His upbringing on a Yorkshire farm in the 1950s may not have been the natural starting point for a heavyweight industry career, but Martin Temple, director-general of manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, insists it taught him much that he still uses today.
“My father was a farmer, and as soon as you can hold a baby bottle you are expected to hold a bottle for a calf,” he said. “Farms are businesses, and those early years taught me the importance of doing the simple things well.”
Temple has been credited with transforming the fortunes of the EEF since joining the industry body in his current role in May 1999.
When he joined, the EEF was primarily a bargaining tool for manufacturers, with a turnover of about £20m. For 2007, it has announced a budget of £50m, mainly due to the Temple-driven growth of its business service arm, which now has 10,000 customers compared with its 6,000 trade members.
Temple’s transition from farmhand to industry leader began when he joined British Steel as a graduate trainee in the 1970s.
“That was a fantastic experience for my formative years in business,” he said. “I was working at the coal face, on the shop floor. If you take note of what happens at those times in your life, you get to know what really goes on.”
Temple was a keen learner, and by the age of 27 he was managing 1,400 staff as a director of British Steel’s Refractories Group. He served in this post for eight years, leading the organisation’s transition from the public to the private sector.
“There were plant closures and there were some very tough decisions to be made,” he said. “I had to be very hard nosed about what was in the best interests of the business. But, again, it was a great formative part of my life.”
Temple was soon to draw on these experiences when he was asked to merge British Steel’s Stainless Steel Group with Swedish firm Avesta AB to form Avesta Sheffield in 1991.
This meant stepping up to the major international business arena, dealing with multinational mergers and hundreds of millions of pounds.
After travelling the world for several years as vice-president on the executive board at Avesta Sheffield, in May 1999 Temple took on the challenge of transforming the EEF into a services-driven body.
“The EEF always had a solid reputation, but it was clear that it was going through change,” he said. “This had typified my life, and change is where the adrenaline is in business, when you feel you have a part to play in taking things forward.”
The EEF has been voted the best business service provider five years running by the Manufacturer magazine. But there is still much to do.
“There is a great enthusiasm within the EEF to develop our business further,” he said. “Our research shows there is a very real opportunity to do this.”
And the EEF has not forgotten its roots as a bargaining organisation. In 2007, Temple will be fighting for employers on several fronts.
After cutting the cost of doing business, tackling the skills crisis is top of his agenda.
“There were lots of good things in the Leitch Review,” he said. “But the challenge comes now in making it all happen.
“Small firms need assistance to make sure their training needs are identified. Training provision needs to be better – we need to clear out all the dross and make the system something people are prepared to invest in.”
Temple is not in favour of forcing employers to train their staff to Level 2, as suggested in the Leitch Review. “At the moment, we would make things worse by paying money into a congested system. This would mean more people doing less appropriate things.”
Lord Turner’s Pensions Commission personal account proposals meet with support from the EEF. But Temple is fighting for government support to help small firms with their 3% contributions from 2012.
“I am nervous about the government’s commitment to deliver help for small and medium-sized businesses, and also about the current transitional period,” Temple added.
Attempts to enforce mandatory positive action to increase diversity in the private sector will also be opposed by the EEF. “It is populist, false thinking. The key is recognising we need the skills, and facilitating people to draw from all parts of society,” Temple said.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), however, has found an ally in Temple as it defends itself from CBI allegations that employers would not miss it if it was abolished.
“We should not underestimate the quality of service of the DTI,” Temple said. “Key responsibilities must not be given to departments that do not appear to understand the implications for business.
“We are different to the CBI,” he said. “It is a broad-based representative body without service provision. We can work in a very detailed way with government, whereas the CBI can add breadth to what we do. And the more voices there are saying the same thing, the more chance of being heard. The EEF is a member of the CBI.”
The EEF is Temple’s sole focus for the foreseeable future. But he remains true to his past, commuting every Monday from his Yorkshire home to his London office.
1970 to 1979: Graduate trainee, British Steel
1979 to 1991: Director, British Steel Refractories Group
1991 to 1999: Vice-president, Avesta Sheffield
1999 to present: Director general, EEF