Cardiff Business Club interviews Sir Simon Bollom, Chief Executive of Defence Equipment and Support

Date Posted: 17 March 2020 Cardiff Business Club interviews Sir Simon Bollom, Chief Executive of Defence Equipment and Support

On Monday 9th March, the Club was delighted to welcome Sir Simon Bollom, Chief Executive Officer of DE&S. The event was sponsored by RFCA for Wales.

After 35 years working in the RAF as an engineering officer, Sir Simon's last appointment was as Chief of Material (Air) DE&S and RAF Chief Engineer on the Air Force Board. During his serivce career he served in a variety of operational and staff appointments, with the last 15 years facused on acquisition and support delivery, before being appointed to the role of Chief Executive Office of DE&S.

Before addressing the Club, Sir Simon sat down with Paul MacKenzie-Cummins and Sadie Jones from Clearly PR and Marketing Communications to be interviewed on behalf of the Club.

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

Paul MacKenzie-Cummins (PMC), Sir Simon Bollom (SSB)

PMC: In late 2018, you launched the DE&S diversity and inclusion programme. Such initiatives are to be welcomed but they can often be difficult to implement. Why is diversity and inclusion important to DE&S? 

SSB: From a business perspective, a quarter of the total workforce is over the age of 55. So, if I project 10 years ahead, I’ll have lost a third of my workforce, which is not typical for any large engineering or programme management enterprise – which is what DE&S is.

So, to go and try and do the same thing in terms of recruiting as we are is not going to work. If we don’t get more diversity into the workforce then we are ignoring a huge talent base in the local population. 

PMC: What’s been done to attract great diversity within the organisation?

SSB: We need to make the organisation more open to different ways of operating and different behaviours, such as bringing in flexible working patterns. Role models are important as well and what I need to do is get more of the talented and diverse workforce pulled through into the senior community.

What we’ve got to do, we’ve got to look for talent and we’ve got to nurture it and provide them with opportunities.

PMC: When you have such a large team (12,000 globally) spread out across different locations, how to you get them working together as a single team?

SSB: I think it is about having that singularity and a mission or purpose and actually giving people the freedom to innovate and lead their own small teams to achieve their own goals – it can be a difficult balance.

PMC: The Armed Forces faces several challenges along a number of fronts, from diversity and inclusion, and mental health, to increasingly instability in Asia and the growing cyber threat. How do you mange that?

SSB: One of the mistakes you can make as a senior executive team is to try and come up with a plan that solves everything, and what you end up with is something that nobody understands; it solves nothing.

So, in terms of our change plan, if I look back two years ago, it was probably slightly over complicated and was difficult to communicate and we boiled it down to three things – people can remember three things: Great people, great delivery and a great place to work.

That’s the focus of the organisation collectively and essentially, we are a collection of project teams. Within that framework, each team has their own delivery goals, whether it be to deliver ships, aircraft or land equipment on the ground.

PMC: Logistically, getting goods delivered on time is difficult. You must be the most organised person in the world?

SSB: I rely on people who can organise things well. Mobilising the supply chain, getting things there on time is a very significant part of the objectives of the organisation.

PMC: How do you decide what makes for a good leader within the organisation?

SSB: There are three services and UK Strategic Command, so I have four divisions that face off to the customer base and there is a high degree of self-determination within those organisations. The people that I’ve got are high-quality individuals, but it doesn’t just stop there - they also have a lot of high-quality people working for them. The selection and training that they go through is very thorough and I think we’ve got some very dedicated and very professional people.

PMC: Can you tell us what you’re most proud of in your career and why?  

SSB: I’m not necessarily proud of any single personal achievement, but what I love doing is leading large teams. I’ve had the privileged of leading some fantastic teams, so my proudest achievements are their achievements.

I am also proud of the people I’ve developed, those who came into the organisation early on and who I’ve seen rise through the organisation and they’re knocking on my door.

PMC: What would be your advice for the next generation of business leaders? 

SSB: I’ll give two pieces of advice. First, is to have absolute focus on the outcome your trying to achieve. And second, develop your people and they will repay you in terms of loyalty and they will develop and help take the business forward.