2023 was an interesting year for a lot of reasons. 12 months ago we reflected on what we thought might happen in 2023. I think I suggested that what we needed was “a steady ship”, and to avoid glorified headline-grabbing by our government and so on; my reflection would be “that went well”!
Here's a video of Andy's review if you'd rather watch than read
The ongoing COVID inquiry has really shown that the guys in government at the moment really aren’t necessarily looking after the best interests of the country. So I don't think that played out as well as it should have done.
For 2022, the word I chose was “unpredictable”, because of the things that happened during that year. I think, unfortunately, that's continued to play out in 2023 for a lot of things. Most recently the horrific events in Israel and Gaza. Who could have predicted that happening? And that suggests a lot of unease and tension in the Middle East, which I think for the world, for the global economy, is a bit of a worry, because I don't see that changing much going forward.
For any business what we're looking for is stability and predictability. That's the thing that we all like, because then you can plan more easily. Unless you're very cutting edge, at the front of everything and want disruption, most businesses want stability and predictability. Instability creates unease and uncertainty, which plays out in the plans you make, how you invest, how you think about the future, and it just makes everything more challenging.
Catalysts for growth: new products, new people
Growing businesses at the moment isn’t easy, but what's great for Cherwell is that we've been able to do that: we've seen about 12% growth for our business in 2023, which is fantastic to report. And being able to realise that growth when the UK economy has basically been flat for the year is also quite an achievement. And a key element is that we've brought some great new people into the business.
That's always the catalyst for being able to move forward. We've invested in our production space, in our sales and marketing space, in HR, and have brought some new people into the business, which brings new ideas and fresh impetus, and that helps any business keep moving forward.
2023 was also an exciting year for Cherwell with regard to new products. As well as our continuing stream of new Redipor products, we also reached an agreement with MicronView to become UK and Ireland distributor for their BAMS real-time air monitoring system. This is a big step for us, and provides another string to our bow within the environmental monitoring field that we service across the UK.
BAMS is quite an important thing, I think, in the drive our industry is seeing towards real-time results. Speed of results is key within pharma manufacturing, partly driven by the 2023 revision of EU GMP Annex 1. With that new, real-time technology, it's great for us to be involved in that space, and engage with our customers on that product.
Looking ahead to 2024
So as we look into 2024, I think there are some promising signs for the UK economy, which is of course an important factor for any business in the UK. Inflation's coming down, I think interest rates are going to start falling – probably not rapidly but they are going to start falling. So hopefully that's going to instil some improved confidence for business in the UK, and stimulate some investment, which is the thing that's going to help drive economic growth.
I think what everybody's looking for is some certainty. I’ve talked about stability and predictability. I think that's an important thing, and there's still change on the horizon.
Everybody's predicting that we're going to have a change of government later this year. There's lots of odds on which date it will be, but that's going to bring change for us, and hopefully the follow-on from that will be a return to a more stable environment.
I also talked about the situation in the Middle East and the impact on the global economy. I think it's a worrying sign that our government and the US government have recently become involved in tactical things there, and military intervention with the Houthis. That's a worry, because it’s going to create a feeling of continued unpredictability throughout 2024.
“Unpredictable” is a theme that's running from 2022 through 2023, and I think it's going to continue to run through 2024.
Cherwell joins AnalytiChem group
Having said all that… we have ambitions to continue to grow our business.
We have a five-year plan called Accelerate, which we're now two years into. Our ambition is to meet and exceed those targets for growth in the business, and that means for us that we've got to just keep pushing a bit harder.
For Cherwell in particular, we've just announced some very big news: Cherwell has joined the Analytichem group – a group of dynamic businesses across Europe, North America and Australia that operate in the life science space. This presents a really exciting opportunity for Cherwell because it opens us up to sharing knowledge and best practice within the group.
It's really interesting for us that two of the other companies in the group are also prepared media manufacturers, one based in Europe and one based in North America. So actually, sharing knowledge and best practice with them is going to be really exciting, and I'm sure that will allow us to develop new products for the benefit of our customers.
New products and technological developments
One such product that we're really excited about that we're just launching is our Redipor Beta Bag. We think that's going to be a big thing for us in 2024. It’s an exciting opportunity to work with our pharmaceutical manufacturer customers and allow them to have a really secure way of transferring settle plates into their grade-A RABS and isolators.
One of the interesting things that's really happening at the moment is this massive growth in AI. We’ve probably all had a play on Chat GPT and got it to write a press release or a thesis or something like that. It's incredible what it can do now. I think there's some really interesting things happening in that space, and it's a big challenge for SME businesses about how to use AI and how to deploy it. What could it do over and above writing?
We need to think more broadly than that. Also about how this technology is going to impact drug development and drug discovery. We know from how quickly the COVID vaccine came to market how the use of simulation tools really sped up that whole process. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the pharma industry uses AI, and how it’s deployed within their facilities.
Family values and Cherwell’s “why”
So despite Cherwell joining a group, one of the things that's really important within the Cherwell family is the values and culture in the business.
We've been a family-owned business. We're still a family. We're a family of people. But those values of reliable, adaptable, partnership are key threads in what we do. We want to be seen by our customers as being a reliable supplier, a consistent supplier. But more importantly, that we work in partnership with them. So the products that we bring to market really need to be focused on how we work together to help them resolve their challenges and problems.
The sense of family and the values in the business are very strongly linked to our “why”.
Why do we exist? Why do we do what we do?
And we're very clear about this: one day we might be the patient. And you want to be sure. That actually is our “why”.
And the reason for saying that is because, at the end of the supply chain that we service and support, is a patient. We're quite detached from that, but everything we do is about helping that supply chain function really effectively and precisely, so the patient gets a safe, secure medicine.
Andy Whittard, Managing Director January 2024
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