News Column

Innovative approach can help Teesside to be a world-beater

August 12, 2014

Innovation is putting Teesside on the cusp of a potential goldmine, according to science specialist Nigel Perry. JEZ DAVISON met him... WITH typical Scouse friendliness (minus the accent), Wallasey-born Nigel Perry claims he loves working with people.

Which is probably a good thing, since he has almost 250 staff to look after in his role as CEO of the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI).

It's a far cry from the Wilton-headquartered company's status in 2004, a one-man operation launched by Nigel to exploit the North- east's expertise in the process industries, digital technology, digital media, nanotechnology, photonics, renewables and life sciences.

Back then, CPI operated largely on a regional level but in the last ten years it has morphed into a vastly different beast, with customers and partners in 34 countries. Under Nigel's stewardship it has overseen at least Pounds 150m of new investment into companies, protected or created around 4,000 jobs and delivered more than 350 projects with a combined estimated value of Pounds 330m.

The figures are jawdropping but they're an example of what can be achieved with ambition, foresight and the art of collaboration.

CPI has been working with US nylon maker Invista to develop gas fermentation technologies used in commodity products, and with various partners on the commercial potential of so-called wonder- material graphene. The financial benefits could run into millions of pounds if, says Nigel, business leaders on Teesside grab the opportunities.

He said: "I like working with people who make things happen. There are two types of people: those who are part of the problem and those who are part of the solution.

"There are those who say: 'we have a problem and something needs to be done about it.' .' I want to work with those who say: "we have a problem and here's what I've done to resolve it - what do you think about this?'" This can-do attitude has served Nigel well during a career which began at ICI following his graduation from Oxford University with an engineering and science degree. He plied his trade in the chemical giant's agricultural division in Billingham before moving to the petrochemicals arm in 1987, staying until 2001 when he moved into consultancy.

Three years later he launched CPI as part of a Government initiative to set up five centres of industry excellence - part of a wider move to showcase the region's capabilities on the world stage. While the results have been swift and tangible, Nigel is keen not to rest on his laurels. He aims to mastermind further growth at CPI by bringing a Pounds 20m biologics factory to Darlington on the same site as the company's Pounds 38m National Biologics Manufacturing Centre.

In addition, he wants to establish two innovation centres to explore the commercial potential of graphene and complex formulated products, which are used in paints, detergent powders, adhesives and lubricants. He predicts these projects and others will help to boost CPI's turnover from Pounds 17m to Pounds 25m and swell staff numbers to 300 in the next three to four years.

The impressive numbers match the ambition of the man responsible for achieving them.

"This region is extraordinarily outward-looking," said Nigel. "We have so many opportunities that we can capitalise on."

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS Who has inspired you most (could be real- life or public figure)? Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the project engineer behind the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. I was in awe of what had been created.

Biggest achievement (personal or professional)? Playing a part in creating CPI as it is today. We now employ just under 250 people who work with great diligence on behalf of our clients.

What car do you drive? Audi A6 and a Triumph Stag Favourite restaurant? I like going out with my wife Liz and trying out a variety of different restaurants. I enjoy eating out at The Bay Horse in Great Broughton.

Favourite tipple? Wine Favourite book? Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote What's the last thing you listened to on your iPod? Leonard Cohen, although I usually listen to classical music Who or what makes you laugh? Clever humour rather than cruel humour. I like classics such as Dad's Army and Monty Python.

What's your greatest fear? I like the water but I do worry about drowning. What's the best piece of business advice you have ever received? Really understand how your product will make money. It doesn't matter how technologically sexy it is, you need funding to make it happen.

And the worst? It's difficult to pick an isolated example of poor advice. What's your business mantra? Do business with people who you can trust and maintain dialogue with your clients.

How much was your first pay packet and what was it for? I started at ICI earning about Pounds 1,200 a year, although I can't remember what I spent my first pay packet on. It couldn't have been anything big!

What's your biggest extravagance? Probably my Triumph Stag.

How do you relax and unwind? By going to art galleries and doing outdoor activities such as beekeeping.

Where is your favourite Teesside place? I enjoy the River Tees and the scenery of the nearby hills.

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Source: Evening Gazette (UK)

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