Mike Gleaves talks to Smart Futures about his career as a CTO (Technical Director) at Arralis.
What are the main tasks, responsibilities and skills required?
I report to the CEO and am responsible for the company’s technology focus. Working with sales, marketing and R&D. I develop strategic plans for our products now and in the future ensuring that we have competitive and leading edge products to compete in the market sector(s) in which we operate.
Describe a typical day?
My days can be extremely varied but include communicating with customers and sales channels; writing technical proposals; monitoring engineering progress; researching related technologies; analyzing competitors’ data. On other occasions I can be flying to a different part of the world and becoming deeply involved in customer applications. In addition to the usual European destinations, I frequently travel to China and Russia.
What are the things you like best about the job?
I still get a huge thrill out of actually making something, especially if it is new and innovative so delivering one of our products that exceeds customer expectations is very satisfying.
The main challenges are deciphering what is a real business opportunity and what may turn out to be a ‘red herring’. It can be very frustrating to do many hours preparation only to find out that the opportunity is cancelled or awarded to another company.
Who or what has most influenced your career direction?
As a schoolboy I spent many hours in my bedroom constructing various electronic products, cannibalizing old TV sets and radios to salvage components. I was particularly fascinated with physics and excelled at this at school.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
On the whole yes but I do have to spend extended times away from home when on a long haul overseas trip. Dealing with Asia I may have to work weekends, early mornings or late evenings as well. For leisure I enjoy hiking in the mountains but am often disappointed to see that a sunny Friday is often followed by a wet Saturday and Sunday. I do not see any further progression on my horizon (very happy with my lot) other than growing the company that I am with, and partly own, to be a major international force.
What subjects did you take in school and did they influence your career path?
At school I always concentrated on science subjects and excelled in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology.
What is your education to date?
My first degree was in Electronic systems which I studied part time at the University of Bath. I did not take A levels and went straight into an apprenticeship scheme. Some ten years later, I took a Masters degree in business studies with an international marketing bias.
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
Pretty much all of it although the accounting part of my MBA whilst essential, I still find extremely boring. I spent an extended time living in China, where I learnt fluent mandarin and understood the culture which has enable me to address that high growth market from a vantage point.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
There are a great many engineers and scientists who never have ambitions beyond their work or project from a technological perspective. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and a good living can be made from it Moving from this into a technical business environment suits only a few. It needs an outgoing personality, an appreciation that sales people are equally important as any other employee and a willingness to accept a disrupted work pattern. You need to be flexible, open minded and driven. Equally you need to understand how a business works as much as how the products perform.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
The ideal background is to have a relevant technical degree and do some engineering or ‘time on the bench’. At some stage move into a sales or marketing position with a technical bias. It will then be up to you to have the drive to grow a business through a mixture of technical excellence, financial planning and market presence. It almost goes without saying that an amiable yet firm personality plus the ability to articulate your ideas are essential.