Former Vice Chief of Defence Staff Sir Tim Fraser takes helm at Sheffield Forgemasters
He has commanded destroyers and the aircraft carrier, HMS Illustrious, making decisions that affected the wellbeing of hundreds of service personnel and, potentially, the fate of the nation.
In his new role, as chair and non-executive director of Sheffield Forgemasters, he aims to ensure the historic company becomes a key supplier to the next generation of UK defence programmes.
His career choices have always been driven by a sense of service and love of his country.
"I applied to join the Royal Navy in 1981, at the height of the Cold War,’’ he recalled. “ I wanted to serve my country and do something practical, and I really loved the sea. I joined in 1982, and a few months later, the Argentinians invaded the Falklands."
At the time, it was widely believed the next war would be a global, potentially nuclear, conflict, rather than a more isolated war to regain territory which had been seized by an aggressor.
"I served alongside men who knew people who served on ships that were sunk in the Falklands,’’ Sir Tim said. “ It was very sobering for the rest of us; when I was a commander I always used to remind my officers that there was a hard edge to what we were doing.
"The Royal Navy is about teamwork at every level. If you don't get it right; bad things can happen. When I was the commander of the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, for example, I had responsibility for the best part of 1400 people and 20 aircraft. Aircraft were taking off and landing day and night. I did feel that weight of responsibility along with a sense of pride.
"There are similarities here with Forgemasters, there is the strong sense of complexity, teamwork, choreography and strong sense of responsibility as the team works to a common goal."
The company was acquired in 2021 by the Ministry of Defence who intend to invest up to £400m over 10 years to re-capitalise defence-critical plant and equipment on the site.
At the time, unions welcomed moves to nationalise the company, saying it ended years of instability. Unite union assistant general secretary Steve Turner said critical infrastructure industries like steel functioned better in public hands. Some of the largest bespoke engineered steel products in the world are produced by Forgemasters, which has the capacity for castings of up to 350 tonnes and forgings of up to 200 tonnes in finished weight.
Sir Tim took on his role as the new chair in February, picking up the reins from Colin Smith CBE , the former Rolls-Royce group president, who stepped down after almost five years with the company.
Sir Tim has spent the last 20 years in senior Ministry of Defence positions, across both operational and senior central leadership roles, most recently as the Vice Chief of Defence Staff.
Sir Tim said: "I'm really fortunate to have had this blended career in which challenging operational roles have been interwoven with senior management and leadership positions at the Centre of Defence."
He believes these two elements of his career will be of great value to Forgemasters.
He added: "I wanted to do something with a real purpose where I could bring all these experiences together in a way that's connected with building capability within industry. The Forgemasters opportunity came at the perfect time."
Sir Tim is keen to emphasise the big roles science and technology have to play in heavy steelmaking, which highlights the sophisticated jobs available in the sector.
"There is a strong executive team at Forgemasters which has a vast array of experiences,’’ he said.
The need for the UK to have greater control over its supply chain for areas like defence and marine has been underlined by the conflict in Ukraine.
"Covid and the current crisis (in Ukraine) has meant that the Government has to look carefully at the supply chain,’’ he said.
It’s important to ensure there is capacity and agility in the supply chain to be able to move quickly in response to crises like that in Ukraine.
"There are real opportunities that have come about due to the Government acquiring Forgemasters. But it's not just about investment in equipment, it's about people,’’ he added.
"It's important to have a diverse workforce and be able to attract people to the industry who might not have traditionally considered a career at Forgemasters.
"We need to attract the broadest possible pool of talent. Diverse teams have better outcomes. Working at Forgemasters provides a fantastic opportunity for young people leaving formal education,’’ he added. “There are some amazing jobs and it's important that we can attract and retain talent.
"Civil nuclear is very important to us, but we are keen to look at other markets and income streams, such as floating offshore wind.
"The support of the MOD offers a once in a generation opportunity to put Forgemasters on a sustainable basis for decades to come. I'm already learning a lot about Forgemasters on a daily basis, and I'm also recognising the skills and experience I can bring which are relevant to the business."
He believes his experience of working in the MoD with civil servants in senior roles enables him to bring a useful insight into how decisions are made.
"From my perspective, I believe the board should have a spread of independent expertise to work with the executive board and to support and challenge it."
He added: "Sometimes you can also provide reassurance as well; you can tell them that they are on the right track even if the way ahead doesn't seem straightforward."
Wise words from a leader who has navigated the roughest seas.