Hull-based Kohler Mira showers have been presented with a Queen’s Enterprise Award for Innovation at their Meltonwest Factory.
The £6 Billion multi-national firm, who moved into Hull in 1983, was presented with the award for their Mira Flight Safe anti-slip shower tray yesterday by Lord Lieutenant Susan Cunliffe-Lister.
The prestigious award enables the firm to fly the Queen’s Award flag for the next five years and has delighted managing director Liz Hazeldene.
Mrs. Hazeldene said:
“We’re absolutely delighted, I can’t tell you how proud and how excited I am about this award, not for me, but in recognition of the team here.
“Genuinely, the team of 100 people here, total cross-functional effort to win that award.
“There were people who went totally above, and beyond the call of duty, to make that happen.
“What they did was look for consumer problems, people slipping in the shower, they were applying a coating manually, the coating wasn’t very good.
“It came off, it gets dirty, the new process they developed, they innovated, does away with all of those issues, it stays clean, it’s anti-microbial, it’s a fantastic non-slip surface.
“In recognition of that genuine innovation, it’s lovely to receive the Queen’s award, which is an external recognition of all that innovation.”
The five-year award does certainly make a significant difference for the company which moved from National Avenue to its purpose-built premises at Melton five years ago.
Mrs. Hazeldene continued:
“We sometimes talk about trays being a bit of a dark art, they genuinely are.
“There are some very skilled individuals, which is the reason we won’t take it away from Hull, because we have a skilled team here, and we can’t work without those people.
“Critical to us is being in this area, and being able to continue to develop and engineer and innovate in this way.”
It’s not lost on this thoroughly engaging lady that by the time the five years of this award finishes, this forward thinking family company will be able to say that they’ve had the Queen’s Award flag for half the time they’ve been at their Melton plant.
“We were just saying, imagine if we could put that on 60 service engineers vans.
“It is a real feather in the cap, because it’s recognition of something genuinely innovative, and before the five years is up, we just have to innovate again.”
So just how difficult is it for the company who have 68 patents to their name to keep innovating in their current environment?
Mrs. Hazeldene said:
“It is a challenge to innovate, but when you have a team of people who really understand the consumer need, and are passionate about what they need, it comes quite easily.
“We say, we are going to meet a consumer need, that’s what the problem is, now solve it, and they’ll innovate.
“If you give them the time, the space, and the resource, and of course is backed by a £6B global business, means we can get the investment.
“As the Kohler’s re-invest 90% of what they make, it means they’re really passionate and committed about that.
“So yes it is a challenge, but I think we create the environment, to give us the best chance to do something, to be really creative.”
The encouragement of the family orientated environment is still very important to the still family-run multi-national company, which has plants all over Europe, and in India.
The Managing Director continues: “One of the things we talk about a lot is, the Mira family feel, and genuinely it is a culture, and it’s very paternalistic, it’s a very friendly culture
“One of the things we talk about a lot is, the Mira family feel, and genuinely it is a culture, and it’s very paternalistic, it’s a very friendly culture
“But it’s also a challenging culture that says, you don’t let your brothers and sisters get away with things,
“I think that very supportive, very challenging environment, allows them to really build.
“I think that the whole piece, about being privately owned is, we don’t do things for the short term because the chairman is in this.
“He will make 40-50 years investments, were as if you were working for a PLC where shareholders need their investment this year, next year, it’s a very different environment.
“The chairman will say, this is for our children, and our children’s children, that kind of investment has to be long-term.
“He wants you to be strategic, and genuinely push the barriers so you can be creative.”
One of the things this innovative business encourages is rewarding their staff to use foresight, and be bold with their ideas.
Mrs. Hazeldene said:
“I think it’s two-fold, it’s about the engagement because the people who come up with the ideas are absolutely at the coal-face.
“They see it, they feel it, they deal with things on a daily basis, so if you’re going to get good ideas, it has to come from those people who are literally their day-to-day.
“They can see it, and then you just have to work out a way, and say, how do you get that feedback, because otherwise, it’s like a communications barrier.
“So Ping is all about saying, tell us about your ideas, because actually, it can benefit you, it’s a contest, we’ll reward that, but it can also benefit the business.
“I’ll give you an example, probably two or three years ago, we had a guy, he came to us and said, if you put an inspection hatch in an area of the feeder, it means you won’t have to stop the machine for two days.
“You won’t have to clean it down while somebody goes in and does something and literally by saying that, he saved us £20,000 a year.
“There’s no way that Ian as plant manager would have known that, but because the guy was working there every day, thinking that, if I could just go in through a hatch there, I won’t have to empty the machine so I can get to something.
“It’s that kind of at-the-coal-face, how do you get the ideas bubbling up, so we can work on it together.”
So what happens if you’re just a temporary member of staff, does that become more permanent, once again it’s a very convincing answer!
Mrs. Hazeldene said:
“It is cultural when you join you see, it is an amazing business to work for.
“So if you want to further your career, if you want to go on and be global ops director, you can, you just need to drive it.
“Wayne Walker started the business when he was 16 years old, he did his apprenticeship, he did his degree with us, and he is now a global operations director.
“He covers this plant, the UK plants, the European plants, and India, that’s a testament to, this is a great place to come and work for, a great place to stay, and a great place that you will never want to leave.
“We like to focus on that, so being a global business, the world’s your oyster, what do you want to achieve?
“We want you to achieve it, if you’re clear about what you want, we will help you to achieve it.”
“I think that comes from the Kohler’s down, literally because it’s a family business, we want people to come here, to be invested in the business, engage with the business, and then to stay.”
“It’s not good for any business, to have a great big turnover of staff, it’s not good for you, we want people to develop while they’re here.”
Reported by Ian Judson