Oral history of British science
Wood, Sir Martin and Lady Audrey (Part 8 of 11)
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Interviewees' home, Abingdon
Wood, Sir Martin, 1927- (speaker, male), Wood, Lady Audrey,1927- (speaker, female)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 8 [1:19:58] Remarks on OI in 1980s: production of first whole body magnet; decade of trying to keep up with demand; decision to float company on stock market in 1983, popularity of hi-tech companies at time; intricacies of taking a company public; anecdote about meeting at a merchant bank; anecdote about rewriting boring brochures at Grenoble; feelings about selling shares in OI, shareholders typically following example of MW and AW in creating a worthwhile company; [06:20] concerns about hostile takeover from competitor Bruker; early investors in OI; shareholders trust in MW and AW, lack of knowledge about MRI; OI status as innovative company; importance of investments in growing OI; popularity of high-tech companies in 1980s. [10:50] Remarks on OI purchase of Plasma Technology and Link Scientific companies: early losses followed by high profits; long term prospects of company; use of Leeke technologies in X-ray analysis, electron microscopes, hand held mineral analysis instruments, conversion of research tool into handy appliance useful for industrial quality control and monitoring imports; MW and AW lack of personal involvement with innovations in later years. [17:40] Remarks on: change in AW role in company, resigning directorship but still doing some writing; MW becoming deputy chairman to Barry Marsden's chairman after flotation; MRI section head John Woodgate; rapid growth of MRI market; joint venture with BOC for American superconducting magnet factory in Carteret, New Jersey, currently used as a cold farm for magnets; [22:45] importance of continuing research and development, close relationship of development process with customers. [24:27] Comments on development of active shield for magnets: value preventing magnets disrupting other instruments in laboratories or hospitals; previous Siemens solution of huge metal shield; innovation within OI, value of having design team close to production team. [27:45] Description of improved cryostat support with low thermal conductivity for MRI magnet, principles of operation, improved by OI engineers in the course of their work, allowing easier shipping of magnets cold. [34:15] Anecdote about John Woodgate shipping a large magnet order to a US company by Russian transport plane. [35:00] Remarks on links to universities and Harwell: anecdote about unofficial arrangements with research labs; useful links with Birmingham University. [37:20] Remarks on MW involvement with advisory committees: Council for Cryogenic Research; Scientific Committee for Margaret Thatcher; Advisory Council for Science and Technology; committee with John Fairclough, who was also on OI board. [41:15] Remarks on management of OI: 1980s chairman Sir Austin Pearce; qualities of chairman and chief executive Peter Williams, busy with several other activities as well as OI, including Science Museum and Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC]; chief executive Andrew Mackintosh; Jonathan Flint's ability to appreciate detailed research and larger research picture; anecdote about MW surprise at Flint's varied employment history and quality of planning for OI. [48:55] Remarks on: collapse in MRI business c1989, factors against company as other companies started making own magnets, Peter Williams negotiating with Siemens to continue supplying magnets through a joint venture in Oxford, ability of OI to make cheaper magnets, Siemens eventually buying out OI; [52:20] Siemens subsequent investment in magnet business; ambitious production programme of joint venture; Oxfordshire status as world low temperature and superconductor centre; cluster of small companies around OI; German chairmen of join venture enjoying time in Oxfordshire. [55:55] Remarks on MW and AW activities outside OI: AW becoming a school governor and council member of local wildlife trust, silver smithing classes; funds after OI flotation allowing MW and AW to help small companies; setting up Oxford Seedcorn Capital Ltd with friends Anthony Costley-White, John Laurie and Jonathan Welfare; story about Oxford Seedcorn's successful investment in Sophos, founded by Peter Lammer and Jan Hruska now a huge computer security and anti-virus company; [1:01:30] later investment and assistance to family linked Healthcare at Home company run by Charlie Walsh; MW view that there should be more companies like OI; anecdote about Oxford Vice Chancellor opinion of OI; reasons for OI success as university spin-off, importance of personalities; interest in running companies for their own sake not to make money. [1:06:05] Remarks on Oxford Trust: set up 1985 to help small companies and help school science education; current plans to develop Science Centre in Oxford, designed by Foster and partners, to encourage entrepreneurs and science; difficulties finding premises for OI in early days, leading them to keep early site as incubator for small companies; description of Oxford Trust 'science slum' for small companies in Osney Meade, the Science and Technology Enterprise Project [STEP] centre; anecdote about meeting at STEP with Sir Robin Nicholson; [1:11:35] MW knowing government chief scientist Robin Nicholson through a committee under Mrs Thatcher for small businesses; anecdote about MW disagreement with Mrs Thatcher over blue skies research at a meeting in All Souls College, Oxford. [1:13:40] Further remarks on Oxford Trust: MW and AW personal involvement; fund raising for Magnet project; outreach work for government committees; current site near Headington Hill; MW and AW personal involvement in companies, advice to Sophos; difficulties of sales for small companies; Oxford Centre for Innovation on Mill Street; Oxford Innovation company spun off from Oxford Trust, now merged with SQW consultancy firm and run by Ian Lang, to provide advice and facilities for small companies.
Interview with scientific instrument designers and entrepreneurs Sir Martin and Lady Audrey Wood