New university partnership to support growth of employee-owned Welsh manufacturing business

Oct 6, 2022

Leeds Beckett University is leading a new partnership with pioneering Welsh manufacturers, ABER Instruments, applying academic expertise in management and business process to support the company’s growth and future ambitions.

ABER Instruments Ltd is a successful and innovative global company supplying advanced systems for use in the Brewing, Biorenewables and Biotech industry. Formed in Aberystwyth in 1988, ABER started life as a university spin-out and, in 2011, became an employee-owned (EO) company

ABER has experienced rapid growth and is now making the transition from being a small niche manufacturer to becoming a medium-sized company with a larger value proposition. Their customers now include some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical and brewing companies – including Glaxo SmithKline and Heineken. The company recognises the need to review and adapt its structures and management processes to ensure it is fit for sustainable growth, whilst retaining its employee-owned status.

ABER will be working with academic experts from both Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds on the two-year Management Knowledge Transfer Partnership (mKTP), which is led by Leeds Beckett and co-funded by UKRI through Innovate UK and the Welsh Government.

Dr Catherine Ashworth, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Leeds Beckett University and academic project leader, explained: “ABER is a rapidly growing company – with many opportunities to develop and innovate new products, to diversify and expand into new markets. The company wants to achieve a position where they have a pro-active plan for innovation and sustainable growth that fits with their distinct values as an EO business. We are delighted to be working on this mKTP with Professor Andrew Robinson at the University of Leeds – a leading international expert in EO.

“The aim of the project is to provide ABER with the knowledge to transition into a more structured and sustainable growth-oriented business. We will equip them to make strategic decisions based on long-term market opportunities that also have the capability of internationalisation, adding resilience and sustainability to navigating growth, whilst retaining the unique aspects of ABER’s EO culture.”

To enable this, the project will have two strands, each led by a skilled graduate associate who will work as a full-time member of the business over the course of the two years – with the full support and input of the academic team. One role will centre on ABER’s research and development structures and innovation pathways and one on reviewing and optimising the EO structure and operations to facilitate strategic growth in the business.

Matthew Lee, Director of ABER Instruments Ltd, said: “ABER Instruments is currently undergoing a phase of exponential growth – despite the current climate, we have more than doubled our number of employees in recent years and are primed for this to continue. Expansion requires careful management to maximise our potential while staying true to our core values and ensuring our employee owners reap the full benefit of our unique business model and culture.

“Having been involved with KTPs in the past, we are confident the mKTP model is the right fit to help us become a medium-sized company and give ABER the tools we need to prepare for our future. We’re proud to have Leeds Beckett University as our partner on this venture. The academic team has shown a true interest in ABER, our business and our employee-owned structure, and we look forward to working with them throughout this project.”

Dr Ashworth added: “This is a highly prestigious project: the complexity of scaling an employee-owned business and aligning international growth brings a high level of innovation to this mKTP – and this has been recognised by the UK and Welsh Governments in awarding funding for two associates over two years. As such, it will create important new academic research and insights which will be shared over the coming months. Our students will also have the chance to gain from the partnership through access to live commercial projects.”

The mKTP has received financial support from both the UK government department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) through Innovate UK, and from the Welsh Government.

The two mKTP associate roles of Employee Engagement Lead and Strategic R&D Project Optimisation Manager are now open for applications via the Leeds Beckett University jobs page, with the closing date of Monday 31 October.

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