Nearly 100 days into her employment at BOC, Sue Graham Johnston speaks exclusively to gasworld – providing insight into what she hopes to accomplish through leading the company.

Energetic, driven, and extremely focused – the future for BOC under the new Managing Director’s leadership appears to be bright. With a number of large deals (a supply deal with SSI, and the opening of a hydrogen plant in Newport) secured during less than 100 days into her tenure – gasworld spoke exclusively with Graham Johnston to learn more about what her plans for the future are.

What experience are you bringing from San Francisco, where you were previously living and working, to Surrey, in the UK, – where BOC is headquartered?

“My background covers a range of disciplines – in operations and business sourcing, to consultancy and technology. In virtually every role in my career, there have been two common themes.”

“One is the rapid introduction of new products. When I worked at Sun Microsystems and Oracle, we introduced a new product about every two weeks.”

“The second is step-change improvements, in profitability and performance improvements.”

“Before joining BOC, I spent about 17 years between Sun and Oracle – which is a technical-based company dealing with hardware and software manufacturing. It was great fun and a big challenge – which is exactly what drew me here to BOC and the company’s focus on digitalisation and innovation.”

With a focus on profitability and performance improvements in your previous roles, is this the first area that you plan to target in BOC’s business?

“Let me tell you about what I’m looking for here. It’s the mindset I’m looking at. Clearly we can’t launch new products every two weeks. But it’s a combination of speed of performance improvements and how you go about business. Process re-engineering is what it’s called. It’s looking at the steps currently undertaken in a process, and then trying to challenge the pace things are done at. The people that are in my team will attest that this has been my focus since I’ve got here.”

In terms of digitalisation, BOC has the EVOS valve. Can we expect to see more products like this?

“We’ve just launched our new EVOS valve in Scotland and I’ve spent some time recently looking at this product with our R&D teams here in Surrey. I want to use my experience in this field to drive the wider roll-out of EVOS, as it was identified as a key growth area by Dr. Buchele at the latest Linde financial meeting.”

It must be near 100 days since you joined BOC. How has the transition been from sunny San Francisco to not so sunny Surrey?

“I’ve just passed my two month mark, so not quite 100 yet – but my priority has been to get out there and meet the teams, getting to know them all and our customers. In seven weeks I’ve visited 13 sites, including our customer service site more than once, which indicates my focus on this particular side of the business. It has been fantastic.”

“So I’m very interested in learning from everyone how things are going. I’ve had a number of customer meetings and it’s been a great time to join, what with the great announcements we’ve made lately after securing major deals.”

“But I’ve also gathered my leadership team – to make sure everyone is engaged in what we’re trying to achieve. I’m quite informal and very energetic and looking forward to translating this tone into how we run the business.”

Have you identified, over your tour of BOC facilities and meeting employees, some early tasks for improvement?

“I think there are some clear areas for focus. The corporate growth agenda will be my start. For Linde, the UK, Ireland and Africa region is a big part of this.”

“I’m looking forward to working with the team, listening to customers, and making some tweaks and adjustments to what is needed.”

You mentioned just a few moments ago about some major deals being secured since you’ve joined. Is this a clear sign that BOC, under your leadership, will be active in securing growth contracts?

“I will secure any growth that makes sense and aligns to our business. We have been doing this since the foundation of the company. My personal passion, being manufacturing, means there’s nothing more I would like than a vibrant industrial eco-system in any business I am in. It’s so core to success.”

“I appreciate that the recent major deal announcements have happened during my time here, but they are also due to a very strong leadership team here at BOC.”

I also hear you have a patent out on a 3D printed product?

“I started playing around with this technology about 4-5 years ago. A lot of the projects being worked on were ‘guy’ things – so I decided to make lipstick cases. I have submitted a provisional patent application on a 3D printed cosmetic case.”

“Few women tinker in 3D printing technology to produce things that women would like to see. Getting women involved in technology is something I would like to see.”

“Closer to home, I’m happy to let my neighbour’s daughter come over and use my power tools and laser cutter in the basement. It’s something I actively encourage to inspire more women into this industry.”

It’s rare to see a female leading an industrial gas company. There are women in powerful roles at various companies, but not leading one. What’s your view on this and do you hope to inspire future generations that this sector, and manufacturing, can be jobs for women to fill?

“The moment it crystallised in my mind (to study mechanical engineering), I was working with kids during the summer to improve their study skills. There were motivational slogans around the room and one said ‘What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?’”

“Literally, the first thought of mine was that I’d major in mechanical engineering. So I changed my degree subject to mechanical engineering and that was it.”

“There’s a fear of failure. I did my graduate and undergrad work at Stanford. I was told that an equal measure of men and women enroll on science-based courses, but the women drop out at a staggering rate and the men just stick with it. There are fewer women signing up for these types of courses than there were when I was studying – and this is deeply troubling to me.”

“Role models are needed. The reason I joined Sun was because there was a large number of females leading at that company. I hope that with this role here, I can inspire people to get into this industry. I had lots of letters from people at BOC when I joined, who were women, and others outside the company – all wishing me well.”

“We need more engineers in general – as well as women. Hopefully I can inspire more people to enter this industry.”

Finally, how has the transition been for you moving from the US to the UK?

“I have been very excited by the challenge and my husband has been very excited too as he’s never lived anywhere else! It’s his first address outside California. I’ve lived in five different countries (US, France, Italy, Hong Kong, UK) now, so living abroad is not a big deal for me. But there’s a common misconception that the weather is better in San Francisco than here. Summer in London is warmer than in the Bay area in San Francisco.”

“Everyone is very welcoming, the culture is fantastic, and I’m right around the corner from the opera house which is my other passion in life – so I’m very happy here in the UK!”