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About Me

Mark & ThomasMark Bland

As a child I was always interested in puzzles. Now as an adult I have found the ultimate puzzle - how to put people and processes together and deliver a successful organization. As a mechanical engineering graduate I moved into manufacturing management and now operations management, where solving puzzles is a way of life.

I joined Bristol Grammar School aged 5 and left aged 18. Thirteen years of happiness - an excellent school providing me with much opportunity and learning. The school has an above average percentage of dynamic and passionate teachers and some classes were just always fun and challenging.

I left to join British Aerospace Systems in Filton, Bristol, as an undergraduate engineering apprentice. I had been accepted by Imperial College, University of London to study mechanical engineering and would spend my first year and then summer vacations at BAE Filton. I have fond memories of my first year's apprenticeship - there were nine other undergraduate apprentices and we all got on very well. The social scene was busier than the work on some occasions - what with skiing trips, Gloucester Road pub crawls and jet skiing at South Cerney lake in the Cotswolds. My apprenticeship included 14 weeks at Rolls Royce training college where I was let loose on mills, lathes, linishers, grindstones and welding torches, but first of all we had to master the hacksaw, file and micrometer and make a cube from a sphere. I guess the next group of apprentices had to make a sphere from our cubes! During my degree I moved my sponsorship from BAE systems to British Aerospace Airbus - this was due to a downturn in fortunes for BAE Systems and a reduction in military spending.

Airbus was undergoing substantial changes to compete with Boeing. I was in at the deep end, part of a project team redesigning how the business would work. There is a huge metal treatments plant at the Filton site and it had a reputation of being a black hole - parts would go in and never be seen again. There were some 27 core processes with over 25,000 parts per week taking up to 27,000 different process routes. The project team worked with the management to devise a better parts management process to improve customer service. Then as the project drew to a close I was interviewed and given the job of logistics controller in the treatments plant. It was time to implement those project proposals! Within a year I was getting itchy feet, I wanted management experience and it wasn't going to happen soon enough at British Aerospace.

So I joined Santric Ltd as production manager. Santric has changed hands a few times since I left, but when I was there it was based in Swindon and sold stainless steel sanitary ware into the UK secure market of prisons, detention centers, police stations and public conveniences operated by local councils. It was a small company with a turnover of £2M per annum and I was in charge of 18 employees tasked with making all the sales orders within a 2 week lead time for most of the products. Very few orders were sold from stock as customers would order a whole range of products which often had some modification so they would fit into corners unique to the order. It was my baptism as a manager - fortunately I had a great deal of support from my shop floor supervisors and I soon became accepted as one of the team. I managed to introduce a plasma profiling machine into Santric - this replaced the manual cutting out operations and meant that parts, when bent, required little welding which in turn reduced the amount of polishing, improving both the finish, quality and margin on the products.

18 months after joining Santric I had a great opportunity to join a startup company that needed help completing the development of its products and establishing a supply chain. This was a great learning experience for me and provided me with the confidence that I could actual organize manufacturing businesses.

My next step was a move to Penlon and here I stayed for the next seven years. Penlon goes back to 1943, but the modern day Penlon is an MBO and I was lucky to join it just one year after the buy out. My CEO promoted me to operations manager. This job had more responsibility than I had had before, I relished the challenge. I was able to develop my own team and implement new manufacturing systems. There was a great spirit and we achieved excellent results. At Penlon, I was involved in two acquisitions which resulted in successful integrations and a factory move. Each year I would look back and think about all the new things I had put into practice - 5S system of workspace organization, pull systems, employee development plans, scheduling, supply chain monitoring and management, and then the following year I would look back and there would be a whole new list of systems - this was a very dynamic team. However, after seven years of continuous learning, I needed another challenge - I was too comfortable.

I didn't expect my next challenge to be in the USA but with my wife being offered a once in a life-time position at the University of Notre Dame I just had to find out if I could make it in the USA, and so here I am work permit in hand, looking for companies that believe they can do better by improving their operations.

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