Forsberg's growth journey with Lancaster University

Chris Mayne is the newly appointed managing director of Forsberg Services, the Heysham-based providers of precision positioning, navigation and timing solutions and products, established in 1987. Throughout his 16 years with Forsberg, he says that Lancaster University has helped to guide both his own development and that of the company.

“I achieved a BSc in Telecommunications and then a Masters in Mobile Game Design and M-Commerce at Lancaster University, working two summers at Forsberg as an engineering assistant.” Having completed his studies he was offered the position of software project manager, working his way up to general manager of engineering, operations director, and now, managing director.

“With it being a small business, I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to everything from engineering, production, marketing, sales and technical sales to Human Resources (HR).” That meant lots of opportunities, but also a steep learning curve.

Navigating change

“In 2017 I heard about the Productivity through People (PtP) programme offered through Lancaster University Management School (LUMS). It hit at an interesting moment, as I’d been working on employee engagement with our HR team. I joined Cohort 1 and learned a lot about developing workplace strategy.

“Now, when there’s a challenge we have to overcome as a business, I have a structured approach to do it. As an executive management team we recognised the importance of ensuring that our employees are engaged and empowered to deliver our strategic goals. The drivers for change can be strong but there’s more support for it because we are solving problems as a team.”

Now, when there’s a challenge
we have to overcome as a
business, I have a structured
approach to do it

A standout feature of PtP was visiting the participating partners, BAE Systems, Siemens and Rolls-Royce. “You’d have a workshop around Transformational Leadership, then go to a best practice company like Siemens to see it in action – it provided real clarity as to how these ideas could be practically implemented.”

Following that, Chris wanted to make the next steps in his personal development. “I’d picked up a lot on the academic side from the PtP programme, so I went on to do an MA in Professional Practice (Management and Leadership) at LUMS, which recognised some of the work I’d done through the programme and introduced additional modules I was interested in. Via the MA, I worked on implementing a structured and scalable approach for reporting metrics and KPI execution throughout the business.”

However, the connections were not to end there. LUMS got back in touch to tell him about their eight month Made Smarter Leadership Programme (MSLP). “I looked into it and went: you know what? Digitalisation is exactly what my next step is going to be, so it makes perfect sense.”

The leadership programme is designed to help SME business leaders drive change within their organisations and transition to being smart manufacturers. “It was a natural progression from the MA,” Chris says.

“It enabled me to look at where the value in the business is and develop a strategy for maximising that value through the digitalisation of our processes. In turn, by moving our processes to a digital platform, we would generate more data reported - supporting decision-making across all levels of the business.”

MSLP incorporates a Sprint project that was especially useful to Forsberg. “They gave us the tools and methodology and then we had to implement change within the business, which puts all the learning into practice. In our case it was moving our procurement from a manual process to one that’s automated and integrated with our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. Our team implemented the change and this cut our process time from 30 minutes for a purchase order down to about 4 minutes and is freeing up people to do what they do best.”

Chris explains that the ERP system itself marks a further connection with the University. “In 2019 we began working with the EnginE project on higher level skills workforce development, which gave us a ‘Skills Champion Intern’, Joe Dodd, for two months. Joe brought new skills to tackle the integration of our ERP system, working with different departments to roll it out across the business, which he did brilliantly.”

He is clearly impressed with how each of his interactions with the University has worked to complement the others. “They’re all linked. The integration of the ERP system was accelerated through the EnginE involvement. That integration gave us the foundation – which our Made Smarter Sprints are now building on. Our whole digital strategy has come from that platform.”

Forsberg's future development

The future for Forsberg looks bright. During 2019 they increased from 30 to 40 staff and in September moved to larger premises.

“We have a very adoptive and innovative team and we all relish the opportunity to improve,” Chris says. “The programmes I’ve been involved with have helped to build the culture and engagement in the business. It’s all part of the same journey – and it has all come about from talking to the University.”

Chris himself has recently become one of LUMS’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. Now, having taken the lead on the EnginE project, Forsberg’s operations manager Dr Raphael Treffny is beginning his own journey with the University on the Lancashire Forum.

Internship success for Forsberg

Dr Raphael Treffny says: “We were struggling to get the latest version of our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system off the ground and make it an integral part across all departments. We understood that we needed someone to bring new skills to the business, build the system and work with us to get it running.

“Through the EnginE project our workforce challenges and skills gaps were reviewed, recommending a range of taster masterclasses to look at upskilling key staff, and providing us with a Skills Champion Internship as part of this.

“Joe Dodd, our intern - a second year finance and economics student at Lancaster University - had prior experience with systems and operations processes. He certainly met our expectations and the outcome had a positive impact on our business. Even now that internship has finished, the ERP system he helped to set up is live and still growing. We were impressed with what was achieved in the 8 weeks, and we’ve used the experience to inform the creation of a new role in this area.”

Joe says the respect – and the impact – was mutual. "My presence provided an outside perspective, coming into the business with a lot of energy, with a different view on how things could work. I sparked some interesting conversations with staff, and within departments, and we got people coming together to create more efficient processes.

"The internship changed my future career objectives. I realised that an incredibly positive and employee focused SME like Forsberg makes for a great company to be involved with. I hadn’t previously considered this an important aspect of a job - working with passionate people and still feeling cared about by the business at an individual level."

Raphael concludes: "As well as the Skills Champion Internships, EnginE provides access to a variety of high calibre funded taster masterclasses which get businesses thinking about upskilling opportunities. Our staff have attended sessions on subjects from leadership and process improvement to CAD modelling. We’ve received support for workforce development planning, and around the funding of the internship. The process has been hugely beneficial."