HotSeat – Stuart Johnston, Director of Rutland Plastics

Rutland Plastics is an award-winning, family run plastic injection moulding business, with the third generation now in charge and still based in Oakham in Rutland. Director Stuart Johnston is the next PlastikCity Partner to face the HotSeat…

What trends do you think will shape the future of UK plastics?  How will Rutland Plastics respond?

Environmental concerns will undoubtedly be the issue that is central to the industry in the future. While we all have a moral obligation to tackle the climate crisis, in our industry, there is an increasing economic case for investing in green energy and energy-saving technologies. Demonstrating this will become more important when selecting suppliers and I genuinely believe it will become as important as the price. At Rutland Plastics we will continue to invest to lower our environmental impact but also to reduce cost; the latter of which satisfies my Scottish prudence! Part of this will be increased localised sourcing, which in turn will benefit UK manufacturing; investment in the latest energy-efficient equipment is central to our strategy.

How has Rutland Plastics developed during your tenure?

When I joined Rutland Plastics in 2009 it was clear that this was a fantastic business with great people and a heritage to be proud of. However, we needed to diversify and modernise a little. Working alongside Steve Ayre (MD), we have not only grown the business into new markets and sectors, but we have grown our people too. We have become a ‘bottom-up’ organisation where all colleagues contribute while Steve and I set the direction and operate the rudder. We are a 66-year-old business with a long-term plan; this means long term relationships with all our stakeholders.

What do you credit as the key to your success?

Firstly, at Rutland Plastics we focus on what we are, what we are good at and we take time to develop into what we want to be. Change management, especially where people are involved, is the greatest challenge for any organisation. The ‘Rutland Way’ is to do this at a pace that brings everyone on the journey. While the pace should always get faster, and it should challenge us all, unless we bring all of our colleagues with us, it won’t work. While we are a business that manufactures plastics, we are also a business of people and families who we want to contribute to the success of the business over the long term.

What has been the greatest challenge in your career?

Undoubtedly Covid and closely followed by the recession of 2009; which with the benefit of hindsight, was great training for Covid! When the first lockdown hit in March 2020, orders got cancelled, the phones stopped ringing and there was massive uncertainty about what everyone should do. Steve and I had to quickly decide how to navigate the challenge. While protecting the health of our colleagues was paramount, we knew that we had to keep the factory open and running not only as we produce plastic parts for the medical sector but also because continuing to work would benefit us all as individuals. This proved to be the right strategy and we have grown over the last two years, partly because of our resilience.

What advice do you wish you’d had on entering the industry and does that differ from the advice you would give to an apprentice joining now?

Prior to working in Rutland Plastics, I had only ever worked in management positions in very large companies. Essentially, I am a ‘pen-pusher’ and society teaches you that if you want to be a successful pen pusher you should push pens for large companies. However, this is not necessarily true. There is enormous satisfaction in making things; from the problems you solve for your customer to the contribution to the wider UK economy. It is also incredibly rewarding working for a smaller company that has a closer relationship with both its customers and employees. Decisions can be made faster and this makes the business more nimble. We need to find a way to sell SME manufacturing to young people in this country.

What hidden talents do you have?

I’m not too bad at playing pool, but strangely only after a few beers. It must be a hangover from my mis-spent youth!

 

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