Q&A with Warren East CBE - CEO of Rolls Royce

Lynn Barlow
Assistant Vice-Chancellor, Creative and Cultural Industries Engagement | UWE
11th February 2019

UWE, in partnership with Business West, runs an annual lecture series that brings top business leaders to Bristol. We caught up with Warren East CBE, CEO of Rolls Royce, before he gave his address:

1. What does Rolls Royce do?

I would describe Rolls Royce today as an industrial technology company, with many decades of experience in the world of aerospace.

About two thirds of our business today is in aerospace and the rest in other applications.

The type of industrial technology that we do is all about turning stored energy into useful power.

2. You’ve done a lot of restructuring in recent years. How far are you down that line and what are your plans for the future?

Rolls Royce was going through a bumpy patch a few years ago, having been in pursuit of more market share for many decades.

We are now focussing on fixing our operations and our execution, so we can turn all that market share into sensible cash flow and invest in the future.

3. Rolls Royce is an iconic brand and a popular choice for graduates. What sort of graduates do you need in your business?

They need to be inquisitive, interested in science and technology, they would be interested in making the world a better place and applying their science and technology to that. 

I’d want them to be interested in a broad range of scientific topics, because over their career the focus of activity will change. 

It’s important that we have people with a broad outlook.

4. What are your thoughts about the future of work?

I regard technologies such as AI as a tool, like lots of other tools that we use in the engineering profession.

Log tables were invented by astronomers to help them do their sums. After log tables we decided let’s have a slide rule because that’s easier to work with. Then it was the calculator, then computers, so things like AI are just a progression - tools to enable engineers to do a better job.

5. Do you think the role of the engineer in society is safe for the next 50 years?

I do believe it is safe and that there is scope for lots and lots of creative engineering over the next several decades.

There are some big challenges facing our society.

In 1950 there were 2.5bn people on the planet and by 2050 it’s going to be 10.5bn people.

The same old planet needs to support all those people and that creates a huge number of challenges that engineering can address.

6. It sounds like engineering will be one of the most exciting careers in the future?

I quite often find myself talking to groups of young engineers starting out in the profession and thinking my goodness I wish I was 25 and starting my career now.

7. What is the future of Rolls Royce in the West of England?

Bristol’s been a part of our business since we acquired the company in Bristol and is likely to continue to be so. 

We will at times do different types of work in Bristol.

There is work going on today that is different to work that was going on 20-30 years ago, and that’s going to continue to change.

The electric aviation engineering work that we’re pioneering is happening in Bristol and, who knows, in 20 years that could be a significant part of our business.

8. No plans to remove Rolls Royce from the UK? Or this part of the world?

Just under half of our worldwide staff are in the UK and our 2 main sites are Derby and Bristol. 

If we’re going to make further investment, it’s likely – more likely than not – that further investment will be in locations that we’re already operating in.

Last year for instance we invested £60-70m in our Bristol facility – in a new capability to make new turbine blades. 

As the number of engines out there in the field increases we’re going to need more and more turbine blades, so why would we do that on a greenfield site when we’ve already invested where we are?

This series of free public lectures brings top level business leaders to Bristol. You can discuss these events on Twitter using the hashtag #BristolLectures and view further content from Warren East's lecture here. For more information please contact events@uwe.ac.uk.

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