[Interview] - Stephen Taylor – Technology Scotland

Posted 16/10/2018 by Georgina Deas

Since 2016, Enigma People Solutions has partnered with Technology Scotland to help build strong relationships across the Enabling Technology Sector here in Scotland and further afield. With some truly exciting things happening at the moment across the sector, we thought we would have a chat with Stephen Taylor, CEO of Technology Scotland, to find out more about his career, enabling technology and the role of Technology Scotland within the industry.

Hi Stephen, thanks for chatting with us. Firstly, could you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

My name is Stephen Taylor. I’m the Chief Executive of Technology Scotland.

Technology Scotland is the industry association for enabling technology and smart mobility in Scotland. We’ve built the association from zero members, two or three years ago, to some 114 members today. I’ve been really happy with the development of Technology Scotland and even happier because it’s not just about technology as such; we’ve also created two new networks – and one around a market!

First, I believe we have been successful in getting photonics back onto the agenda within the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise. In particular, I think we’ve been successful in getting the photonics community together again and collaborating more with each other through events and workshops.

Second, there was a small dormant cluster in Scotland around Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and we’ve grown that to some 70 members in the last 18 months, which is an astonishing growth. We believe it to be the biggest mobility cluster in Europe, if not the world. In fact, how we’ve built our MaaS network in Scotland has been recognised by places like Sydney, Quebec and Barcelona, to name a few, and they’re now modelling their own networks on our process. I think that is a great testament to the people who have been involved in MaaS Scotland, and it’s terrific that Scotland is being seen as a leader in the world in that particular market.

We’ve also just recently launched a third cluster – Design Network Scotland. Like Mobility as a Service, there’s a nice concentration of design companies in Scotland and so we’ve launched a network surrounding that and I’m excited to see where that leads us.

How did your career journey lead you to become CEO of Technology Scotland?

That’s an interesting question. I wasn’t particularly looking for a new job at the time but I was approached by a recruitment agency that had looked at my LinkedIn profile, my mix of skills, and saw that I had been involved in semiconductors, manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, photonics, and sales, as well as being involved in global business, managing people, and P&L accountability. They were looking for somebody who had all those skills, and perhaps more.

When they approached me to ask if would I be interested in this role, I thought about it and I decided “you know I really am”. For many years I have been living in Scotland but working mainly abroad. I felt like I had a good mix of skills, and that I could truly put something back into the local economy.

Heading towards the end of my career, I decided I could do without so much international travel, and working locally would be a really interesting thing to do. I concluded this was a really great opportunity, the job spec was terrific, and the chance of using the skills that I’d built up over 30 years or so in business and putting something back into the Scottish/UK economy was something that really appealed.

Technology Scotland was looking for someone with good understanding of enabling technology and what it can do. So with my background in semiconductors, photonics, advanced manufacturing, and my sales and business career, I seemed to be a really good fit for the role.

The job can be fascinating. Just recently, we met with the current Executive Director of Innovate UK, who is relatively new to the role. He was keen to meet with Technology Scotland members, to get feedback on how Innovate UK can help them. Things like that, which pop up are really exciting. We had a terrific, interactive session with some 20 members involved. Innovate UK has a near billion pound a year budget for innovation projects, so the opportunities that can arise are a really exciting thing to be involved in.

Tell us about a defining moment in your career to date?

Within Jabil I progressed from business development and sales, to running a P&L business, which meant I had accountability not only for sales and business development, but also for the manufacture and delivery of products. It was a terrific new challenge for me.

However, the defining moment for me, was when Jabil decided to create a component business because they were looking to become more vertical in their offerings to their end customers. It wasn’t just about making board assemblies any longer, but also making the plastics, metal and the other components involved in supplying an entire product to the end customers.

What were your main responsibilities at Jabil then?

One of the key components that our end customers were looking for was camera modules for mobile phones and other applications. I got involved in building and then running the camera module business which we built from zero. Zero customers, zero suppliers, and very limited capability in terms of manufacturing, apart from what I would call a pre-production line.

We developed a customer base of very large global enterprises (some of which I can’t name!). Let’s just say we were making cameras for mobile phones, for laptops, for hand held barcode scanners, and endoscopes. We ended up going into three or four different markets, including industrial, consumer and medical markets.

The camera module business grew from zero to about 130 employees working for me, with multimillion-dollar annual sales. It was a terrific job. I had sales, design, and manufacturing to look after. It truly was a business within a business. I thoroughly enjoyed growing that business from scratch, and consider it was the best achievement in my career!

What did you take away from your time at Jabil?

Before I worked there, I had a loose understanding of photonics from high school physics, but in my camera module role, I really had to learn about photonics and discovered the importance of photonics in enabling almost every other market and business sector on the planet. It was a terrific learning experience for me.

My boss said to me “go away and learn about photonics”. I understood the basic physics of it, but there were some technical terms that I really had to better understand, and I learned a lot of it on the job. There were some technical terms that I really had to get to grips with, like MTF (modulation transfer function), which is about the quality of a lens / electronic system design, and how good it is at creating an image or transmitting photons.

What I came to realise is that photonics is the technology for the 21st century. If the semiconductor was the technology that drove the 20th century, photonics is what will drive the 21st!

What challenges have you had to overcome in your career?

I’ve had many, many business challenges over the years. However I guess the single biggest challenge that I’ve had to overcome in my career was that when I was 26 years old, I was diagnosed with a cancer. It took about a year and a half out of my life going through chemotherapy and recovery. That was 30 odd years ago, so it’s a long time ago, but it’s definitely the biggest challenge I have had to overcome.

Has there been anyone/anything that has influenced your career choices?

I was at a meeting at Philips in Airdrie, when they still had a factory there making phones. I was with my boss and some customer personnel, when I realised I hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. I suddenly realised that I wasn’t selling electronics; I was actually doing business transactions. Although I had a degree in electronics and so on, I realised that I needed to understand business if I was going to be successful.

So I went to my boss and I said I wanted to do an MBA, to learn about business. I spent the next three years doing an MBA part time, while at the same time travelling all across the planet. It was a really significant step in helping me to better understand business transactions, motivation, how people work, organisational behaviour, strategy, finance etc. Doing that MBA was definitely a big influence in my career.

What’s one key piece of advice for people to navigate the industry?

If you want to be successful, you can’t be successful on your own. You need other people around. You need good people to work with you, work for you, and work around you, so networking, talking and collaborating with people is really important. Network actively and often would be my piece of advice.

Can you tell us a bit about Technology Scotland and enabling technology?

Technology Scotland is an industry association. Our role is to represent our members and promote the industry to local and national governments. It’s about influencing policy, and interfacing to other international stakeholders, like other Photonics or MaaS clusters in other parts of the world. It’s very much about local and international networking. One primary role is to make sure that our members’ voices are heard by local and national government to make sure they are aware of industry challenges, and what the Government needs to do to help support the industry to ensure it stays vibrant in Scotland and the UK.

Another key role we have is to bring the community together through events, workshops, and forums, creating promotional materials, and publishing what the community is doing through roadmaps or whitepapers.

For example, we published a Whitepaper on MaaS earlier this year, which resulted in the announcement of a £2m Maas Innovation Fund in the recent Scottish Programme for Government. This is a great result for our members, and opens an exciting phase for the roll out and upscale of Mobility as a Service in Scotland.

We’re currently working on publishing a Whitepaper about photonics in Scotland which will include analysis on the strengths of, and challenges facing the photonics industry. We aim to consult our members on a strategy and an “ask” of The Scottish government of how to at least treble the photonics market by 2030. We see Whitepapers as one way to get government attention for the industries that we represent.

Regarding enabling technologies, they fundamentally underpin every service and everything that is made. People talk about “The Digital Age”, but the digital age is only possible because of very clever people designing the electronic and photonic subsystems that enable it. The internet itself is what I describe as “a massively interconnected system of electronic and photonic subsystems, connected together by fibre optic cables and laser diodes”. The internet, the “cloud”, the “digital” world, all of these things are underpinned by photonics and electronics – fundamental enabling technologies which are sadly not well understood by the public or politicians alike.

Enabling technologies are what will help governments and businesses solve the grand challenges of the planet – not enough water, not enough food, as well as the transport, energy and pollution challenges. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say enabling technologies are what will help solve those grand challenges. Enabling technologies will drive the future productivity and growth that all governments want. They underpin and enablealmost everything else.

What are your views of the enabling technology market in Scotland?

In a Scottish context, the enabling technology market in Scotland is bigger than life sciences, and just as big as the software industry, if not bigger. Enabling technology companies account for 10% of all Scottish exports. However, enabling technology is hidden. People are not aware of it, and one of the challenges we have at Technology Scotland is to try and make people aware of what enabling technology does. Without enabling technology, these grand challenges are going to be really difficult to solve.

What excites you about the enabling technology market at the moment?

I think all of the above! Enabling technologies are going to help us transform the planet. We need these technologies to solve the grand challenges. By the year 2035 or thereabouts, it is forecast there are going to be some 45 trillion devices connected to the internet (almost 6000 per person!) One of the huge problems this will cause is security of data. How do you ensure that your data is safe? Researchers are looking at quantum solutions to solve cyber security matters. Quantum enabled security may be required to keep these 45 trillion devices talking to each other, but only when they’re allowed to.

Quantum technologies are also going to revolutionise the speed at which computers can work. Faster data analytics will help to solve many, many problems.

There’s also quantum photonics, an example of which is going to allow people to look round corners, and we have examples of this already! There are cameras right now being developed, by our friends at QuantIC, which can in fact look round corners and others that can see through surfaces. It’s fascinating stuff.

Enabling tech is what is going to drive productivity and improvements. It’s going to help the world solve the grand challenges and that’s what really excites me about it the most.

What do you think makes a great tech company?

Looking to solve the unsolvable. When I was a global business traveller, I used to run around with a Nokia mobile phone, a Canon camera, a Palm Pilot and of course my Sony Walkman to listen to music. These were products from four different but huge markets, and it took somebody with a great mind, Steve Jobs of course, who said let’s put all these into one little package and then Apple created the iPhone.

Apple destroyed the “Walkman” market by creating the iPhone. This new technology also completely decimated other successful technology markets, like the PDA and the stand-alone digital camera market. Basically, what makes a great tech company is trying something that previously hadn’t been thought possible or doable, and doing it. Actually, Sony who invented the Walkman had themselves created a new market before newer technology replaced it. It’s about looking at what’s not been done before and doing it.

What opportunities do you see for people coming into the enabling technology market: are there more jobs available, is it challenging, is it a good market to be getting into?

There’s a world of opportunities. I was visiting one of our member companies a few months ago. One of their employees had done a PhD in chemistry, and then found himself working at a large multinational electronics company designing security solutions for the biggest brand names on the planet. His job is to design security labels that go on the back of phones, software, laptops and other high tech equipment. He’s got a chemistry degree, yet he travels to Silicon Valley, Korea and Japan visiting household name global electronic giants. He has a fascinating job.

So there’s a world of opportunities in the enabling technology market. There are opportunities in photonics, electronics, advanced manufacturing and more. The careers in these sectors can be really well paid, really challenging, and really exciting for people to get involved in because you’re making a difference. If you’re involved in a business which is somehow going to help to resolve global problems, how better can it be than that?

Are there lots of jobs currently available in photonics, electronics and advanced manufacturing?

Absolutely, we had another meeting recently with about 12 CEOs in Scotland, all running electronic or photonic businesses. Every single one of those companies was struggling to find enough skilled people to build products, so they all had multiple open job vacancies. They were trying to figure out what that meant in terms of wealth for them. (On average UK businesses generate £118k of revenue per employee with photonics companies even higher at £198k of revenues per employee).

So if you consider that every open job that’s not filled is going to cost your company at least £150k a year in lost revenues and you have 10 jobs you can’t fill, that’s potentially £1.5 million of lost revenue. All of these companies were talking about growth levels in the last year of 80%, 50%, 100% and 70% – so there’s massive growth there, but even with that growth, they still can’t find enough people.

One of the big things that came out of this discussion was that there are not enough women involved in technology. Some 50% of the people on this planet are women, yet a recent SPIE survey suggested only some 21% of those employed in photonics are women. If we get more women involved in technology companies then there’s a good chance we could solve the lack of available labour to design and manufacture these enabling technology products; the photonics, electronics, lasers, new advanced materials, those things that are going to make a difference.

Overall it’s a terrific market to be in. It’s growing enormously, it’s challenging, it’s really exciting thinking about what these technologies can do, and we would absolutely like to encourage more women to get involved in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Enigma People Solutions is an award-winning technology recruitment consultancy. Visit our job search page for the latest vacancies in photonics, electronics, semiconductor, and software in Scotland. Check out our blog for the latest in the technology industry. You can get in touch with us hello@enigmapeople.com or call us on 0141 332 4422/0131 510 8150


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