50th Anniversary: Dr Andrew Stevens Q&A

50 Aston Greats - Andrew Stevens

Andrew Stevens

Andrew (Andy) Stevens grew up locally, left school, took an apprenticeship with a group of local West Midlands companies - which included studying for a two-year OND - and became the first in his family to attend university, undertaking a degree in Production Engineering at Aston. 

From graduation in 1978, Andrew joined the Dowty group and, more specifically, Dowty Rotol. He was quickly promoted up the ranks until, at 25 years old, he became the youngest company Works Director. He held the position of General Manager of Dowty Aerospace Landing Gear (UK) until Ti Group’s acquisition of Dowty, when he moved to become General Manager of Bowthorpe plc in 1994.  Subsequently, Andrew held a number of positions including Managing Director of Messier Dowty (Europe) and Chief Operating Officer of Messier Dowty International, based in Paris.  In 2000, Andrew joined Rolls Royce as Managing Director - Defence Aerospace, based in Bristol with responsibility for the Military engine business.

In 2003, Andrew was appointed to the Board as Group Managing Director of the Aerospace Systems Group at Cobham Plc. In September 2005 he was appointed Chief Operating Officer, followed by CEO in 2010. He decided to step down from Cobham due to a recurring back problem at the time when the revenue of the company was around £1.8 billion. Not ready to fully retire, Andrew currently maintains a Non Executive role at De La Rue and CAE , and is Chairman at AIM Aviation.

Andrew’s connection to Aston has been maintained through his daughter, Becky, who gained a BSc in Management Studies in 2006.

In 2013, Aston was delighted to be able to confer on Andrew the degree of Doctor of Science for his commitment to engineering, innovation and the manufacturing industry.

What are some strong memories of your time at Aston?

One of the things that impressed me at Aston was that it opened my eyes. My ambition on arrival was to be a draftsman on £40 a week. I quickly realised when I was at Aston that there was a much broader opportunity, provided that I studied and did the course appropriately. That I will remember forever. I was sponsored whilst at Aston and that made my life easier; I could afford to live!  The design of the course with the industrial placements really helped you to grow, as when you went back into industry you knew more, had more confidence,  and you engaged in a different way.

What has your involvement with Aston given you personally?

For me, Aston was a pivotal life-changing experience which ultimately defined my last ten years on the Board of Cobham plc - a global aerospace business with a team of over 11,000 people. It was this degree, all these years ago, that helped me to realise (assuming you fully understand your marketplace) the importance of design for manufacture. And cost is crucial because there is no point in designing something unless you can produce it efficiently, consistently and at a profit.

Good ideas alone do not make money or keep people employed and this is something that has stayed with me throughout my career.  You need to invest in and innovate at every stage of the life-cycle of a product, with people being at the heart of this. Indeed, some of the people who worked for me in those early years did not care whether I had a degree or not but they did care that I spoke to them as an equal, remembered their names and acted on their suggestions - something never to be forgotten.

Aston helped the softer skills. It gave me a dimension of working with different backgrounds and cultures and helped me be able to have conversations with anybody. This is a big skill. When I decided to resign from an Advisory Board position with Singapore Aerospace Manufacturing because I had changed roles/companies , they made it clear that it did not matter what business card I carried, it was about the person and the individual long-term relationships that were developed.

What do you think makes Aston University special and distinctive?

Aston produces a very much more disciplined individual who has experience academically but also practically. The appropriate balance between academia and experience that Aston offers does differentiate it well. But throughout my career the one thing I have  - being an ex-apprentice myself - is that I’m very strong on talent management, in other words, identifiying, developing  and encouraging. I can see the talent of what comes out, the attitude and the culture of that talent, it is employable and very user-friendly to industry. I see very driven people coming out of Aston, people who want to succeed and work hard and that is a great mantra to be able to walk into industry and offer.

What is the best advice you can give to today’s graduates?

The advice that I gave my daughter. Choose your subject and your university carefully as all parties make a commitment. Be on campus, embrace and enjoy the life. It is important that you get a good quality degree but also get the life experience and, finally, network well. Just grab the tremendous opportunities that are in front of you.
You need raw talent and a driving enthusiasm to succeed, opportunities are truly endless and global, there is so much in the world to see and to learn - different cultures, different styles, different approaches. A career can be hard work at times but the results in terms of personal achievements, satisfaction and financial reward can be exciting… indeed life-changing!