The manufacturing sector in the UK would benefit enormously from having more engineers and scientists in executive roles. That is the view of Sir James Dyson, the eponymous billionaire creator of the bagless vacuum cleaner, who has called for a march of the scientists and engineers through boardrooms in Britain.
As he launched a £1.4 million professorship at Cambridge University, Sir James claimed that the academic status of inventors is not mirrored in the executive world. His peers, the admired inventor explained, are unappreciated by technology and manufacturing firms in the UK.
"Engineers and scientists on the whole are undervalued, although not always underpaid, and not always drawn into the top of businesses as they should be," he remarked.
"Manufacturing is about making technology products and exporting them around the world. Therefore the people at the top of businesses should be people who understand technology and have a vision for the future. You do not always find that at the top of manufacturing companies or engineering companies."
Sir James is the chief engineer of the company that bears his name, which recorded impressive profits of $206 million in 2010. Despite this, it should be noted that the firm's chief executive, Martin McCourt, does not boast a background in engineering.
The inventor was speaking at the announcement that Dyson is to commit £1.4 million over a decade to fund a Cambridge professorship in fluid mechanics, the discipline that inspired the Dyson suction device. Many of the research projects funded by Dyson will not have any specific use, but could become critical in years ahead, he explained.
Although he conceded that this "speculative" research may ultimately prove unfruitful, Sir James confirmed that his company will have first refusal on the technologies it produces. "We are hoping that something interesting comes out of it. If it does we will take it up and hopefully commercialize it," he said.
Encouraging more firms to undertake unapplied research, Sir James added: "Any company that considers itself a technology company should do it, particularly if the government cannot afford it."
Cambridge University, meanwhile, will retain the patent and licence of the technology produced through the funding. And Sir James, who is currently writing a report to Prime Minister David Cameron on increasing Britain's manufacturing exports, said that the professorship served to underline the world-class stature of British universities.