Ploughshare Innovations Ltd

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Chief Executive Officer, Ploughshare Innovations Ltd

Our team was retained in early 2014 for Ploughshare Innovations Ltd, the wholly owned subsidiary of UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) research and development division. Ploughshare Innovations is a technology transfer company that manages the commercial licensing of intellectual property developed by Dstl headquartered at Porton Down. While Dstl’s responsibility is to bring the best science and technology innovations into the UK’s defence capability, Ploughshare’s brief is precisely the reverse i.e. to commercialise the MoD’s research into non-military markets. A successful appointment was made in April 2014; our client was Piers White, Chairman, Ploughshare Innovations Ltd. Piers spent 25 years in Financial Services with Barclays, Flemings and most recently Bank Insinger de Beaufort NV where he was UK Chief Executive until the sale to BNP Paribas in 2008.

Our challenge was to identify candidates with successful leadership experience gained at a senior level (ideally as a Chief Executive) in a commercial environment.  Our success was dependent on candidates who could proactively build and leverage relationships with key stakeholders, including Ploughshare’s Board, Dstl scientific research community, commercial customers, funding partners and other government organisations to support the commercialisation of novel ideas.

The calibre and diversity of candidates’ experience on the search-led shortlist included:

  • Strong scientific and academic backgrounds embracing the complexities that surround the academic, commercial and government environments.
  • Proven track record of successful leadership in commercial exploitation of science and technology against a backdrop of significant market change and engagement within complex stakeholder environments across the world.
  • Demonstrable evidence of background in exploitation of advanced sensor technologies in semiconductors, photonics, displays, materials, aerospace, defence, automotive, life sciences and other hi-tech engineering, manufacturing, integration, consultancy and R&D/CRO businesses
  • Significant experience in driving innovation across a range of public/private sector bodies and SMEs and has credible experience in strategizing international business developments.
  • significant experience of leading strategic decision-making, stakeholder engagement and major strategic transformation programmes within the Military industry and governments
  • Experience in strategic aspects of various nationally significant programmes, business and research communities, maximizing the commercial value of high level collaborative networks across industry and government sectors. 

Managing risk and challenge

  • We worked closely with the Ploughshare Innovations Ltd to devise a robust and complete recruitment process, advising our client candidly about the market in the public and private sectors and feeding back to them perceptions of the role and the project itself.
  • Regular communication and progress updates were provided and our clients made themselves available to manage issues and queries; strong partnership is critical to managing risk and expectations.
  • Our screening of candidates was focused on ensuring they could withstand the scrutiny that comes both from the appointment process and the role itself.
  • Each candidate report and recommendation was clearly aligned to each point of the role description to provide rigorous, transparent, risk-managed analysis.

Sourcing and candidate screening

  • Comprehensive brief and effective stakeholder engagement facilitating creative and diverse search. This role had very complex and diverse user/stakeholder relationships at its heart; we focused our search on candidates with proven track records in a scalable environment.
  • Refining the role descriptions and materials; we provided constructive challenge and experience of what has worked in comparable assignments to produce a first-rate pack that enabled strong applications and clearly defined the search parameters through the role’s priority skillsets and experience.
  • Market testing and benchmarking: identifying potential candidates and concurrent recruitment activity in the market.
  • Informed, candid and sensitive candidate care, managing their risks and expectations at each stage of the process
  • 360 degree candidate profiling throughout the search so that our weekly meetings with the clients were in-depth and risk-led. We were able to test out potential candidates and refine the search as we progressed, rather than reach the closing date with an uninformed client.

The successful candidate was James Kirby who brought credible leadership profile as the Director and Chief Technology Officer at Aurix Limited. His strategic commercial leadership was all about merging creativity with numbers. His commercial acumen illustrated his ability to make right investment choices which also requires backing the right technology. He had a clear understanding of the gap between an early-stage technology invention and its commercial viability and had demonstrated his ability to bridge this gap by using a disciplined de-risking strategy often transforming the early-stage discovery into a validated, robust commercial package whilst consolidating intellectual property simultaneously.

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