Chief Executive Officer, CENSIS

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Chief Executive Officer, CENSIS, (Sensors and Imaging Systems Innovation Centre)

Our team, led by Baljit Dhadda, was retained in late 2013 for a Chief Executive officer role within the Centre of Excellence for Sensor and Imaging Systems (CENSIS), Scotland. The Innovation Centre which can arguably be termed as the ‘game changer’ for Scotland embraces the country’s broad and deep research capability residing in universities that produce world class research outputs in vibrant advanced engineering and high-tech industrial sectors. Funded by the Scottish Funding Council in partnership with Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, CENSIS draws on Scotland’s end users of sensors and imaging systems to define collaborative projects leading to business and economic growth. It addresses industry and market challenges, and acts as a single contracting point to access all the research capabilities across Scotland with its well-known technical capability in system design and project management. A successful appointment was made in January 2014. Our client was Bob Downes, Chairman, CENSIS. With wide experience across private and public sectors in the UK, Europe and the US, Bob has been involved with many business sectors including telecommunications, energy, and health care; and has managed infrastructure provision as well as regional economic development. His responsibilities have covered large scale change management, strategy development and deep operational leadership. 

Our candidates were hugely diverse, identified by extensive and creative market mapping across the sensor industry (including semiconductors, photonics, displays, materials, aerospace, defence, automotive, life sciences and other hi-tech engineering, manufacturing, integration, consultancy and R&D/CRO businesses), cutting-edge SMEs, multi-modal technology projects, blue-chip industry, applied academia, variety of industry partners, Scottish and UK government, public agencies and regulatory bodies. Candidates were targeted both for their fit with the relevant field as well as their Executive role within the Board.

Our challenge was to identify candidates who had over 10 years operating experience at a senior managerial level in an industrial research or development environment including acting in a high-profile ambassadorial capacity. Our success was dependent on candidates who had refined influencing skills and had the credibility to grasp the nuances of influencing ‘upwards’, as well as ‘across’ intelligent organisations with proven ability to work across different commercial structures, environments and governance structures, and so identifying the drivers that enable delivery of commercial outcomes.

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.
  • 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 whilst engaging with national, European and international organisations interested in sensor and imaging systems.
  • 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 CENSIS 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 Ian Reid brought a background in applied research with MSc in astrophysics at the University College of Wales Aberystwyth. Working in GEC’s Hirst Research Centre, Ian gained experience in the space, military and telecoms markets which eventually culminated into a Strategic Marketing Director role at Plastic Logic. Throughout his career, Ian held a number of UK and European board positions and statutory directorships. He had worked with public sector SMEs and blue-chip organisations. His leadership had an outward facing ability. He believed in team leadership that had emerged across different cultures and business models.

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