Owen started his career as a research scientist before moving into manufacturing management and has recently become an Operations Director


Owen Hicks, PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Bristol; joined Johnson Matthey in 1999 as a development chemist.

Ten years in: What advice can Owen give?

Where Owen is now

How has your career progressed since the video was filmed?

Since the video was filmed I have done several different jobs. I progressed to being the site General Manager for the plant in Royston where I looked after the whole function. I did that for a couple of years and really enjoyed it and the plant was quite successful and the team really worked well. We progressed our Lean journey – that went really well and was recognised by the company – just recently we were the first site to be awarded with the company Lean accreditation award so that was good for the team.

Also during that time I was given responsibility to look after the plant in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia. The site is a small autocatalyst factory with around 70 people and that was a really good challenge for me because it was dealing with a completely different culture – a very different one from the one I'm used to – and was a really good chance to see a part of the world I never thought I'd go to.

At the end of 2013 I was given the opportunity to try something completely different, which was a move to the Refining & Chemicals business, which is something I knew absolutely nothing about. It's a big challenge for me because after 15 years in Emission Control Technologies , the autocatalyst business, I knew quite a lot about what I was doing and I could fall back on quite a lot of experience.

Moving over to Refining & Chemicals has been a real test because I don't know the technology in detail; I don't know the commercial landscape, but that's one of the reasons I wanted to move, because it's been a really interesting opportunity. I've only just started but already I feel like I've learnt a lot about working in a completely different environment. I think what I'm trying to do is bring more transferable skills and my experience about how to structure things and how to work together.

It's been a really good chance to work with a different management team and as an Operations Director there's a huge amount of forward thinking, strategic work required from me now and I really enjoy that. It's also a chance to work with a different set of people – it's been really good to learn from them as well.

What's next?

I'm focused at the moment on just trying to learn how to be really effective in Refining & Chemicals but what I hope this do is to show that I can become effective in environments that I don't understand the detail of and increase my general managerial skills and experience. I'd like to put that to use one day in a business leadership role and move out from the technical side and the operations side, which I've had some experience in now, and move on to get some experience in the commercial areas of the business and moving across divisions should be a useful experience to that end.

Johnson Matthey is one company but the businesses within the company are, as I'm learning, very different and have different challenges but what is common is that there's a huge recognition that the people are genuinely the most important thing. A lot of the discussions in the management team are around us having the right people and asking what we can do to help them succeed.