New MDs coming into a business need to share their plans and priorities. What engages readers is an honest conversation – and one free of corporate jargon.
Darren Davidson first stepped through the gates of the business where he now works 29 years ago, as an apprentice. “Listen and learn” was the advice from his father, who spent his whole career at the Shields Road site. “Push yourself,” were further words of wisdom from colleagues on the shop floor. He’s been doing both ever since, and he’s now the managing director.
When Darren took on the role of UK head of Siemens Power Generation Services, he was returning from three and a half years with the company in Canada. Is he missing anything? “Everything. It was the best time of my career. But at the same time I’m very excited to be coming back here, where my working life began.”
Starting out as an apprentice and rising through the ranks is not unusual in the Newcastle business. Many of his management team have trodden the same path. “I hated school. It wasn’t for me. But when I started my craft apprenticeship and began working as a mechanical fitter I had a fantastic time. I got on reasonably well at college and then studied for an engineering degree at night classes.”
He’s a big believer is enabling people to achieve their potential. “I know I’ve been lucky,” says Darren. “I’ve had three or four excellent bosses in my career. But I think as a business we don’t invest enough effort in nurturing talent.
“It’s partly that we don’t make time, and also that we think it’s the job of HR. It’s not. But neither is it just the job of managers. We need to challenge our people too; they must step up and own their careers.” He admits he was himself slow to recognise the opportunities that exist within Siemens. “It took me a while to realise how fortunate I am to work for the company. It’s really hit home in the last few years.” He confesses what few do: “I live to work. I just love my job.”
For eight years he experienced life outside Siemens. Three were spent as a project engineer on a new power plant being built in West Sussex by Alstom. His next move was to Switzerland, where his job was to project manage, on behalf of one of four consortium companies, the building of the largest combined cycle gas turbine plant in Bahrain; he later became the project director. Loyal to the north-east as he is, “if in the future the next challenge Siemens presented to me was in Moscow, I’d relish the adventure. Who wouldn’t?” His family, perhaps? “They’ve been very understanding. And some destinations are commutable.”
Throughout his travels, Darren’s loved the exposure to other cultures and religions. “Different lifestyles fascinate me and I’m forever asking people questions. Everyone’s got a story to tell.” Respect is the most important thing when living in another country. “You have to embrace and understand the culture. People do that well in Canada; they’re good at fitting in.”
That desire to understand others, to see the world from their perspective, is at the heart of the best customer relationships says Darren. “For a relationship to be successful you’ve got to appreciate what drives the other person. If a customer is fed up with us, it’s for a reason. We have to understand the pressures they’re under and what, for them, success looks like.”
Aside from setting the strategic direction for the business, his other priority will be inspiring its people. How would he describe his leadership style?
“I believe in speaking honestly to people about the market and the business. Everyone needs to know what our customers expect of us and the pain they experience if our service doesn’t live up to our promises, and everyone needs to know the contribution they make to the success of the business. I’m always happy to be challenged,” he adds. “I like people who speak their mind.”
Darren’s career at Newcastle has seen him spend time in many different departments. He can also reel off a list of names of those, still with the company, who were apprentices in his year or who he studied with at college. How does it feel to be returning to familiar turf as head of the business?
“It’s great to come back to a business you know well, where you’ve a history and strong relationships. It doesn’t often happen,” he says. “But my opinions won’t be based on what it was like four years ago. I’ve got to be open-minded. I’ve changed and others will have too. I’m not looking backwards.”
Image: Gareth Lowe