We welcome Vin Wijeratne, Director of Finance at The Royal Mint to our regular series of interviews with leading figures in the business community. Vin tells us about the Royal Mint's cutting edge manufacturing, the move to online sales and his future vision for a 1100 year old organisation.
Hi Vin, tell us about the Royal Mint and your role as Director of Finance
The Royal Mint is one of the oldest manufacturers in the UK and in the world, with over 1100 years of history. When I was interviewed for my role by members of the Board, their definition of success was when I left the Royal Mint it would stronger than when I had started. With the prestigious history and organisational values of The Royal Mint my role may be better described as stewardship rather than a directorship. I feel privileged to be the current custodian of the Finance Director role and feel the significant responsibility to secure a bright future for The Royal Mint and for my successors.
Many people have heard of The Royal Mint but few know the breadth of all we do. We are the largest export mint in the world, creating all the circulation coins for the UK and up to 60 other countries each year. We also make commemorative coins to celebrate national events such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the birth of Prince George and we make medals for the military, as well as significant sporting events, including the 4,700 Olympic and Paralympic medals for London 2012.
Finally, The Royal Mint has a precious metal bullion division that sells gold Sovereign coins, gold and silver Britannia coins and from the start of 2015 gold and silver bars. In 2014 we launched an online bullion platform which sells our bullion products using live pricing and offers storage of those products at The Royal Mint which is proving popular with our customers.
What is your future vision for The Royal Mint?
Our vision is to be recognised as the world’s best mint. Realising this vision will be driven through delivering value to our customers from organisational and manufacturing excellence. From my perspective it will based on being world class in all we do across the business but I would emphasise the following three areas in particular;
Value creation and protection: As the largest employer in our local community with over 800 permanent staff on site we often use the mantra of Jürgen Grobler (Olympic team rowing coach of team Great Britain) : “will it make the boat go faster?” in our approach to work. Working with practical and innovative partners we create customer value and in turn grow our revenue, reduce our costs being more efficient and effective in what we do.
Research and Development: Recognised as global experts in our industry we believe that the future for circulating coins worldwide is dependent on plating technology. After a number of years of research and development we now offer a new generation of plated coins that are the most secure ever made.
Operational excellence and continuous improvement: We are seeking Shingo Prize assessment in the coming year to independently confirm the tremendous progress we are making to realise our vision. "Shingo” actively promotes you learning from industry leaders and reinforces our existing culture which recognises and values the contributions of all of our staff.
What challenges are you facing?
Like many successful businesses our biggest challenge is prioritisation of our time and resources! For example in the next two years we will be making 1.4 billion new one pound coins, we will be building a new Visitor Centre on our site , supported by Welsh Assembly Government funding, which will be one of the largest visitor attractions in Wales and substantially growing our precious metal bullion division.
How do you decide what commemorative coins to make?
As you can imagine our Commemorative Coin team keep a comprehensive diary of all notable dates/events worthy of celebration and commemoration. Following customer feedback a short list of themes are drawn up then designs for UK coinage are sent to The Royal Mint Advisory Committee for review before being passed to HM The Queen for final approval. Suffice it to say there is a comprehensive process that is in place, which we always adhere to, safeguarding our unique heritage and traditions.
How does the current economic climate impact on your activities?
We are fortunate to run three diverse business divisions which compliment one another. During times of global economic uncertainty the demand for our precious metal bullion products increases but orders for circulation coins could be postponed. As an organisation servicing a worldwide customer base we are still to see the full recovery from the global financial crisis but it is great to see the UK leading the way.
Our Commemorative business is more sensitive to the popularity of the anniversary or national event taking place in any year.
Do you feel like you get enough support from the government?
We have a great relationship with the government, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has the historic title of ‘Master of the Mint’ whilst our CEO is only the Deputy Master! Our present Chancellor has been very supportive of our business and since our owner is HM Treasury it reinforces our credentials worldwide.
How has Moon Consulting supported your work?
Moon Consulting have been invaluable in sourcing members of our leadership team. The personal touch is very important, and I appreciate the honesty and integrity from Vanessa and the team. During the recruitment of a Financial Controller, Vanessa called me and said that the candidates that had applied were not of the calibre to meet our needs and rather than put them forward she voluntarily withdrew them from consideration. This is typical of the open culture and values of Moon Consulting which I have not often come across in the recruitment industry. I have seen that Moon Consulting take time to understand your business and have the ability to look beyond a brief to find the right person for the job. I have an IT and Telecoms background and Vanessa met me early in my career, she is probably one of the few recruitment professionals who can accurately and credibly explain why my experience, skillset and style is so relevant for The Royal Mint.
What is your view on the Wales business scene?
Wales is a great location, The Royal Mint moved from London to Llantrisant in the 1960s prior to decimalisation in 1971. The Welsh business scene is getting stronger and has grown and matured considerably in the last decade. We are delighted that there are many other growing global businesses located in Wales and this in turn means the need to attract, develop and retain talented people is becoming increasingly important. Consequently, it can only be good that the demands on surrounding Welsh based organisations will continue to grow.
What do you think makes a good business leader / Finance Director?
A good FD obviously has to have a good understanding of their numbers, but you have to think and look beyond this at the economic and market trends that are relevant to your business. Further it is essential to understand and deliver exactly what your customer wants mindful of the competition.
Finally as a business leader it’s all about the relationships that you build with your team and stakeholders, it is essential that you lead with humility and honesty whilst not shying away from making tough or unpopular decisions.
Do you have any advice that you’d pass on to a newly appointed company director?
Don’t underestimate the value of a mentor if you are a new director. From personal experience I can highly recommend ICAEW mentor scheme. The right mentor can provide sage advice, tell you about potential pitfalls beforehand and can counsel you wisely on alternative approaches worthy of consideration.
What do you like to do outside of work?
It’s important I get the work life balance right. I concentrate on family time when not working. I have two sons who are very into their rugby and cricket and I am their resident taxi driver and number one fan.
Who is your hero/personal inspiration?
My hero is Muhammed Ali. He transcended his sport, he hasn’t boxed since 1981 years yet is still known and respected worldwide. He achieved incredible things inside and outside the boxing ring and remains “The Greatest”.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading the Grantchester Grind by Tom Sharpe. The book is great fun and follows on from Porterhouse Blue, capturing what happens at Porterhouse College with its new Master, Skullion, who was previously its Head Porter.