Industry Engagement Director for Thales Australia, Alistair Beaton speaks to IMT’s Nina Hendy about his responsibilities and priorities as the head of the Industry Engagement Unit (IEU), which seeks to match Australian industry capability with opportunities in Thales’s global supply chain.
Alistair Beaton has been in the defence industry for over 30 years and with Thales for over 20 years, where he started as a Production Engineer in the UK and became Operations Manager at Thales Optronics. He took on the role of Project Director when Thales decided to consolidate its sites in southeast England.
He came over to Australia when Thales streamlined its business interests in the country five years ago. Having come to know of the Department of Defence’s Global Supply Chain Program, Thales signed up to be the first European prime contractor to participate in the program, with Mr Beaton taking on the role of Industry Engagement Director.
On his role and responsibilities, Mr Beaton explains that Thales uses its network in France, the UK and the US to search out opportunities for Australian industry and facilitate introductions.
Thales recently created an opportunity for eight Australian SMEs in Europe where they were able to showcase their capabilities in front of a matched audience. A similar exercise last year had significant success by way of orders, which Mr Beaton believes should grow exponentially as they introduce their leading-edge technology to Thales products. The IEU, along with their partners at the Defence Material Organisation (DMO), are constantly searching for new and innovative companies to partner with Thales globally. Many of the opportunities are not in defence projects, but areas such as Airport Security in the Middle East, and increasingly in South America.
To the question about what supply partners needed to possess to secure work with Thales, Mr Beaton spoke about small hi-tech companies that have developed leading-edge technologies, as they can enhance or fill gaps in Thales’ worldwide bid offerings. Currently, Thales is seeking technologies that will augment their own products, giving them a better chance of winning business.
Speaking about the skills that a manufacturing firm would need to stand out when pitching for work with Thales, Mr Beaton singled out attributes such as consistent quality, responsiveness to changing needs, a can-do attitude and persistence to stay with the company throughout the long development and bid processes. He mentioned the recent win of the ASLAV simulator as a perfect case in point, wherein the manufacturer Thomas Electronics worked with Thales on the project for a number of years and actually proposed many solutions that were included in the bid.
On Thales’ industry involvement in Australia, Mr Beaton said that the company had a wide-ranging business with interests in both defence and non-defence markets. Thales makes Bushmaster and Hawkei vehicles in Bendigo, Victoria in addition to having an air traffic management systems operation in Melbourne.
Thales has a naval business in NSW and WA, while transport and communication systems are major elements of their business throughout the country. The company also has interests in the armaments and ordnance businesses. Thales employs around 3300 people in Australia and New Zealand, and 67,000 across the globe.
As one of Australia’s largest defence contractors, Thales has extensive links to government as its major customer. The company works very closely with customers in this area to identify capability requirements and deliver innovative, cost-effective solutions for a wide variety of end-users.
On core challenges affecting Australian manufacturers, he said that Australian businesses needed to address the fact that they are part of a global game and have to be truly world-class to play in it. With Australia presenting significant business opportunities, overseas companies with their mature, low cost supply chains are entering the market, increasing competition for the Australian manufacturing industry.
He also emphasised the importance of networking and advises businesses to join networks such as the Australian Industry & Defence Network (AIDN) and Hunternet so that they have the relationships in place when opportunities come around.
The full interview is featured in the July edition of the AMT magazine by AMTIL