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Hallmarks of leadership: the Yorkshire city of Sheffield has had a Master Cutler since 1624 ...

Sheffield's Master Cutler, Richard Field, is keen to dispel any notion that the city's renowned steel and cutlery industries are in decline. Sheffield, where stainless steel was invented, makes more steel now than it did at the height of World War II, he points out. The city produces over 100 million pieces of cutlery a year. British Steel, which has plants in both Sheffield and the neighbouring town of Rotherham, is now the world's third largest steel producer. Overall, Britain made 17.6 million tonnes of steel in 1995, up from 11.3 million tonnes in 1980, though still short of the 21.3 million tonnes sold in 1970.

The Master Cutler--Sheffield's leading businessman--represents the area's traditional manufacturing industries. While the city honours its 100th Mayor, Field is the 358th Master Cutler. This year, the city can claim that the cutlery industry dates back 700 years, to Robert the Cutler of 1297. The Company of Cutlers was formed as a guild in 1624 and today its 500 `freemen' are business leaders from the cutlery, `edge' tools (such as chisels and screw drivers) and steel industries. Their collective turnover amounts to [pounds sterling]18 billion--`a substantial part of the national economy', points out Field.

As Master Cutler, Field is charged with promoting Sheffield and its neighbouring towns (known collectively as Hallamshire) as an ideal place for inward investment, as well as protecting standards within the industry. He sees his year in office as one of `sharing experiences and selling the excellence of traditional manufacturing industries'. The way to achieve excellence, he adds, `is through cooperation and trust'.

This seems to be the hallmark of Field's whole approach. As Chairman of J and J Dyson plc, he has seen the company turned around from being a loss maker to notching up record profits last year, with greater profits anticipated for this. Field's strategy was to include the `team', as he calls the entire workforce, by asking them what needed to be done. But hard decisions also had to be made, including halving the workforce to 1,000. Now the company is achieving a turnover of [pounds sterling]50 million and has become one of the world's leading suppliers of refractories--linings for furnaces in the manufacture of lenses and ceramics.

When Field wanted to leave the company seven years ago, the Chief Executive, Mike O'Brien, made no bones about his disapproval. Field merely says that `they agreed' he should stay on to develop the company's strategy and `leading edge' practices.

He joined the Company of Cutlers ten years ago, and that year was appointed President of the Chamber of Commerce. Now he has just completed, at the age of 51, his Masters degree in Total Quality Management and Strategic Thinking, and freely admits to it being `the hardest thing I have ever done'. His thesis was accepted only at the fourth draft. He likes to initiate projects, he says, but finds it much harder to `follow through and tie the ribbon at the end'.

Field is also a director of the Sheffield-based Organization of Cooperation and Trust (OCT), founded by management consultant John Carlisle. Field describes it as `one of the largest UK companies involved in cultural change'. Clients are in a range of construction and service industries, banks and local government authorities. OCT works with the whole workforce, including board members, and the emphasis, says Field, is on `getting the culture right' in order to become world class. By this he means being cooperative, not only with customers and shareholders but also employees, suppliers and the wider community. `My belief is that everyone is family,' says Field. `You shouldn't see the seam. We are all one. We find that by embracing relationships of trust organizations can be much more effective. We have seen savings of over 30 per cent in some companies.'

Field insists there is nothing new in this. He likes to quote Confucius: `A person wanting to succeed finds that by striving to help others he helps himself.' Life is about longterm relationships, he continues. `It has taken me a long time to realize this. But it is the only way forward for business: to work on cooperation, trust and relationships.'

Field brings to all his roles an energy that would have been unthinkable in his childhood. At the age of seven he suffered from encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. He went into a coma for a month. Doctors told his parents that he would need 10 hours of sleep for the rest of his life. The illness put him a year behind his friends at school, `and so I gave up trying'. He felt himself to be a failure, `and so the legend became true', he says.

Nonetheless, he studied accountancy and became chief accountant at Bridon Wire, a company of 2,000 people. `I was leading a team of 60 people with no idea of how to do it.'

Then, aged 28, he went on an `effective leadership' training course, run by the Industrial Society at Balliol College, Oxford. There he heard the Industrial Society's director say, `By doing you become'. The phrase riveted Field. `From then on I started working hard, and I became hard working. I started doing more caring things, and I became a more caring person, I believe. It changed my life. I found that self-esteem is all in the mind. Since then I have devoted much of my life to learning and sharing with others, so that they can develop themselves to their full potential.' He has also had `a lifelong desire to learn more about leadership and cooperation'.

The immediate effect was that he gained a new confidence at work, especially in being unafraid to seek help from others. Within two years he was appointed Finance Director at Bridon Wire, at the age of 30.

Now he is lucky if he gets more than seven hours sleep. He acquired self-discipline through his jujitsu master, who insisted on him being in the gym at six am each morning to gain his second dan (black belt grade). He also practises Tai Chi and says he has found `inner peace' through early morning prayer and meditation. He reckons to read a book a week, and keeps up a prodigious correspondence, in the belief that a friendship gained is a friendship for life. And he spends every Sunday afternoon being in touch with half a dozen people to whom he acts as a `mentor', or spiritual advisor.

This emphasis on developing others is also reflected in his chairmanship of a leadership team at a sucessful denim retail chain known ironically as The Bankrupt Clothing Company. Employing 200 people in 10 shops, it is in fact highly profitable. `I do so because I am very impressed with their development of people,' says Field. Every shop devotes an hour's training to its staff each day. The average age is under 25 and `the quality of their thinking is exceptional', says Field. `They are the best trained retail people I have ever met.'

Two years ago he founded a training programme for university students called `Students for Sheffield'. In 1995, law student Krish Raval approached Field at an industrial conference in Switzerland. `You have all these skills but why don't you pass them on to students?' he asked Field. They were, after all, the workforce, the managers, the business leaders of the future. Rising to the challenge, Field gathered together a faculty of 12 business and community leaders who devoted seven full days to training the first group of 39 students. This year Students for Sheffield is planning for 1,000 students.

The aim, says Raval, is to offer `training in basic concepts of communications and self-confidence'. The effect, he says, has been palpable: `The 39 students were different after the training, with an increased confidence and a new understanding of leadership and service. They even began to walk differently, to talk differently. Many of them began to trust businessmen for the first time.' Raval says that Field's `vibrancy, enthusiasm and zeal make you feel alive'.

For his part, Field says that the faculty were surprised and humbled to realize how much the students were already involved in various forms of voluntary community service. Future jobs, he adds, in a city where unemployment is over two per cent above the national average, will no longer come from large businesses but from small companies. `Young people need to be trained in entrepreneurial skills and leadership. The opportunities are immense.'

This brings us on to the public debate about declining values in a secular and increasingly violent society. `The way to respond is to be a role model--somebody with purpose, competence, integrity, walking the talk,' asserts Field. If he himself has fulfilled that role for many, he also says that something more is needed. `You must also care for others and I would say love--and if you do so then others will want your support.'
COPYRIGHT 1997 For A Change
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Author:Smith, Michael
Publication:For A Change
Date:Feb 1, 1997
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