Apprentice to Chairman - Ian Twinley

How did you get on at school?

I passed the 11+ but much to my father’s disappointment decided against the grammar school preferring Chelmsford Technical High School because it specialised in engineering.  The Technical School was absolutely the right environment for me because I’d been taking engines to pieces since the age of 10, I loved maths and science and all the practical courses like woodwork and metal work.  By the end of the 5th year, I took 10 O-levels and passed 5.

How did you find out about apprenticeships? 

I caddied for a senior Ford guy and happened to tell him that I didn’t really enjoy school and was wondering what to do if I didn’t stay on and do A levels. He said “Look Ian, you need to start as an apprentice at Ford – you will get all the engineering you want, you’ll get paid and they’ll put you on an HND (degree equivalent) so you don’t need to worry about not having qualifications – this way you will get them”. 

And then what happened?

I am talking about 1979 – every year Ford took on 70 technical apprentices (you needed 5 GCE O Levels) and 100 craft apprentices (you needed 5 CSES).  I applied for a place, I had an interview and was accepted for a 4-year apprenticeship as a Technical Apprentice in Mechanical and Production Engineering. For the first year I had to travel to college every day on my 49cc motor bike – 52 miles there and back – it was very tough in bad weather!

What was your first day like?

I was issued with my green overalls and my identity pass and was introduced to Mr Patrick who looked after all 70 of us for the first year. 

I was then enrolled at Barking College of Technology and Rush Green College, Romford.  The first two years of my apprenticeship were college based – part theory and part practical.  For the last two years we were placed in different parts of Ford Motor Company to learn from more experienced members of staff. 

What did you earn?

£28 a week take-home pay.  I gave £7 a week to my mother who saved it up and gave it all back to me when I was 18.  The money came in cash every week in a little brown envelope.

What work did you do?

Year 1 - 3 month’s pure theory and 9 months of practical work.  Our first job was to make our own tools – yes, I have tools and a tool-box that I made myself, screwdrivers, hammers, clamps, the lot!

Year 2 - 3 months in the classroom, 6 months practical work in college and 3 months working on a project for a charity.  We had to design and make something useful and I designed a lift that enabled people who were temporarily in wheel chairs to be lifted out of them and onto their feet so they could start to recover their walking.  It did work actually and was used in Oldchurch Hospital, Romford.

Year 3 and 4 –having chosen options I had placements in 4 different Ford locations

 Heavy Trucks Engineering – I drove heavy trucks through both deep and high pressure water to see if the bombardment caused water to seep into the cooling systems
Motor Sports Repair – I drove round with rally drivers and also worked on a programme that led to domestic cars being fitted with turbo chargers– in those days no domestic car had a turbo engine
Customer Service Division – I was assisting with the liaison between dealerships, sales staff and engineers sorting out component problems – I found it very dull as it was office based.  I chose it for the experience – I knew at some time in my working life I would have to get to grips with office work
Fleet Sales – I helped run a major dealer event for the new Ford Sierra on the Isle of Dogs. At the end of my apprenticeship it was the Sales Division that gave me my first proper job

What was important about the apprenticeship for you?

Being in a group of like-minded people and I loved the engineering part of the apprenticeship of course and I enjoyed earning money which meant I could pay my way. I also learnt I could succeed when given an opportunity to use my skills and put them into practice and this sense of achievement was important to me. 

What role did your college play in your apprenticeship?

For the first two years my apprenticeship was based at Rush Green College. The college staff were fantastic – they managed the transition between school and work really well. I learnt to engage properly – school I had to attend but college was optional - the apprenticeship taught me about making a positive choice and opting in. 

What qualifications did you gain?

Several technical qualifications ending with an HND in engineering

How long were you an apprentice and what were the best bits?

The apprenticeship was 4 years.  I felt a real sense of achievement and success on a regular basis by designing and making equipment that was really valued.  And I got a pay rise each year!

What jobs have you had so far and what are you doing now?

1983 - Sales Planning Analyst – I had to forecast how many parts, how much paint, which colours, what sort of tyres, how many sun roofs needed to be ordered to meet demand over the coming year.
1984 - Sales Planning Supervisor with 4 staff!
1986 - Area Sales Manager – I covered the East of England – driving round all the dealerships in my company car persuading dealers to sell more Fords!  This is the best job I’ve ever had, my results were my achievement – I worked very hard but I loved it and as a reward got to go on cruises and visits to exotic locations hosting dealers.
1987- Field Programmes Manager - I was the assistant to the Director of Sales.  I was only 24 and most people did not become managers until they were at least 30!
1990 – Manager of Dealer Financial Assistance – I quickly learnt to be an accountant so I could manage the dealerships in the UK and in Europe that Ford partly owned.  It was difficult at first because I had to learn about business in Germany and Spain, learn new languages and learn about different cultures.
1991 – General Sales Manager for Scotland and Northern Ireland.  I lived in Edinburgh and spent a lot of time flying to Belfast and at the same time I enrolled on an MBA.
1993 (and now aged 30) – Fleet Sales Manager for Ford Europe – I looked after the major car rental customers across Europe. As Ford started to develop its global markets I led the initiative in marketing Ford to some very large companies such as Coca Cola, Philip Morris, Nestle, Siemens, GSK.
1996 – Marketing Strategy and Brand Manager based in Detroit at the time Ford was acquiring Rover, Jaguar and Volvo.  My job was to work with the president and strategy team at Head Office working out how to grow the company.
1998 – Marketing and Communication Manager Europe – I was responsible for the advertising across Europe and for exciting sponsorship like Champions League, Formula One, World Rally.
2001- Brand Manager Medium Cars, Europe – I was responsible for overseeing the costs, engineering, materials and manufacturing for the medium size car range and for bringing the Ford Focus to the market place. 

I was now age 38 and Ford were starting to bring people into the company who had outside experience – I didn’t have this experience so with their agreement, I took a leave of absence to work in other companies myself and then return to them.

2002 – Chairman of John Grose.  I loved it so much I decided to stay and became the majority share holder.  I could see that at John Grose I could help teach people, develop them, and contribute to their lives – this is much more difficult when working for a multi national. 

What about the future? 

We continue to take more apprentices into our company – we have currently have 10 technical apprentices and 14 non technical apprentices/trainees.  I have the privilege of being a fellow at Suffolk New College and I love spending time motivating the students throughout the college. I helped establish the Suffolk Skills Show which allows 5,000 young people to engage with 100 local businesses, which we will continue to evolve.  I am proud to sit on the Board of the East Anglian Reserve Forces and Cadets, and was most fortunate to visit serving reserves in Afghanistan.  As a Patron of the Helen Rollason Cancer Charity I support their fundraising efforts and I am lucky to Chair a major fundraising effort that raises funds for the Essex Community Foundation.  Finally, I have been invited to join the Vice-Chancellors Circle at Suffolk University so I look forward to supporting them with their apprenticeship programme.  So plenty going on to keep me busy and of course I am still learning every day.   

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