Ricardo Plc – A Net-Zero Future

Ricardo Plc is an engineering and consulting firm founded over 100 years ago, but the challenges it focuses on are extremely current. Ricardo’s primary mission is decarbonisation, achieving net-zero emissions. We learn about a company that is an invaluable partner in the fight for decarbonisation.

“We’re working with governments around the world on their policy to decarbonise countries, industries, and meet decarbonisation targets while working with clients to meet that legislation and direction going forward,” says David Shemmans, Ricardo’s CEO. “We do this either through looking at how they can reduce carbon in their operations, or by designing and developing reduced carbon products, batteries, motors, and clean engines. We’re also helping the rail industry to get more out of the rail network, and act as a consultancy that works with all kinds of industries on their journeys because this issue will affect everyone.”

What Ricardo brings to this challenge is an unrivalled, in-depth knowledge of climate change and decarbonisation policies and technologies.

“We have worked with the UK government for many decades, and we have in-depth knowledge of engineering, particularly in the automotive industry,” Shemmans points out. “We offer deep content environmental consulting and deep content engineers and have a long history of working with blue-chip clients.”

Cometh the Moment
This is an area that Ricardo has been working on for a long time, but now that the rest of the world is finally starting to catch up, Ricardo is faced with a brand-new set of challenges.

“Up until now we’ve been working and preparing the business for the day the world focuses on decarbonisation and that day is now,” says Shemmans. “So the opportunity and challenge we have is Europe and America are going to be very focused on these areas going forward, so how do we build that presence?”

To do this, Ricardo has a team of 3,000 people around the world ready to go, as well as a presence in markets from the West Coast of the US right across to China and down to Australia. The engineering company’s global presence is built on its automotive and rail background, with environmental consulting predominantly based in the UK and Australia.

“We want to get the jig-saw pieces that will allow us to move into North America and mainland Europe both organically and through acquisition,” Shemmans says.

Ricardo’s rail and automotive business forms two foundational pillars for the strategy.

“On the rail side, we’ve good global coverage but not necessarily in North America where they’re having a renewed focus on the rail going forward. It will be challenging air transport as the main way of moving people. Rail is a lot easier to decarbonise than air and a lot better than trying to get everyone individually into electric vehicles with the accompanying infrastructure.”

Ricardo also has excellent global automotive coverage.

“We have good technology in battery development and electric machines and driveline technology, so we’re not pursuing acquisition activity in that space because we already have a great footprint,” explains Shemmans.

Cometh the Team

To achieve this, Ricardo Plc needs not just a uniformly strong team, but a constant stream of fresh talent, and an environment where they can do their best work.

“We are very much a people business,” Shemmans insists. “We need people who are not just good technically but who hold strong values and want to make a difference. That’s what we recruit for. We recruit from universities and within the industries, we operate in and once people join Ricardo, we give them an environment where they can really excel. My job is to create a space where bright people can create and innovate. We give them the environment to stretch their creative minds.”

While Ricardo offers competitive pay, Shemmans believes it’s the common cause that draws talent into the fold.

“As a business, we’re heavily on the ESG agenda, and as a PLC we have good governance, but we also put a lot of effort into reaching into the community,” he says. “We’re particularly active around children’s education and women in engineering, with programs with local schools. We bring them in, show them what engineering is about and get them excited about that. We have apprenticeship programs to bring people into engineering on a different path. We have days where staff help out in the local community. But our big focus is children’s health, welfare and education.”

Part of this is about nurturing a passion for engineering from a very young age.

“We have outreach programs to schools. We give them an engineering project to solve. We have STEM ambassadors that go out and work with schools,” Shemmans says. “I did a program where I ended up explaining how you design cars to nine and ten years old, using an umbrella to explain how aerodynamics works and demonstrating how a bicycle is like a car with a lot of the same parts.”

Shemmans has been with the company since 1999, and during the last two decades, he has seen the company operate in environmental consulting, rail, automotive, defence and niche products such as supplying engines for Maclaren. But throughout all of Ricardo’s projects, the common thread is the decarbonisation net-zero agenda.

“Over the next two decades, all organisations are going to have to get on board with this agenda. We have put ourselves in a very good spot. It’s time to press on and create opportunities within that environment over the next two decades,” Shemmans says. “We’re working with people as diverse as NHS Scotland, HM Prisons, water companies, airports, car companies and energy companies. Decarbonisation net-zero is for everyone creating growth opportunities and a positive impact on society as a whole.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Shemmans won’t be the one to lead Ricardo on that journey.

“I’m stepping down as CEO later in the year and look forward to my replacement taking the business forward,” he reveals.

Talking about his achievements in guiding Ricardo, Shemmans is philosophical.

“When picking the thing I’m most proud of in my time here, you could pick anything from the Mini projects to engines for McLaren, to any of our consulting projects,” he says. “But actually what I’m most proud of is taking the company through three economic cycles and maintaining our focus of having really good people in the business.”

He also has some advice for his successor.

“When I took this job on, I was told I was the custodian of the business and that my number one job was to try and hand it on in better state than I’d received it,” Shemmans recalls. “It’s now the right time to hand it on to someone else, and I’ll be giving them the same advice.”

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