Jeremy Carey, managing director of 42 Technology
42 Technology is a product development and innovation consultancy that helps some of the world’s best known brands to develop innovative next generation products and processes.
The company was founded in 1998 with just a handful of engineers working on mechanical designs and has grown steadily to now offer everything from early-stage concept creation through to complete product development for volume manufacture.
Jeremy Carey initially joined the consultancy in 2003 before leaving to complete an MBA and to take up R&D and technology management roles with Scottish and Southern Energy. He re-joined in 2013, was appointed MD and helped the company to complete a successful MBO from its previous owners Howard Biddle and Dr David Wilson, which was announced earlier this year.
1. In what ways has 42 Technology evolved since it first launched and has the MBO changed the business in terms of team, technology, customers and markets?
42 Technology’s business model has always been to supplement its own in-house team of senior-level engineers, designers and project managers with specialist skills drawn from associates and partner companies. It’s a lean and efficient approach that works well for everyone and has enabled us to take on increasingly complex client projects.
We have now got a much broader ‘corporate CV’ of projects, in-house skills and industry experience to the point that we are successfully delivering complex multi-disciplinary seven figure projects for some of the world’s largest companies. Although the spectrum of our work has widened we still enjoy getting involved in smaller, troubleshooting projects and with early phase innovation work.
Nothing has really changed since the MBO; the business is still managed and owned by the people who work here and the previous directors are on the board as non-execs offering advice and guidance as required. If anything the leadership team is now a little younger, hungrier and with a slightly different focus in terms of building our future. The ‘culture’ and ‘feel’ of the company has probably also changed slightly since the MBO, which I think has helped us recently to recruit some exceptionally high calibre staff.
2. What are the main science or technology segments that your expertise encompasses?
We really specialise in developing what the industry would term as ‘complex systems’ involving combinations of technologies where we have particular experience such as: thermal and fluids, sensing, low power electronics and comms, intimate user interaction and innovative mechanisms. We have also made the deliberate decision to work in multiple industry sectors – industrial, consumer, healthcare and energy/utilities – and where we can identify opportunities for technology transfer between them.
3. What segments are the biggest drivers of business growth for 42 Technology?
Currently the biggest driver is the sustained and unprecedented market demand for our services. Sales in the first seven months of this year have already exceeded our total annual sales for 2014 and it is almost as if the market’s appetite and confidence for innovation and product development has suddenly taken a leap forward. Some sectors do better in certain years but our sector diversity helps balance that out and gives us long term stability.
4. What percentage of sales are UK and international and what are your biggest overseas markets?
10 years ago our international sales were tiny, although they now account for more than half the total business. Germany, Switzerland and USA are currently our biggest overseas markets but it varies from time to time with individual large projects. We have worked in most European countries, also in Japan, Brazil, India and South Africa.
5. What is the most challenging project the company has worked on down the years?
That’s difficult to answer although the most challenging projects are always those with a lot of inter-dependencies, where a design decision taken in one area affects lots of other areas. For example, projects might involve a mechanical design closely coupled with electronics, software and data communications, and where we need to consider manufacturability, a delivery schedule and cost targets. Those projects are technically difficult because so many different deliverables need to be brought together at the same time, plus we are working alongside the client’s team (or their preferred partners) so the total team could be split by geography, skill set and company culture. It leads to creative tension but can generate some fantastic products.
Projects involving disruptive new technologies and products can also be particularly challenging, especially when we are working with an emerging business targeting a truly new market. It is a hard commercial call when deciding to aim for a high quality premium product or a high volume low cost product but the same decision often has a significant impact on the initial design and technology choices.
6. What project would you say had given 42 Technology the most satisfaction?
Our favourite projects are almost certainly those that combine deep scientific insight with innovative engineering, which go on to become market winners. One of the most recent examples we can talk about is the new range of industrial gas cylinder valves we helped The Linde Group to develop. The Linde EVOS Ci valve is literally packed with new design and technology innovations, has already received its first international design award and has been hailed as offering “a leap forward in performance, safety, ergonomics and efficiency”.
We have also got two commercial partnerships in place to develop some technologies that we came up with in downtime between projects. It is always rewarding to see that happen, not least for the original inventors.
7. Is operating in the world’s largest cluster of product design consultancies an advantage or a disadvantage in terms of brand building and harvesting work?
It’s definitely an advantage in giving us access to a great talent pool, as well as an established supply chain that understands this industry and can provide components, bespoke manufacturing, testing and other services very efficiently. As we work for companies based all over the world the competition would be similar whether we were in Exeter or Inverness.
8. In a similar vein, does operating in such a competitive cluster hamper your ongoing search for top talent in terms of new hires?
It means competition is very fierce and we do lose the odd good candidate who specifically wants to live or work in a certain area, but not many. Also lots of people consider us in addition to one of our larger competitors as they prefer the relatively friendly culture of 42 Technology over working in a larger firm. Our regional profile has increased significantly over the last five years or so which has helped raise awareness of the scope and scale of our client work.
9. Do you consider that there is ample scope for future growth for the business?
Yes – we are currently growing rapidly to accommodate demand. In the longer term we hope to continue doubling our turnover and size every five years or so, although there are likely to be bumper years such as 2015 and some weaker ones along the way. Our cross sector and multi-territory approach also provides some resilience to any one market going into decline.
10. Looking ahead, what science & technology areas do you see as being the potential wealth and job drivers in the next 10 years?
We hope the market will continue to recognise product development as a skill set and that outsourcing this activity can generate speed and cost efficiencies for many brand-owners and start-ups. Product diversity, mass customisation and distributed manufacturing are also likely to be important growth areas.
One of today’s biggest drivers is ever increasing levels of data measurement and data exchange, and heading towards a sort of “internet plus” where everything can be web-enabled and connected together. I think in the next few years we will see more technologies being developed that can help companies make better use of that data, enabling them to deliver increased value to their customers, prevent commoditisation and to further streamline their own businesses.
• PHOTOGRAPH: Jeremy Carey (left) talking with Tom Hellier, one of the company’s mechanical engineers in its R & D laboratories.