Future thinking

8 May 2012
IET deputy president, Naomi Climer

IET deputy president Naomi Climer: elected as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

From BBC broadcast engineer to vice president of Sony Europe, Naomi Climer talks to Member News about her remarkable career and the challenges ahead when she takes up the mantle of first female IET deputy president in the autumn. Interview by Keri Allan.

Naomi Climer CEng FIET is vice president of Sony Professional Solutions Europe, responsible for leading the continued expansion of Sony’s European media, broadcast and B2B operations. She started her career as a broadcast engineer for the BBC and went on to manage a range of IT software development projects for independent radio stations and broadcasters, before moving into higher level management. She is currently on the IET’s Board of Trustees and will become the Institution’s first female deputy president this autumn.

Member News: How did you become an IET Trustee?
Naomi Climer: To be honest I actually got rung up and invited to join. When a Trustee resigns and a place becomes vacant outside of the normal election routine the other Trustees cast around for someone with a particular skill set they think would work within the group. [I believe I was put forward] mainly because I’d been serving on the communications sector panel for some years, so I was pretty well known.
Being a Trustee is a great experience for somebody with that kind of appetite. I know a lot more about the IET than I knew about a year and a half ago and also feel more strongly about the incredible things that it does and could be doing.
Certainly, if somebody thought they would like to become a Trustee, a good step towards that would be to serve on a committee or to get themselves nominated for council. Those kinds of things are a good way to get started.
MN: What are the benefits to you being a Trustee, and what does the IET gain from you coming on board?
Climer: The reason that I personally said I would do it was that - and the reason that Sony let me do it - is because they regard it as personal development. It’s a lot cheaper than sending me on a course.
You could call it a leadership course in a way, because I’m exposed to so much. Obviously I run a very large billion Euro company, so I have a lot of board level experience, but the way the IET is run is very different. I’m seeing different styles, different kinds of issues coming up. I am personally gaining a lot of leadership experience and a lot of other relevant experience that I can take back into my day job.
In terms of what the IET gains, well it has a mixture of Trustees from all different walks of life so in my case I’m bringing a skill set that is very commercial orientated. I also bring connections with Sony, which has many engineering interests.
I think the other thing, which if I’m honest I haven’t totally tapped into yet, is that as a Trustee you get encouraged to get engaged with something that really interests you, because that’s where you’re most likely to make the biggest contribution to the IET.
MN: Is there anything you are particularly passionate about that you are considering might be your focus?
Climer: I’m interested in the whole strategy piece, which is our hot topic at the moment. What life is going to be like in ten to 50 years’ time and what difference engineering can make to that. Sustainability and energy are a core part of that. There are many deeper experts from an engineering point of view, but there may be something on member engagement or a bit softer that I could do around that.
I’ve been on the communication sector panel for quite a few years now and that is one of my areas of expertise, so I continue to contribute on that.
MN: Do you feel there is something particularly important that as a community the IET should be focusing on?
Climer: I thoroughly approve of the sectors that were selected: energy, transport, IT and comms are the big ticket sectors I think. If I thought they’d missed anything I’d be saying so quite loudly.
I still feel that we’re not managing to shout as loudly as we could as the IET, however. I think we are doing a lot, contributing white papers, influencing policy, but I don’t know how conscious members are of that activity.
Even though the number of stories that are written about the IET has dramatically increased and the number of people on the street who have heard of the IET has risen, feedback from a members’ survey I’ve read says that they don’t think that we’re visible enough as an organisation.
You do see and hear IET experts commenting on news stories but I just think we need to do much more of that so that people really think of the IET as the voice of engineering. The thing that hit me most, on becoming a Trustee, was just realising the incredible amount of activities going on and I still don’t think we’re shouting loudly enough about it. The comms team is doing an incredible job, the next step is to find ways of getting every member well enough informed to be shouting themselves.
MN: Is that something you’d like to delve into when you become deputy president?
Climer: Yes, it’s definitely one of the things. I think the IET could have more impact on society and deliver more benefits to members if it was much more visible. Look at the recent story about the engineering diploma being downgraded. The IET did a good job of quickly getting a letter into the Telegraph and making noise about that.
I do think that members need to see those kinds of activities and feel that their professional body is out there championing engineering. When I first started out at the BBC it was almost mandatory to join the IET. It was simply required of you, and there’s not enough of that now. Employers don’t require it in the same way and I'd like to get it back up to that level of regard.
MN: The IET has a diverse Trustee body, currently better represented by female members than the membership at large. As such do the female Trustees feel pressure to fulfil the ‘woman engineer’ role model?
Climer: The IET Trustee Board has more women in it that anything I’m used to working in. Certainly at Sony I’m one of the few women at a senior management level, and when I was at the BBC and every other job I’ve had, I’ve been distinctly in the minority.
Do I feel a pressure? No. It’s not some huge burden that I carry, but I am conscious of the fact there are not so many women visible in engineering circles either in my day job or in the IET, and that is something that is important to me. Because of the work I’m doing at Sony on gender diversity, having role models is something that comes up again and again as mattering. I think simply being visible and having a few more women visible throughout the IET has got to be a good thing in terms of encouraging the younger ones that there is a path for them.
MN: This autumn you become the Institution’s first ever female deputy president – how do you feel about this?
Climer: I’m really thrilled actually. It’s hard not to sound cheesy, but it is a real honour. I need to do as well as I can, but I’ve had tremendous support from the current president Mike Short and also from the staff at the IET, they have truly been fantastic. I have confidence that the Trustees and IET staff will give me a great amount of support.
MN: How do you plan to use the role?
Climer: It’s only really just sinking in. I have just started thinking about it in-depth, to see what I can really get my hands into. I think it’ll be around raising the importance of engineering as a profession, but how to do it is another matter!
I’m also thinking a lot about engaging the membership as well, partly because for a long time I was a pretty disengaged member. Now that I am truly engaged myself, I believe, wow, this is incredible: I could have learned so much from the IET much earlier in my career if I had realised what the possibilities were.
I am looking at how we can get members involved in ways that are meaningful for them, from which they can really get something out. I think it would be very powerful for members, make them feel like they’re getting more value from the IET if we could work out a way of doing that. I know there have been a lot of people looking at that for a very long time though, so I’m sure it’s not a simple answer, but we really need to get that going.
What’s lovely about the IET is that it is so big and so diverse, but because of that you can’t feasibly do everything that’s possible. It is quite nice that there is scope for choosing something that will have an impact.
During the course of this year, the Trustees are working jointly with the Council to try to get members involved in longer term strategy. That will be one of the triggers that helps me to work out what my focus should be. I’m pretty sure that after we’ve done that I will have a stronger view of what the top priority needs will be.
MN: Sony is often at the forefront of technology, it must be an exciting place to work. What new technologies excite you at the moment?
Climer: My business is strongly invested and leading in technologies like 3D or 4K. Obviously, it’s exciting in the cinema, but we’re looking at a whole range of interesting things around 3D: like how do you produce 3D in a cost efficient and fast manner? That’s the classic interesting engineering problem that we’re right at the forefront of, so that’s really quite exciting.
3D is also being researched in the medical business, where, for example, we're looking at ways to make 3D equipment miniature and easier to use for endoscopic surgery. When you’re inserting it in a person’s body, the smaller the better! Again that’s a classic engineering problem for us to solve.
Another of my businesses is video security. There’s a great deal of research going into things like face recognition and how to make video security easier, more automated. Here also, there is continuous engineering advancement in video quality. For instance, how can you transfer high definition or 3D video over a low bandwidth phone line? We look at and study everything from video compression to encryption to be able to get huge quantities of video over limited bandwidth.
There’s plenty going on and that’s just in my division. In the wider Sony there are exciting projects like augmented reality. At the moment we’re playing with it in the gaming area, but I think it’s just a matter of time before it comes into the broadcasting media area. I think that’s going to open up a whole new range of possibilities.
MN: A fascinating sector to work in. You’ve come from a ‘hands on’ background and worked your way up. Do you miss getting your hands dirty?
Climer: I really enjoyed being an operational engineer, literally answering the phone and fixing something, especially at the BBC where things could literally be live on the air while you were trying to fix them. There’s something very exciting about doing that. I did that for long enough that I don’t miss the 3:00am calls on a Saturday!
3D Wimbledon was my company’s project this year, so I was around behind the scenes. You really get a buzz then at the operational aspects and you do get a twinge of regret because it’s such an exciting place to be. But I really enjoy having access to all this future thinking, I find it incredibly exciting.
MN: You’ve achieved so much, have you got any other big goals you’re working towards?
Climer: It’s slightly embarrassing, but the short answer to that is no, not really. For me, it’s not about the next promotion, it’s about what the next really interesting opportunity is, something that will stretch my brain and challenge me.
The deputy president role is that for now.

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