The Power of 10,000 Experts

Unipart is using its experience of transforming its culture and productivity to help other organisations to do the same, says chairman and CEO John Neill.


Cancelled operations, ambulances turned away from overcrowded A&E departments and difficult-to-book GP appointments: recent media headlines have created the impression that the NHS is in a state of crisis. But the boss of an Oxford-based company that was once part of giant car manufacturer British Leyland thinks he’s got the answer.


John Neill, chairman and chief executive of manufacturing, logistics and consulting business Unipart, believes that engaging the NHS’s huge workforce to improve processes and reduce waste is the way to improve patient care while keeping within current resource constraints. And he says that the “Unipart Way” – the company’s own operational excellence system, which it has spent 20 years building – means that it has the proven expertise and knowledge required to help the NHS achieve it.


“Since the Francis report on Mid-Staffordshire, the NHS has realised and is acknowledging publicly what many of us have known for a long time: that there’s a need for a massive culture change – and that at the same time they have to reduce costs, improve quality and be more innovative in delivery,” he says.


“You look at the size of the NHS and the challenge to improve its operational excellence. That’s a huge need – and we think we’re better equipped to help them than practically anyone else.”


That may seem like a bold claim. But Unipart, which employs 10,000 people and in 2012 posted operating profits of £28.8m on revenues of £1.01bn, has already helped the Yorkshire Ambulance Service to achieve a 26,000 increase in on-time pick-ups and drop-offs by engaging frontline staff and developing new processes. And elsewhere in the public sector, the company has saved HMRC more than £440m (a figure that has now risen to £1bn. and is validated by the National Audit Office) by “implementing the Unipart Way architecture in its entirety”.


Neill – who joined Unipart in 1974 and led the company’s successful management buyout in 1987 – acknowledges that clinicians might be sceptical that a private company with its roots in the automotive and logistics sectors could help a public-sector organisation dealing with people’s lives.


 “The best body of knowledge in operational excellence has come out of the automotive industry. We were pioneers in applying this knowledge into a UK business. So, we’ve got the best heritage in the UK to take the body of knowledge that we’ve designed, developed, practised and perfected, into any sector of the economy,” said Neill.


This kind of expertise has seen Unipart expand its Expert Practices consultancy division to organisations in both the private and public sectors. Indeed, Neill believes that it’s this practical experience of implementing process improvements and achieving sustainable change that sets it apart from the major consultancies.


“They’ve given you the five per cent, which is critical, but the 95 per cent you’ve got to do. If you come to Unipart, we’ll put a whole range of experts alongside your people. That’s absolutely at the heart of what makes us different. We’re aiming to build 10,000 expert practitioners,” he said.


“There are very few other organisations that can prove they’ve done it to themselves and sustained it – and can prove that they understand what’s necessary to keep improving rather than allowing it to stagnate.”