of time and has evolved over that period. We spent the first 60 years or so primarily as a defence contractor and automobile manufacturer. Then, in the second half of the 20th century the cars became separate and the company moved onto its next opportunity which was commercial aerospace. Rolls-Royce has always been ready to invest in new technology and new opportunities.

KB: You mention investing, and the company faced a number of difficulties before you took over as Chief Executive. How did you go about the restructure of the business and how has the company changed from then until now?

WE: I wouldn’t be so bold as to use the past tense – we are still restructuring. Compared with a few years ago, our balance sheet is stronger, our while our cash generation still requires further work, it’s certainly stronger than it was. We’ve been able to start to invest in some of the technologies of the future and are slimming down our workforce. We are adopting newer manufacturing techniques and removing outdated methods and over-complex processes. It’s a work in progress.

KB: In terms of technological advancement, what kind of technologies are you investing more heavily into at the moment?

WE: We are very much investing in making our products more energy efficient; the goal is a cleaner world – a zero-carbon world ultimately. We are also investing in electrical technologies because we believe this is just one of the tools that will take us to this cleaner future.

KB: Do you see the increased use of technology affecting the engineering sector, and what are the implications of this in terms of the workforce?

WE: I think that the engineering sector has always been at the forefront of deploying new technologies; enabling us as a business us to push things like material science closer to their physical limits. Technological advancement is all about new design tools and new technologies that will be used both in the design and manufacturing process.

KB: Do you think the human element and technological element can work collaboratively?

WE: Obviously new technologies and design tools are nothing more than tools. Artificial intelligence is a sophisticated tool that has many potential benefits for humans going about their work.

KB: You have come all the way to Wales today and it is a country with a rich amount of engineering talent and expertise. What do you think needs to be done to ensure that the engineering profession remains a career of choice for the younger generation?

WE: Engineering is about taming science for the benefit of society. What we need to do to ensure that engineering is an exciting career for young people is do a better job of communicating and explaining the huge benefits that engineers can bring to society.

KB: The Financial Times has recently quoted you stating that you are opposed to legally mandated quotas for females. Can you expand on your statement?

WE: I said at a conference last week that I was opposed to quotas for things like gender balance. I elaborated on that by saying I am very much in favour of targets. I believe that there is a gross imbalance of gender in engineering - particularly in the UK. It is causing us to miss a trick; we are missing out on half the population really. I do believe that the way to address that is with targets, rather than with quotas. Quotas have the tendency to encourage the behaviour that it is acceptable to take shortcuts and finds artificial ways of delivering, because there is such an imperative. A target on the other hand enables or tends to stimulate much more sustainable behaviour.

KB: Gender representation amongst the C-Suite is also very low - what are your opinions on C-Suite quotas?

WE: I think quotas for the C-Suite are very similar to any other type of quota. In this case of gender balance in the C-Suite, it’s like seeking ethnic balance in the C-Suite or geographical balance – what it’s really about is creating a diverse team with diversity of thought that actually deliver a better solution. If we have a target that simply says you have to have a certain amount of gender balance, that’s what people will do. They will go out to hit the gender balance without sufficient care and attention to achieving the real desired outcome.

KB: As a member of the C-Suite yourself and as someone twice regarded as one of the top CEOs in the world, you are perfectly placed to share your wisdom with others. What single piece of advice would you impart on the next generation of leaders?

WE: I’ve been incredibly lucky to do the jobs I have done. I suppose the only mantra really is that things get done by doing. In the world of work, you find there are an awful lot of people talking and commentating. Actually, to achieve things, things actually need to get done by doing.