Barrow shipyard chief's astute career moves took him to the top
IT is colloquially known as the shipyard - but multi-billion pound submarine programmes are its business these days. In the first of a special two-part series JAMES HIGGINS learns about new boss Will Blamey's journey to the top.
WILL Blamey sums up his pride in what the 8,500-strong team at BAE Systems in Barrow do pretty well.
He describes the production of submarines in the town as among the most complex things achieved by mankind.
Being at the helm of the business as its managing director - well that’s an ‘incredible honour’ says the 41-year-old.
He has been in post for just five months - but in that time, there has already been huge change.
Site developments which are transforming the skyline of Barrow move on apace. Fabrication work on the next generation of submarines which will carry Trident nuclear missiles is well under way.
For the man from Mevagissey, a small fishing village on the south coast of Cornwall, the journey to the top has been an interesting one, taking him via London, Connecticut, Preston and more.
It has seen him deal with everything from periscopes to combat systems, and aircraft to sonar. Right now he is overseeing two of the most complex technological projects in the world; the Astute Class submarine programme and the recently approved Dreadnought class of boats which are expected to be in service by the 2030s.
His journey to the top started some 20 years ago after he graduated from university with a degree in maths: “I studied the subject largely because I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, maths is pretty generic and you could apply that to lots of different things, said Mr Blamey.
“I joined British Aerospace in the aircraft division near Preston in 1997, spent a couple of years there and moved into head office for a short period.
“I worked in a field called operations analysis, which looks at what the future requirements of aircraft are, what are the threats and what do we need to do. So we were looking at early concepts of unmanned aircraft and things of that nature.
“I did a few placements around the company but ultimately joined submarines in 2001, so I have now been in submarines for 16 years.”
The move at the turn of the century started a trajectory which led to the top job within the submarines business.
The first eight years of Mr Blamey’s career were spent at BAE’s sites in the south and he worked on the Astute programme for eight years. During that time, he worked on combat systems, which includes the likes of sonar systems, periscopes and the supply chain which was attached to them.
The rising star within BAE moved to the company’s Barrow base in 2005, where he became the combat systems lead for the site - and the year was significant in more ways than one as Mr Blamey recalls: “I moved my family up. I remember it well; we got married, we moved house and I changed job in the space of about three weeks.
"They say those things are quite stressful, so I thought get them all out of the way in one go!
“We have a facility on site where we build and integrate the command deck for control room for submarines and I kind of ran that facility; I was basically the combat systems lead on site for the Astute programme as my background is the weapons side of the business.
“I had a two year stint in America as we have a tie up with our colleagues in Electric Boat, in Connecticut on the north east coast.
“My wife came with me and we came back with a three-month-old baby. We had a couple of years out there, and that was the early stages of Successor. I had a fantastic opportunity to lead in the US and a fantastic learning experience working with those guys and girls.
So I came back in early 2011 and rejoined the Successor programme working amongst our team in BAE but alongside our colleagues in the MOD and Rolls Royce and in Babcock.
“I did that for about three years and there were a number of changes that took place. John Hudson [former MD of BAE Submarines] moving position and Tony Johns [Mr Blamey’s predecessor] taking on that role. When Tony became the MD that is when I became the Programme Director for Successor.
“Then earlier this year, Tony moved on and I got this job.”
Two decades within the business then, has seen Mr Blamey take the helm of BAE Submarines at a crucial time for the business and the projects they are delivering.
Boat four of the Astute Class, Audacious, was launched earlier this year and is expected to be ready for sea trials within 12 months.
Work has started - and in some cases is fairly advanced - on the remaining three boats in class: Anson, Agamemnon and the yet-to-be-named boat seven.
After protracted political wrangling, the Successor programme, later named Dreadnought, finally won approval in the House of Commons last year, with the first steel cut during a ceremony in October, attended by the secretary of state for defence, Sir Michael Fallon.
At the time he said: "You are going to be building over the next 20 years the largest and most powerful submarines ever built in Britain.
"You will be the ones electrifying a new generation of engineers to continue building for Britain as well as manufacturing security, prosperity and jobs, you will also manufacture confidence in global Britain.
"Having seen this project reach this great ceremonial milestone today I know that Britain is in very safe hands here."
Back to Mr Blamey and he could not agree more: "When we consider what we do here and the skills that go into it it is phenomenal and I continue to learn every day about some of the fantastic things that happen here.
“When you consider the products that our engineers and our project managers and everyone else that goes along with that make, it is just amazing. It is an incredible engineering achievement. It is up there, there is not a shadow of a doubt with the most complex things that mankind does.
“For me it is an incredible honour to be part of and lead this operation and I am constantly in awe of some of the things that I see.”
*Tomorrow - The top three priorities which drive Will Blamey's working life.