Managing Director of Siemens in Lincoln Neil Corner has seen his career propelled from the prospect of RAF aeronautical engineering to gas turbine development and sales, before landing on a role that would see him steering a multi-million pound company into a future of growth. On his climb, Neil reflects on global challenges, pending projects and bridging gaps in the engineering industry.
Neil Corner, 47, is a dad of three and lives in Lincoln with his wife Cathy, who works as an admin assistant at a local primary school. When he’s not behind his desk, chairing a meeting at the Siemens Lincoln’s gas turbine facility at Teal Park, or jetting off to an overseas location, Neil can be found playing football with a group of friends, completing a Boultham Park run or training for the Lincoln 10K.
Neil’s family moved to the Lincoln area when he was 6 due to his father’s work in the Royal Air Force. His mother worked at the Rose Bearings industrial firm on Doddington Road in Lincoln. After attending school in Saxilby, and then later Gainsborough Grammar School, Neil won a cadetship with the RAF as a sponsor for his university studies. He studied aeronautical engineering for four years at Kingston upon Thames polytechnic between 1985 and 1989. On finishing his degree however, Neil had a change of heart.
The journey to the top
“I had a wonderful time in the air force and had great fun in training,” said Neil. “It was quite late in my final year that I started seeing all my friends getting jobs in industry and something clicked in me that actually that’s what I wanted to do.
“I got my first job in the months after finishing my degree. I worked for a company called Smiths Industries in their aerospace division and I worked there for about two and a half years. It was not long after that I ended up at Siemens.
“I made the decision to move to Lincoln in 1992 after speaking with a friend of the family from the Lincoln Siemens factory who convinced me to hand in my CV. I started my new job that year at Firth Road in the gas turbine development department helping with the engine tests.”
After a few years at the Firth Road factory, Neil took on a sales role supporting senior staff. “It’s very technical selling, presenting a product correctly and explaining the product to customers. The sales team typically have a technical background but have an interest in being at the front of the company.
“Then I got my break, and they allowed me to be the sales guy for Scandinavia. I sold a bunch of turbines in Denmark and one to the Netherlands which was a little bit of an expansion of the role after a couple of years. In 1997 I was asked to be responsible for the Indian subcontinent for both gas turbine sales but also service business selling as well. That was my first supervisory job.”
Neil went on to work for GE and BP in the years that followed, first as sales manager in Europe for General Electric, and then onto development projects at BP Energy, before a Siemens acquisition of the Lincoln’s Alstom gas turbine division opened up another gateway.
“I came back into the business as Alstom in late 2002 and in March 2003 the deal with Siemens closed. As regional sales director, I was running a sales team of around 10 people in the oil and gas market and about a year and a half later I got an opportunity to become the marketing and sales director for the Siemens service business. After coming across that side of the business, I have been there ever since.”
Neil Corner was appointed as the Managing Director of Siemens in Lincoln in October 2014 as part of the company’s global reorganisation of its divisional businesses. Nick Muntz, who was the MD since 2007, took on a new director’s role for Siemens in Germany.
Challenges along the way
Reflecting on his 25-year career, 19 of which have been spent at Siemens, Neil draws on a few key lessons and challenges that the industry and the global economy have thrown at him. “You need a bit of luck in your career for starters,” he admits. “You also need to work hard, apply yourself and build up a reputation in the business. Luckily for us, the recession of 2007 didn’t hugely impact the business.
“There were industrial customers who were affected by the recession and as such they would turn down their turbines’ usage. If their factories shut, they lost them completely. We lost a number of customers and our fleet reduced, particularly in Western Europe and some in the UK, Spain, Denmark. Given the size of our growing fleet however, it didn’t impact us enormously. The new side of the business, the Pelham Bridge side, has managed to sell gas turbines and keep buoyant.
“One of the biggest areas around the time of the recession that did impact us was the political instability in the world. We had turbines in Iran, Libya, Egypt and Syria and some of those countries we don’t work in anymore for obvious reasons such as sanctions or war, and some we have stopped working in for a time and then gone back in again. Something will always challenge you, so you’ve got to keep on your toes.”
Siemens’ masterplan for growth
The Siemens global company, which was established in the United Kingdom 170 years ago, now employs 13,760 people in the UK with a revenue last year of £3.36 billion. Siemens in Lincoln employs around 1500 people, with 640 in the service business.
The Siemens Industrial Turbomachinery Ltd gas turbine business, based in the city, sells 80% of its products and services to the oil and gas industry. Globally, the business arm has installed a fleet of over 3,000 units across over 90 countries. The average lifespan of a gas turbine is around 25 years and the service industry continues to be a profitable sector for longevity and sustainability.
In April 2013, Siemens invested £15 million in its new state of the art gas turbine service facility at Teal Park. It was built to the highest possible specification and was the first building in Lincolnshire to achieve a BREAM “excellence” rating. “The Teal Park project was a very privileged thing to have been able to lead and of course a number of my staff helped significantly,” said Neil.
“We have now reduced our build times of our overhauled turbines from 60 days to 20 days, we have a 20% smaller working footprint and increased productivity as a result of the investment.”
The industrial group is currently in the process of acquiring the Rolls-Royce Industrial Turbine business, after a £785 million agreement, in addition to the planned acquisition of U.S. oilfield equipment maker Dresser-Rand Group Inc. The Dresser-Rand bid was one of the biggest acquisitions in the group’s history at $5.6 billion (£4.65 billion).
“We expect to close the Rolls Royce acquisition in the next few weeks, so then we can get full-on to integration. Of course, that brings a number of other facilities and sites into our business. We will also know about Dresser-Rand quite quickly, it will go forward into closing the deal in the next eight to nine months time. That’s a huge business and that again gives another view.
“I hope that we can start ticking these things off in the time between now and the next two years and we have a few interesting things that we want to continue with here in Lincoln for expansion and consolidation. At some point, we do want to get off the Firth Road site in the city. For decision-making within the new group structure, I hope that 2015 will allow us to make a number of decisions.
Propelling the local economy
Neil is also board member of the Greater Lincolnshire LEP, which was established in 2010 to improve infrastructure and conditions for business growth in the region. “It’s been very interesting for me to have been on that team because it was a view of Lincolnshire I’d not seen before,” he said.
“There’s some amazingly good work and not everyone always appreciates what happens. Over the years there are a number of schemes that have come to fruition — all adding up to make Lincolnshire a better place — that have in some way been supported or influenced by the LEP.
“Getting the money into the area and getting that available for local businesses as well as development in the local industry chain has to make Lincolnshire a better place for businesses. The challenge we’ve got is: ‘is it on the business map?’ We’ve got to attract businesses to say ‘let’s go and have a look at Lincolnshire’ but we also want our small and medium businesses here to flourish and grow.
There is no masterplan for the future for me, and there never has been a career plan. There’s certainly a plan for this business and while I’m here I will always do the best for this business and make sure that we succeed.
This feature interview was first published in issue 7 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.