Vincent Kane’s long good-bye

Eoghan Mortell looks back at the broadcaster’s role in putting innovation at the heart of Welsh industry

Vincent Kane, the 77-year-old former broadcaster, is to step down as chairman of Bridgend-based Wales Quality Centre he founded almost 30 years ago. The organisation’s annual Wales Quality Award ceremony and gala dinner at City Hall Cardiff next Thursday evening will be his last public appearance as chairman.

Kane founded the Wales Quality Centre to promote modernisation in Welsh manufacturing during an era of major industrial change. Since then the body has helped hundreds of businesses to implement quality improvement programmes, pursue innovation and build international competitiveness. It has also acted as a standard bearer for excellence in Welsh industry.

Mr Kane, whose career in television and radio with BBC Wales spanned 37 years from 1962, has chaired a number of organisations since retiring in 1999, including Cardiff Marketing, which became the Cardiff Initiative.

The idea for Wales Quality Centre was conceived in 1983 when he accompanied a high-level British trade delegation to Japan, to study the product quality practices that had given them a commanding lead in world markets. An encounter during a farewell reception at the British Embassy in Tokyo left him determined to bring such practices back to Wales. As he recalled:

“I asked a senior Japanese industry representative whether they were afraid British competitors would copy the secrets they had shared with us. He said they weren’t worried because they knew we wouldn’t do it. The Wales Quality Centre was conceived at that moment. At the time the performance of Welsh industry and business was a standing joke but that changed dramatically over subsequent years and the Centre played a key role in that change.”

Wales Quality Centre is a self-financing not-for-profit membership organisation with charitable status. Its services include:  skills development, business improvement programmes, management standards, systems training, auditing services, customer service and marketing. The Centre has also delivered programmes on behalf of the Welsh Government, including the Inside Welsh Industry scheme.

The work of the Centre received international recognition in 2005 when Europe’s excellence movement, the EFQM, brought its high-profile annual conference to Cardiff. The organisation’s president opened the event by telling an audience of senior business people from all over Europe that Wales had become a model for improvement among the continent’s small nations and regions.

There is now a new challenge for Welsh industry and for the Wales Quality Centre. Over the last twenty years or so Welsh industry has made itself as good as anywhere else in Europe. But over the next twenty years it will have to prove itself better than most.

The global economy is entering a period of dynamic change and by 2030 it will be a dangerous place for the ordinary and the second best. Only the most innovative, the most competitive, and those with the widest and deepest skill base can expect to prosper in the fiercely contested markets of the future. As Vincent Kane put it:

“The objectives of the current ‘Wales 2030’ campaign are every bit as important as those we set ourselves nearly thirty years ago. If those objectives are met, our economy will be transformed and all Wales will feel the benefit.”

Eoghan Mortell is Executive Director of Working Word.

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