Never say no – says Carl Arnzten, CEO at Worcester Bosch

by | Jan 2, 2020

This month, in our regular business column for County Lifestyle and Leisure Magazine, our interview Carl Arntzen, the inspiring head of Worcester Bosch, is published. The article covers what it’s like to run such a large organisation, how he copes with it and what inspires him, along with Brexit and advice for a successful future in business. Head to the digital version of the , pick up a copy in a store near you or read the full interview below:

My alarm goes off…

As I’ve always been into sport and fitness, having played rugby for years, I’m used to getting up and out early. I used to wake at 5am and go running for many years although it caught up with me (knee injuries) so I now train with my youngest daughter (and her partner) in their cross-fit gym in Worcester, so most mornings I do a 6am class.

After that, I get ready and go to work. I usually breakfast in the café with fellow board members, catch up, chit chat, interact and engage with employees as they arrive. This routine normally kicks off my day although no two are ever the same.

How did you start doing what you’re doing?

I’m Worcester born and bred. I grew up locally in Worcester, went to Nunnery Primary School, then RGS, followed by Birmingham University where I studied for a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

My surname comes from Father, who’s Norwegian, although my Mum’s from Worcester – they met in Worcester too!

As part of my degree, I did a thin sandwich course (which don’t exist anymore) so for the first 3 years I spent 6 months at University and the other 6 months in a work placement.

Then through contacts, mainly via rugby, I was introduced to Cecil Duckworth – founder Worcester Engineering – who offered me work placements.  In fact, I was the first intern that the Company ever took on. I enjoyed 3 work placements and then joined full time and, apart from a short interlude in the mid 2000s, I’ve been here ever since.

We manage a large intake of interns each year. In 2018/19 we’ll train 72 apprentices on programmes ranging between 2-4 years. In addition, we also manage 25 advanced apprentices spread across virtually all functions of the business – not simply deployed in engineering but also within sales, HR, finance, customer service and logistics.

We work on the principle of growing our own talent and am hugely supportive of this type of career development and planning, so I we particularly target apprenticeships where we might have a skill shortage and difficulty recruiting experienced people. For example, the Service Engineer section employee base is 1/3 former apprentices.

I’m a true believer in the apprenticeship process although disappointed that government has recently levied the scheme. However, this hasn’t had an iota of impact on the scheme at Worcester Bosch. What a wonderful way to start a career – employed, gaining work experience, academic study, qualifications and pay too! What could be better?

What worries you?

I’m not heavily phased by shocks to system; to do this job you can’t be.

I’m level-headed and lucky that I don’t get too stressed out about anything.

Although things do keep me awake at night and the pressure can be a challenge, I tend to take it in my stride and keep a clear head. I accept and understand the responsibility of the role but I’m a fairly laid back, mild mannered character.

I often reflect and think that my sporting background means I’m fiercely competitive and this carries into my business life – I don’t like losing! And there’s much crossover from sport into work: I like being part of a team and working with other team members. The motivation from a sporting background gives me all of those attributes.

How will Brexit affect you?

It’s becoming a farce; unfortunately it’s now (February 2019) turned into a political debate rather than an economic debate.

Quite naturally, as we’re 100% owned by a German company, we were fierce remainers and part of Bosch Group for 22 years. Therefore we’re extremely well integrated into their supply chains and move lots of components and other materials back and forth from the EU, so we definitely wanted to remain in the EU.

That’s not to say that the EU has lots of problem that need resolving but I always felt that we should resolve them from within rather than from the outside. But that’s the opinion of the boss of a company fully owned by German company!

We’ve taken what we believe to be sensible precautions i.e. stockpiling components, and have plans which we’re executing now; making as sensible preparations as possible and we will wait and see… it’s extremely disappointing. Although I’m not quite sure what’s best – exiting with no deal and incurring further delays or having a second referendum and general election; it’s a fine balance between which is the worst outcome.

In any event, let’s just please get on with it – show adult, mature behaviour and let’s get sorted and move on. I’m sure in 10 years we’ll wonder what the fuss was about! From a political point of view – there’s not much glory. It’s occupied a lot of time but we have solid plans in place, so we’ll execute them and wait and see.

What are your notable highlights to date?

I’ve been happily married for 31 years. My wife and I met when at school and were childhood sweethearts. We married in 1987 – so it’s 32 years of marriage this year. We have two wonderful daughters; the elder is 31 and the younger 26) and both now run their own local businesses.

My elder daughter trained and worked as lawyer and is now a successful florist; you may have heard of and enjoyed Floral Roundabout by the Commandery? I sometimes help deliver flowers at peak periods like Valentine’s Day. And our younger daughter is a partner in the cross-fit gym called Solv, Worcester. My family life is happy and stable.

This is my 30th year with Worcester Bosch; I became MD in 2008 and CEO in 2011. I am only the 4th MD of Worcester Bosch. Cecil founded the Company back in 1962 as Worcester Engineering, and I had the pleasure of working with him and both of my other predecessors, Kevin Lee and Richard Soper.

Are you staying around for a while longer?

Yes, I certainly plan on staying around! I’ve been lucky enough to work with all 3 predecessors and that’s quite a challenging responsibility to take on. I have the legacy they passed and on therefore the biggest delight is still seeing the business grow and develop, watching the new young people and employees coming in to the Company.

There’s a really good atmosphere here and nothing gives me more pleasure than to see the young people and the business succeed together. There are, of course, challenges to pass the legacy onto someone else at some point and make the success story continue.

What’s the key to your success?

You have to be good with people, lead and manage people and inspire and motivate them. You need a good feel for the business; I’ve been in it a long time, to understand it and what works and what doesn’t. You have to be 100% committed. Not anything less. Don’t take the job if not prepared to do that.

Do you ever stop thinking about it?

No. I enjoy weekends with my wife and family and our friends, going to gym and exercising – and there is time when I’m not thinking about it, but it does occupy a large amount of thought time.

I’m working very hard on the future – what does it look like? Creating a clear purpose and vision, where people enjoy coming to work, contributing to what’s going on and culture in an organisation is very important. So a clear purpose as to why they come here, then providing the vision and direction to work towards.

Who or what has been your greatest influence?

There have been 3 people who’ve had huge influence on me. I’ve been lucky to come from a stable family background. My parents and my wife’s parents are still married and we interact as families.

Another great influence has, of course, been Cecil Duckworth and, in fact, the second person to introduce me to him was Don Everton: a local businessman who was heavily involved in rugby and sadly passed away last year. They introduced me to others who led me to play most of my rugby career in Moseley, Birmingham and if had not met Cecil I would probably not be sitting here chatting with you today. They were both hugely influential in my life and I had the pleasure of learning a lot and spending some time with Cecil.

Do you mentor anyone?

Yes. There are a number of colleagues that I mentor and I really enjoy that: engaging with the new young focus we have here i.e. the trainees as well as long serving employees too.

It’s also been great to see my girls grow their businesses too and I’ve provided them with some advice; I’m proud and fascinated with their challenges.

What’s on your bucket list?

My wife and I are ticking off a few holiday destinations like California, which we visited for the first time this year and will be heading to Thailand, Iceland, New Orleans and South Africa too, hopefully.

What’s your biggest bugbear?

Seeing people not sticking to things.

It seems that people today have such short attention spans, short ambitions and aspirations. Again, as I’m from a sporting background, I learnt the need to be determined and committed to achieve what you want to achieve – so people giving up too easily after a short period of time is a bugbear of mine.

I think that’s applicable to relationships, improving health and wellbeing as well as business. You need to be committed – it takes time, effort and a lot of perseverance and they all come in ever decreasing circles of supply.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

My first aspiration was to be a professional footballer, however I then attended RGS so became a semi-professional rugby player instead. I was still amateur but only 1-2 years after I retired you were allowed to become professional – I’d have loved to have been a professional sportsperson.

And now, what do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to pass on the legacy that I’ve taken on and do that together with my great colleagues here in the business. As for my personal life, I’d like to play football with my grandkids, be fit enough to kick a football about with them in the garden…

Where can you mostly be found after work?

In the gym, walking the dog or at home in the garden.

What can you do 3 of? Party piece?

I can hold a hand stand for 3 seconds!

There are lots of things I can do now that I couldn’t before cross-fit – lots more functional movement meaning that I’m setting myself up for my older years.

For example, squatting and hand stands. Cross-fit has had a negative image as macho environment but Solv Worcester have a very different atmosphere. It’s a sociable community – meaning you learn that cross-fit is a mix of gymnastics, weight lifting and aerobics.  The functional movement is the interesting part for me, (having been semi-professional sportsperson) the gymnastics, as never done it before. It’s really hard so I appreciate the enormous strength, power and skill of gymnasts, as you start to understand how hard it is to do a hand stand or hold [seemingly easy] positions.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Never say no.

I’m lucky to have had the opportunities – and I’ve never turned one down.

You need determination to take yourself out of your comfort zone from time to time.

I’ve done that on many an occasion; I’m naturally an introvert and therefore for an introvert to stick my neck on block and do some of the stuff I’ve done doesn’t come naturally.

I’m not outspoken, extrovert, or an entertaining person, I’m quiet and reserved – but work hard, play hard and never say no!

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