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Pulling people together - Richard Bahu talks to Members' News

Richard Bahu

12 March 2012

What does your current job involve?
I have been a managing partner in The Oxis Partnership since 1998. I set up a 'virtual' company offering consultancy and programme/project support to government, industry and academia. Our skills are in creativity, innovation, partnership development and management, strategic reviews and foresight on science, engineering and technology across a diverse range of sectors and disciplines. One aspect of my job I really enjoy is making novel connections by pulling together unique teams of experts to work on challenging projects.

Did you have an interest in science from childhood?
I loved making things, such as the usual boys' models, but I also made a dye laser from a Scientific American publication when I was 15! I always wanted the latest gadgets, like the first Sinclair calculator, and to find out how they worked.

How did you decide that you wanted a career in engineering?
I had a natural flair for maths, physics and chemistry. My father was chief piping engineer at Matthew Hall. I loved going into their offices and seeing the large models being built of all types of plants, particularly offshore installations. Work colleagues, some of whom were chemical engineers, would drop into our home with tales of exotic places so I chose chemical engineering. I also had a great start by going to Imperial College.

What motivated you to pursue postgraduate studies?
I met an inspiring professor, Mike Street, who had a challenging research proposal and I fell naturally into a PhD project. This brought me into contact with other inspiring engineers: Philip Hawtin at Harwell Laboratory and eventually John Collier. My first postgraduate job was at Harwell where I saw something new and exciting in joining the Separation Processes Service in its infancy.

What are the most important things you've learned in your career so far?
Being insatiably curious about everything, not just your immediate job, discipline or sector, will lead you into exciting new areas. Always be receptive to opportunities when things are at an early stage - this brings new knowledge and experience. Network - firstly with your peers and then branch out into diverse, and often unconnected, directions where others are not going.

As the new chair of SCI's Science and Enterprise group, I love the multi-disciplinary, multi-sector community that makes up SCI. Work with or for inspiring people and treat everyone at all levels with respect and honesty. Try to offer help without expecting something back immediately.

What would you have done differently?
I should have written up my PhD thesis but I still went on to lead a world-class research team and manage significant research programmes. These days it would be more difficult to achieve this without a PhD.

What would you say have been the key milestones in your career?
Working at Harwell gave me amazing exposure to people, technology and global experience, and also being seconded to the Innovation Unit DTI to work under the passionate leadership of Alistair Keddie with a diverse group of industrialists. At Oxis, winning contracts such as managing the Manufacturing Molecules Initiative, and working with Peter Lyne of LGC to set up the Insight Faraday Partnership on High Throughput Technologies.

Another milestone was working with Professor David Barrow at Cardiff University on exploiting micro- and nanotechnologies in Welsh industry with other Welsh universities and further education colleges. Setting up the Discontinuous Innovation Forum to develop tools and approaches to step change innovation with John Duckett and Lars Nicolls (M4 Innovation Network) and Professors John Bessant and Richard Lamming is also notable.

What key things would a young person need to do if they wanted to get to your position?
Get in on the ground and make sure you really build know-how from the fundamentals to get a deep feel for your work area. You should be able to smell when it's right! Make sure you ask for help at every opportunity and listen to genuinely wise, inspirational people. Join your professional organisation(s) and get involved. Don't think you can be a manager from day one.

How do you achieve work/life balance?
Having worked too hard at times and often losing that balance, I can now choose to do things I think are really interesting, valuable and give me pleasure. I now know how to say no to work! I really value having good health that enables me to enjoy nature and travelling. Having seen others not so fortunate, I believe you have to enjoy every day.

You should also find ways to give something back through voluntary work, for example, Hope & Homes for Children and Young Enterprise.

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