The Bernie Rickinson era
Dr Bernie Rickinson, departing CEO of IOM3, speaks to Ellis Davies about his time at the Institute, his career, and plans for the future.
Tell me about your career leading to IOM3
I went to the University of Sheffield, UK, and did a degree in metallurgy in 1968 after becoming fascinated by not only science subjects, but also working with my hands, particularly with metals. Not only did I study metalwork, but also technical drawing. If you put these and science together, that’s a strong foundation for an interest in metallurgy. I also did a PhD at Sheffield on steel and the solidification of steels, with a very strong industrial emphasis.
I then had an opportunity to work in the USA at MIT for Merton Flemings, who was a recognised global leader in solidification processing. I worked there for two years before coming back to the UK to pursue a job in the special steels industry in Sheffield, where I was Technical Manager at Osborn Steels, and there I started working on rapid solidification of highly alloyed steels for better performance. I transferred this activity to industrial practice from laboratory experiments over a period of three and a half years.
In 1981, I transferred to the role of Technical Director, specialising in the use of hot isostatic pressing. That was a service-based business, and where I got my experience of managing services. It was really great training, using very high-technology equipment on 24/7 activities. I stayed with this technology from 1981–1997 progressing to group Main Director at Bodycote, where I was also developing mergers and acquisitions. In 1997, I came to the then Institute of Materials (IoM) as Chief Executive, and here I am 21 years later.
What is your most memorable project?
I think one of the most significant projects was the first merger – bringing IoM to IOM3, and being brave enough to do it. A lot of people said that it was too broad, and now I realise that we were actually ahead of the game in understanding that to have one common platform was precisely what people wanted. For me, the merger was a lot of work, but with a really good outcome, and that merger laid the tracks for all the subsequent mergers.
In 1997, you said in an interview that the MIS was the ‘crown jewel of IoM’. What’s the crown jewel of IOM3?
Back then, I was thinking of an individual aspect to the totality of an organisation. Thinking strategically about it, I’d say that what IOM3 now has, as a whole, is relevance. It has direct relevance not only to its membership, but also to its industrial community and schools. IOM3 is ahead of the game - it’s a leader, tries new things and thinks differently.
What are your plans for the future?
One of the things that I enjoy most in this job is communicating to people and I am not ready to give that up. To this end, I’m looking to have three strands of activity in retirement – although it’s not really retirement, it’s just moving on to new challenges. A lot of those things will be consulting and non-executive board work. The second thing is volunteering, particularly relating to MaDE, the Federation of European Materials Societies and schools.
I’ve got a lot of experience as an industrialist, and I know what does and doesn’t work with schools. I’d like to try to work with a London school to develop their materials and industry understanding. Lastly, I’d like to form my own small business, to make something, because I enjoy working with materials, so I need to put that creativity and knowledge of materials into my own hands.
During his time as CEO of the Institute, Rickinson has been a part of many projects and schemes. Here he describes a few of them.
Schools Affiliate Scheme (SAS)
When I started working at IoM, I realised that, organisationally, you can look at the Institute as a tree - the leaves and higher branches are links with industry, academia and the student population, both at undergraduate and further education. You can visualise the process through which young people move from the roots of the tree, through the trunk, and grow their careers within materials.
At the time of joining IoM, there was no direct link with young people. I wanted a young person to stand outside Carlton House Terrace and say to their parents or friends, ‘I am a member of this organisation’. I proposed this to the professional groups of the Institute who then suggested making a teacher a member, which is when the Schools Affiliate Scheme was born. We recognised the shortcomings of the school curriculum to provide relevance with real life examples of materials, how they were used, and how as an Institute we could help the teaching community to interpret the curriculum.
The scheme primarily targeted secondary schools, delivering to the students through the teacher both in science and design technology. The scheme in its present size is one of the biggest of any professional engineering institute. It’s a real success story, and it’s now reaching out to primary schools and though yet not to the same extent as with secondary schools, when it reaches that level, it will complete the tree.
The Industry Affiliate Scheme
The Industry Affiliate Scheme’s origin lies in the Materials Information Service (MIS) by delivering answers to technical questions. It was targeted at SME’s, which lacked materials, minerals or mining expertise within their business, but potentially came across these areas and had no answers.
The Institute acquired the National MIS from the Design Council, which was then a subsidiary of the Department of Trade and Industry, in 1996. I saw the link between having a body of expertise that could deliver to SME’s all over the country and overseas by way of a member benefit for individuals, but equally as a broader benefit to companies. This led to the development of the Industry Affiliate Scheme, which has continued, and I have also recognised a link that could emerge between the school and Industry Affiliate Schemes. Joining up the resources we’ve created with schools, and understanding the needs of small businesses, we could in the future create better links between the two and I hope this develops further beyond my term.
The National Archive
The individual experimentation with materials is well established, and those results, such as the characterisation of materials, are captured in technical papers, books and various other ways. But if you don’t know it’s there, you can simply go for an electronic form of retrieval. However, the information you’ll get is only as good as the search criteria you provide.
The purpose of the National Archive is to protect a body of information that could act as a real foundation of knowledge. It was broadly started by drawing together all of the library information we had when IoM merged with the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy (IMM)
We’re seeing a growing interest from both corporate bodies possessing libraries of information but pressed for space, and individuals who have specialist knowledge and information in a particular area who are beginning to question what they are going to do with it. Part of my project has been consolidating and combining this information into something that has national significance.
The idea of creating a national archive using all of this information from specialist areas within the community is our attempt, as an Institute, to maintain an effective knowledge transfer that tries to minimise duplication. Eventually, it will add value far beyond the UK.
297 Euston Road
I saw the Institute through the move from Carlton House Terrace to 297 Euston Road. We’re now in a building that is more flexible and contemporary, and makes communication for all members far easier. Carlton House Terrace’s origin for the Institute dates back to the 1970s, when this grand building had real significance appropriate to the communities at that time.
Consider if you were to stand a young person outside the building and imagine that the building told a story to them as to what the people inside did, and how they represented themselves and related to the community. To me, the old building suggested that this was maybe an organisation that was a bit aloof, not very modern, a bit slow moving and perhaps for just senior professionals rather than for younger people too. So when we were considering the move, we very much had a view that standing the same person outside 297 Euston Road would tell a very different story.
We wanted to break out into something new, and into something more relevant and flexible for young people, and 297 is providing that without a shadow of doubt.
We were extremely fortunate that the HRH Prince Phillip the Duke of Edinburgh could officially open the building in November 2015.
The Materials and Design Exchange was introduced in 2005 when a study that was supported by the UK Treasury, and through the then Department of Trade and Industry, evaluated the needs and values of the materials community. It was a very powerful piece of work, and the report identified that one of the missing links was materials’ relationship to the product design community.
Product designers regularly make decisions about materials, but their knowledge of materials needed, in our view, to be much more complete. In other words, could the two communities form a partnership of value to both? That was the essence of MaDE. It continues and succeeds today. We developed new products of engagement that enabled two communities to share experience and for materials people to understand what was important in the minds of designers.
I think the design community has sustained, in certain courses, a degree of interaction with materials – more than materials courses have in reverse. If those two elements, at undergraduate level, were linked then the value added for UK limited and beyond would be so much more effective. I’ve found that, certainly, there is no community thirstier for materials support and help than the product design community.