Milo Hiscox is the Ashford Programme Lead at Brompton Bicycles. He studied engineering at the University of Cambridge from 2006 to 2010.
You currently work at Brompton Bicycles – tell me a bit about the company, and your experience there?
Brompton Bicycles is a manufacturer of folding bikes based in West London. For complicated reasons, I actually joined the company in their finance team and I did that for three years. Then I moved into manufacturing engineering. In total I’ve been there 7 years and I’ve just been promoted into a new role, which is quite exciting.
And what was been your favourite thing about working there?
Definitely been the culture. We’re quite large now when I started, I think there were less than 200 of us, and we’ve still kept that startup, small company vibe and it’s quite refreshing.
Would you say your degree prepared you well for working in a manufacturing company?
The funny thing is about the engineering course at Cambridge is I never visited the IFM (Institute for Manufacturing). In hindsight, I really wish I had explored that a bit more, because I didn’t realize I was going to be pursue a life in manufacturing. I did engineering because I loved building things and it’s the best degree for that; but the best career for that is manufacturing.
If you could sum up your time at Cambridge, the degree, everything in three words, what would they be?
I’m not very good at thinking things up on the spot! I’m going to have to do a three word sentence – ‘hidden treasure everywhere’.
I remember just trying to clear some bench space for this little experiment I was doing as part of my thesis. And there was a piece of equipment under the bench. I asked the machinist around the corner of what it was – turns out they bought it on some grant for some research project and it was like a 30 grand niche piece of the most amazing equipment, just sitting there dusty.
Also, in my fourth year, most of my friends had left, and I found so many more places in Cambridge than I had during my previous three years. I met loads of people from Anglia Ruskin, we used to go to gigs on the outskirts of Cambridge. It was really fun. So there you go, hidden treasure everywhere.
Your current role is in engineering, but you mentioned that you started off in the finance team, not manufacturing.
When I left Cambridge. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in my life. I really enjoyed mechanical engineering, but it was tough to find mechanical firms in the south of England, and all my friends were moving to London, so I followed them to make my millions in finance.
I worked for a company and did my accountancy qualification. Probably two years into that three year period, I realized that it was really hard to make millions in the city of London. It was pretty soul destroying, and I really missed just building things and working in engineering.
I transitioned into Brompton and from there I tried to get as close as I could to the factory. I was always walking downstairs to the other office on the factory floor and asking what was going on. In total I’ve been there for seven years now, and I’ve just been promoted, which is quite exciting.
What’s the new role?
I’m now a project manager for an extremely large project the company’s taking on, which is to design and build a new factory and HQ in Kent.
That sounds very exciting. Brompton has been based in London for all of its history, what’s the reason behind this move?
For a while our tagline has been ‘made for cities, made for you, made in London’, but we’re prepared to lose made in London. We definitely want to retain a UK presence, we want to be ‘Made in Britain’. At the moment we have a small site in Sheffield where we do all our titanium welding, so we’ve already branched out.
When we’re looking for our next home, we want somewhere that will attract interesting intelligent people, that’s fun and inspiring and that fits our urban brand. Not somewhere miles away in an industrial park where people find it hard to travel to. We want people to be able to travel by public transport and by Brompton to work in an amazing, inspiring creative place. Now, if you wanted that in a city centre, it’s going to be cost you an arm and a leg.
So why Kent, of all places?
Often companies split off the manufacturing, send it somewhere cheap and then have their central office somewhere else. Look at Apple – designed in California, made in China. But we don’t want to do that. We want everyone on one site. So if you work in marketing, you know the bike because you walk through the factory on the way to your desk every morning.
We’ve managed to find this crazy site in Ashford. It’s very close to the international train station and it’s never been developed. To be granted planning permission, it’s got to be quite a special opportunity – we can’t just build a big boring shed there (not that we want to).
We’re currently in negotiation with the council and some developers about building a big, possibly round, factory, lots of glass, highly sustainable. The site is actually a flood plain – one in a hundred years it floods, so the factory’s going to be up on stilts. But that’s quite cool because it means all the cables and services can go underneath the floor.
And then we’re going to turn the rest of the site into biodiverse wetland, with little bicycle routes around it. It’s going to be beautiful, if we manage to pull it off.
It sounds like it is going to be a big change.
It is a big move but fortunately we’ve got time on our side – we won’t be entirely out of London for another decade.
We’re also looking at how we can change and redefine the image of manufacturing as part of the move, and give off less of a masculine, boring image of the sector. We’re trying to show that manufacturing can be this quite fun, sexy, inspiring, creative job. And I think that will be good for our country and it’ll be good for inspiring people when they go into education to get into stem subjects.
I guess we’ll have to check in 10 years down the line! Have you got any parting words of advice?
We’ve covered a lot, it’s hard to summarise but I guess I would encourage people to consider a career in manufacturing. It has turned out to be quite fun!