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Skip to 0 minutes and 13 seconds Neill, good morning. Thanks for coming to Coventry. Thanks for doing this, first of all. So how would you describe Versarien as a company? So, Versarien is an advanced materials company. So, when I started the business at the very end of 2010, the beginning of 2011, it was really to take ideas out of UK universities that were around the advanced materials sector and to actually turn those into commercial projects. So, we don’t want to be fundamental researchers, we want to work with the researchers and to develop those ideas that they have into commercial products that we can buy as consumers and that’s what we do.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 seconds So, we work with the University of Manchester, the University of Cambridge, a number of other universities including Exeter and Glasgow and now Coventry, ha ha where we are starting to have those conversations in the engineering department that you talk about and so, it’s our job to really develop those ideas from a fundamental stage right the way through to commercialisation. Why are you particularly interested in in universities, why not other sort of private research or private manufacturing or technical labs or things like that, why universities? So, I think universities in general but especially in the UK have always had a problem in being able to develop that commercialisation.

Skip to 1 minute and 28 seconds For someone like myself as an engineer it is very frustrating to see very very good ideas never make it into the real world and so that was what I really wanted to kind of challenge was most good businesses are based around a specific challenge and for me it was about getting those ideas and actually making them come to life. And that’s when we did it for the first technology out of the University of Liverpool, we realised that we actually had a great team and we could do this but I have really being doing it most of my career so it’s nothing new.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 seconds So, I know you have got a lot of international collaborations we will come to those later, do you partner any universities abroad? Not currently but it’s something that we are working on. As we develop our plans geographically… So we have just started an international programme about a year ago, including China, Japan, the US, South Korea, we are getting a great introduction to foreign universities and tie ups between the UK universities and those overseas universities around developing research themes.

Skip to 2 minutes and 27 seconds OK, so we have got a definition of a company just like Versarien as a collection of people with economic interests so would you agree then that Versarien is a collection of people with economic interests and what kinds of specific knowledge and resources do you strive to develop? So, I think it is a collection but it’s a collection of people with a common goal. So, in our particular case, all of the people, well most of the people in our business, at least at the senior management level, all share this vision around taking this technology out of the universities and putting it into the real world.

Skip to 2 minutes and 58 seconds In terms of whether or not they are all economically driven in the same way then there’s a whole range of different people. We have traditional businesses that contain workers who are just interested in, you know, satisfying the needs of their families and they may not buy into the whole strategic aim of the company but what’s interesting is we have developed the business over the last six or seven years and started to buy these other companies is how aligned everybody had become. So, most of our employees have a shareholding in the business and therefore they are driven by the same things as I am as the biggest shareholder in our company.

Skip to 3 minutes and 35 seconds So essentially you have got your scheme in the business and it motivates not just you but your staff as well. Yeah so I’m a great believer that we should all have an active interest in the things that we are passionate about so whether it’s the company or in fact I was looking at some of these football teams that have gone bust more recently, my view is actually a great model is to get those supporters to buy into those entities and you know I am an engineer so I tend not to be the guy who comes up with the clever ideas, I am more the guy who actually, you know, uses those ideas.

Skip to 4 minutes and 9 seconds So what I’ve done is I’ve looked at several business models from all sorts of other great companies, so for instance Brew Dog, for instance they’ve got a fantastic model where they have actually been funded all the way through their development through their customers and I think that actually our shareholders now as things tend to change within society are actually bound into our company and have the same kind of motivation that we do so I actually have a disruptive model where we are using our shareholders to actually give us commercial leads for instance.

Skip to 4 minutes and 44 seconds Because I believe if they have a shareholding then they have, they want to see their shareholding increase but why should the company do all of the work when they may have their own connections and contacts and that’s working really, really well. It’s really difficult to get people to buy into it at first because it’s a disruptive model but I think it’s a great way forward. Perhaps at this point you should tell our audience what Graphene as a substance is all about and what the potential is. So, Graphene was isolated in 2005. We have known about it for a long time. So, it was actually isolated by two Russian professors at the University of Manchester.

Skip to 5 minutes and 18 seconds The fundamental research about understanding what Graphene is goes back hundreds of years and in fact Graphene has always been there and in its simplest form Graphene is a single sheet of carbon atoms so you’re talking about quantum science, you’re talking about atomic physics here but fundamentally all we are doing is we are taking a material which has a series of layers and splitting it into those individual layers or as close to those individual layers as we can. The thing is, once we had understood and we could isolate Graphene because we thought that it wouldn’t be stable what we have been able to learn subsequently is when we put that material into other materials we fundamentally changed the way they operate.

Skip to 5 minutes and 59 seconds As consumers we have a number of different challenges - as we travel more by air, we need to reduce

Skip to 6 minutes and 9 seconds the amount of fuel that we are burning to keep the cost of flights down and so like weighting becomes a big issue, we are trying to drive the weight down of everything from cars to planes. We have a reliance of mobile devices which requires better batteries. All of these things can be changed through this new science which has developed over the last 10 years.

Skip to 6 minutes and 28 seconds Graphene itself is a wonder material in that it’s these single sheets but it’s the first of over five thousand new materials that could be utilised and we are just starting to get the first two or three going so you can imagine how exciting it is as an engineer to have this new pallet of materials that you can use in different applications. So, it makes materials more durable sometimes more malleable as well if that’s the need? So, we can alter the characteristics of the Graphene to suit each application. So, what it does fundamentally is that it alters the physical properties, it alters the durability, the fracture mechanics as you said, the ability for it to be elongated and so on.

Skip to 7 minutes and 12 seconds It alters its thermodynamics capability and so Graphene is one of the best thermal conductors that we have but it also enables electrical conductivity and so things like principal electronics that were kind of Star Trek innovations years and years ago are actually coming to life now in flexible displays, body monitoring, wearable devices we are seeing more and more of. And that’s all enabled by Graphene? Graphene, the best way to describe Graphene it doesn’t really matter about the quantum science, what we need to understand is that it’s an enabling technology for things like 3D printing and electric vehicles and automation and AI because it enables these technologies to develop. OK so as a substance what does Graphene look like?

Skip to 7 minutes and 56 seconds Well it’s interesting, here’s an example of… there’s about 80g of Graphene in there, it’s a litre container so it’s a very lightweight low-density material. So, what we’ve done is we’ve chemically and mechanically exploded natural Graphite to form this material. The interesting thing comes when we take that material and we start to add it to other things. So if we add it into a plastic this is what it looks like - so this is the kind of feed stock that would go into plastic bottles or into any number of plastic devices that we use no matter whether it be automotive aerospace or so on.

Skip to 8 minutes and 26 seconds But then it gets even more interesting when you actually see the final products - so this is a textile which is actually created in Graphene and these are at the advanced level of testing and they are being tested for things like the ability to wick sweat, the thermodynamic properties, all of these have been tested scientifically but now athletes are actually wearing these and there are some big, high-profile venues coming up very soon that they hope to be able to launch these products at.

Skip to 8 minutes and 57 seconds I can tell you that they are being tested across a whole range of different sports and our biggest success in athletics was working with Christian Bromley and Don Parsons at the Winter Olympics where we were lucky enough as a team, and as a collaboration to secure the bronze medal, which is a fantastic result from the athlete but also from the technology that went into it. So, if I for some reason needed some Graphene how much would this cost me? Well, it depends on how much you order. So, if you’re going to order in grams for research then the price is relatively high and it can it can be astronomical depending on the quality that you require.

Skip to 9 minutes and 38 seconds When you start getting into these mass production applications like textiles or oil and gas or automotive aerospace then the price has to reduce because we as consumers don’t necessarily want to pay a huge premium for the performance but you have to weigh up the performance advantages against the potential for the cost. Yeah, so we announced more recently a construction project and actually although we added cost in terms of adding other materials we dramatically reduced the cost of the installation which offset the material costs. Could you tell, this may be a trick question, but could you tell per gram how much Graphene would be in this top?

Skip to 10 minutes and 21 seconds I can tell you roughly that it doesn’t add much to the cost of the garment when it goes through production. So, the cost, so not only is the cost dependent on the quality and we produce very high-quality Graphene but also in percentage loading and also in the technology around getting that material into the substring. So, the idea is always for us as engineers not to add huge costs to the product which then stops it being commercially viable. So, from the Versarien perspective what is your understanding of strategy formulation in respect of magnitude and in respect of timescale and in respect of resources? So, strategy is something that’s very very widely overlooked by a lot of businesses but it’s absolutely key.

Skip to 11 minutes and 8 seconds You can have a really, really clear vision or actually enable that vision unless you have a strategy behind it. So that strategy can be broken down into various stages and it’s a constantly moving constantly adapting process. It’s subject to a lot of external functions, you know, we have currently going through a huge amount of political turmoil around Brexit and China and America and all of these things that impact our strategy but our strategy overall is to be the world leader in this technology. So that doesn’t change.

Skip to 11 minutes and 41 seconds Now, how do we get to be the world leader, which is our aspiration, that’,s our end goal, well that needs to be broken down into the various stages, the internationally strategy, the technology strategy, the commercial strategy and they all need to be developed as we get bigger and we become more substantive. So, would you say strategy is a one-off event or an ongoing process?

Skip to 12 minutes and 3 seconds Oh it’s definitely an ongoing process, so you can’t have a business model or a business plan or a strategy that continues because you cannot forecast or predict the events that may or may not happen and it’s something that you shouldn’t become complacent about so I am a great believer that some of the, there’s some research around the big companies that are in the limelight at the moment they probably won’t even exist in 10 or 20 years’ time because the companies that were in the limelight 20 years ago, they don’t exist anymore.

Skip to 12 minutes and 35 seconds And so one of the things to remember especially if you’re a start up is that you really want to continue that mentality all the way through the development of your business. That’s very hard as the business becomes bigger and becomes bureaucratic but actually the theme… you want to be a speedboat not an ocean tanker, and one of the advantages of being smaller is that you can manoeuvre around some of these obstacles. You have to keep reinventing yourself.

Strategic management process

The big question for this short course has been: what is strategy – an event or a process?

In this video, we introduce you to the CEO of Versarien – Neill Ricketts – who provides his own response to the big question. Neill also talks through the background of his company to enable you to relate the strategic concepts and frameworks you have (and will) learn in this short course to Versarien.

So far, the previous steps have enabled you to form your own understanding of strategy and, in particular, its nature, pathways and characteristics.

Below, we offer a linear and visual representation of strategy formulation, implementation and evaluation to set the tone for the rest of this short course and programme. Indeed, strategy is not an event but a drawn-out process with several phases of iteration [strategy pathways] as the graphic below illustrates:

A visual representation of the strategic management process, adapted from Robbins and Coulter 2002, described below this image. Selecting the image above will open the image, on which you can then zoom in

As we saw in Step 1.4, to effectively formulate strategy, an organisation begins by appreciating or outlining its vision, mission and objectives in stage 1.

In stage 2, the organisation seeks to study the businesses’ environment to determine, in stage 3, its opportunities and threats.

Converting opportunities into customer value and overcoming threats warrants a resource analysis in stage 4 in order to identify, in stage 5, what customer value the organisation is good at delivering (strengths) and vice-versa (weaknesses).

All of these depend on the cognitive perception of corporate level managers and culminate into optional strategies in stage 6 for further implementation in stage 7.

In the final phase, stage 8, the organisation puts control and monitoring mechanisms in place to evaluate ongoing performance.

The quality of analysis in stages 2, 3, 4 and 5 is what separates average firms from industry leaders. Think about the smartphone industry – in hindsight, we could say Nokia, Blackberry and Motorola had a hazy analysis of the future of mobile communication, while Samsung and Apple had a clearer understanding of where the market was headed.


Robbins, S. and Coulter, M. (2002) Management. 7th edn. New Jersey: Prentice Hall

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This video is from the free online course:

Strategy as a Process and Measures of Success: An Introduction

Coventry University