Paul Mason

Paul Mason is Director of Innovation Policy at Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency. The role gives him a key role in determining the future of technology across the nation.

It could have been different. An enthusiastic jazz player in his teens, he almost became a professional musician. But decided instead to study chemistry. The income prospects for a scientist were more reliable than for a freelance jazz player, he says. “Career choice has to be a compromise between what you love, what you do well and what people are prepared to pay for.”

Paul acknowledges the huge educational opportunities he has experienced, first at his local comprehensive then at Balliol College, Oxford. “The quality of staff at school and university, and the time they invested in their students’ education, was huge,” he says.

Graduating in 1984, he rejected merchant banking and took up a full-time job at Courtaulds, which had sponsored his degree. It was there that he first used a networked computer, which the company had installed for its researchers to share their work and exchange reports.

During 25 years in the chemical industry, Paul worked on a wide range of technologies and markets. At Courtaulds, he worked on industrial and apparel fibres, high-tech and packaging films, separation technologies, polymers for a range of applications including LCD polarising filters and sunglasses frames, dyeing technologies, anti-fouling coatings for shipping, and in many other areas including spells in Europe, the US and Japan. He went on to hold change management, manufacturing, and commercial roles in Akzo Nobel and CVC/Acordis.

In 2007, Paul became Head of Development at the newly-formed Technology Strategy Board, which later morphed into Innovate UK. He is responsible for corporate strategy and the programmes that support its development and implementation.

Over the years, Paul has set up and launched national innovation programmes in areas such as agriculture and food, stratified medicine, disease diagnosis and creative industries. In many of these, the UK is world-leading, he says.

Not every idea that gains funding can be expected to succeed. “We’ve invested in some individual projects that went nowhere, but that would happen in industry and with venture capital too – but the programmes overall have been successful.” In innovation the UK is punching well above its weight in many areas, he says, including in offshore renewable energy, creative and digital industries, automotive, aerospace, advanced manufacturing and service industries, and in pharmaceutical and medical industries. For instance, in advanced therapies “about 38% of all European clinical trials are being conducted in the UK.”

Professor Sir Martin Sweeting

Professor Sir Martin Sweeting has been fascinated by telecommunications since childhood, and a love of science fiction, particularly the writings of Arthur C Clarke, fostered his enthusiasm for technology.

At school his best subjects were English, French and Latin, but in those days it was hard to combine sciences and arts. So he did A’levels in chemistry, maths and his favourite, physics, going on to gain a degree in electronic and electrical engineering at the University of Surrey, and a PhD.

In 1985, Sir Martin set up Surrey Satellite Technology with about £100 and four employees. The company pioneered rapid-response, low-cost and highly capable small satellites, on which much of our modern life depends. In 2008, SST was sold to Airbus Defence & Space for £50m, but Sir Martin is still executive chairman. The company now has 400 professional staff, annual revenues of more than $100m and total export sales in excess of $1bn to 25 countries. Among its many focuses is clearing up the increasing amount of space debris, which represents a significant threat to the next generation of satellites.

Sir Martin was awarded an OBE in 2002 and won the 2008 Arthur C Clarke Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2016, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and listed by Sunday Times as one of the 500 most influential UK citizens.

Professor Peter Dobson OBE

Prof Peter Dobson OBE was born during WWII in Liskeard,  Cornwall and led a “net zero carbon existence” for his first 14 years without mains electricity or water. 

After Grammar school, he chose a GPO (General Post Office, now BT) scholarship to take him to university and worked alongside Tommy Flowers.  His broad career has covered a wide range of disciplines from physics and chemistry to materials science and engineering and bridged industry (Philips) and academia (Imperial College and Oxford).  Peter was responsible for creating and building The Begbroke Science Park for Oxford University.

Peter has successfully spun-off numerous companies. His latest, Oxford NanoSystems was formed in 2012. He is currently on the advisory board of several companies involved in nano-materials, healthcare and energy. He was awarded the OBE in 2013 in recognition of his contributions to science and engineering.

Sir Julian Young

A delight in taking apart and rebuilding his bicycle highlighted Sir Julian Young’s bent for engineering at an early age. “An engineer is someone who is perpetually restless and never content with how things are,” he says. “You are always wanting to do better.”

Would-be engineers also need to be competent at numbers, score good marks in science, and be prepared to keep up-to-date with technology. But as an engineer you have “a job with opportunities for life,” Sir Julian says.  It has certainly proved that way for him. Money was tight when he wanted to study aircraft engineering at university, so he applied for and won sponsorship with the RAF.

Since then, he has enjoyed a 40-year career as an aircraft engineer with the RAF. His experience spans a huge range of aircraft and technology, from the Mk1 Chinook and 1980s’ bombs dropped by gravity used to damage Port Stanley airfield in the Falkland Islands to today’s leading-edge F-35 fighter jet, with its robotics, smart weapons and AI.  Most recently, he was Director General Air within the Defence Equipment & Support organisation in the Ministry of Defence and the RAF’s Chief Engineer.

Sir Julian is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a Governor of Bath College and a Trustee of the RAF Charitable Trust. He was awarded a KBE in 2020, a CB in 2013 and an OBE in 2000.  In 2021, he became the 140th President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. His ambition while in post is to push as hard as possible on addressing the challenges of sustainability and climate change.

Ann Moffatt

Ann Moffatt found “sums” easy as a child at school in post war London and would have gone to Oxbridge had it not been a time when the boys in the family had first call on education.  Nevertheless, by reading every book she could find, she got a job in IT and went on to defy the male stereotype of the industry: combining a friendly manner with incisive expertise that commanded respect at the highest levels.

Ann was Dame Stephanie Shirley’s first lieutenant at Freelance Programmers before being headhunted to Australia, to sort out a mega-project gone wrong.  She is a Fellow of both the Australian Computer Society and the British Computer Society. In 2002, Ann was inducted into the Australian ICT Hall of Fame and in 2011, into the Pearcey Hall of Fame, for lifetime achievement in the ICT industries. The University of Southern Queensland awarded her an Honorary Doctorate, in May 2006 and Microsoft list her as one of 12 Australian Innovators.

John Higgins CBE

John Higgins CBE is well known as the leader of influential industry trade associations and advisory bodies in the UK and Europe, which give him a unique perspective of IT in the last 45 years. Currently John is President of the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

He first worked on computer applications at London Brick, writing payroll and other applications for a Univac mainframe and progressed to Silicon Valley DotCom CEO in the 90’s, before moving into industry advisory roles. In this interview he shares insights into wide ranging issues, including why Europe struggles to compete with the USA building Tech companies and the challenges of public sector IT projects.