A visit from management consultants is a prospect that tends to strike fear into the hearts of every worker, from the shop floor to the boardroom.
Will employees be made to role-play their favourite animal or carry out “blue-sky thinking”?
More seriously, will they be “restructured” out of a job by the clever young people with the laptops? Whatever happens, it is likely not to be cheap.
The company has grown by around 40pc a year since it started out in 2001, on the promise that it could solve real, operational problems and deliver an improvement in performance of between 10pc and 50pc without any capital spending. And it wouldn’t get paid unless it delivered.
The business has now expanded to employ 130 people, around 70pc of whom are Oxbridge science and engineering graduates. It has expanded from dealing with industrial businesses into defence, consumer goods, private equity and the public sector.
Newton hires engineers and scientists around 75pc of them graduates and 25pc people with employment experience, often from the armed forces analyses systems and comes up with ways of making them better. Role-playing, motivational songs and 500-page reports are not part of its repertoire.
“The engineering skill of analysing a process, working out what the problem is and what to do about it will create a step-change in performance, whether you’re trying to increase the output of a paper factory or reduce the number of breaches of waiting times in an A&E department,” says Tom Wedgwood, director and co-founder of Newton.
Newton staff will usually spend between six and eight months working very closely with a business, spending a large part of that time with staff on the factory floor or running about the hospital ward.
After that, it offers “light touch” support for another year or two to ensure the changes are working. If all goes well, the company will have started saving money within the first six to eight months, and Newton gets paid only once targets agreed in advance for cost-cutting or improved performance are met.
As public-sector budgets have been squeezed, this has made Newton’s services particularly attractive to the NHS and local government.
“We’re saving a standard hospital £10m a year,” says Wedgwood.
But while efficiency and waste-saving may be relatively new imperatives in the public sector, the British manufacturing sector has been focused on these two areas for years. Making such companies as lean as possible strengthens this until recently unloved but important part of the economy, says Wedgwood.
“I’ve never walked into a manufacturing facility where they’re not trying very hard and using many of the principles of lean,” he said. “That’s one reason why manufacturing is coming back here. At the average manufacturing plant there’s maybe 15pc waste that could come out.”
Newton has worked with private equity owners of businesses since 2006, and defends the industry against the prevailing view that it cuts jobs and investment for a quick buck, accusations that management consultancy similarly faces.
“Since 2008, all the returns have had to come from improving the business rather than financial restructuring and gearing,” says Wedgwood.
“With the private equity businesses we’ve been involved with, overall employment in manufacturing has gone up by 2pc. That doesn’t mean there weren’t redundancies or plant closures, but by making the companies more healthy, they’ve been able to grow.”
The company has also had external recognition, winning the Business Enabler of the Year award in last month’s National Business Awards, sponsored by The Daily Telegraph. The trend of manufacturing coming back to the UK from the Far East is a real one, says Wedgwood, with Newton working with several clients who are repatriating work from China as costs there rise.
Wedgwood, 41, is a descendant of Josiah Wedgwood, the highly successful Staffordshire potter and industrialist, and is himself a passionate advocate of the recent surge of support for British manufacturing.
“If you look at industries where we’re leading the world, like motor sport and aviation, they all rely on high-calibre engineers,” he says. “But we’ve under-invested in manufacturing for at least 20 years and we’ve got a long way to go to catch up, if you consider the UK produces 12,000 engineering graduates a year and China produces 800,000.”
Newton itself has not had a problem recruiting highly qualified young engineers, and employs more Cambridge-educated engineers than any other UK company. It had 1,100 applicants for its graduate scheme this year, 450 of whom were from Oxbridge, with 37 jobs available.
Wedgwood puts the company’s appeal down to the high levels of responsibility it gives to young employees, and in small part to the decline in the allure of the City for bright science and engineering students. Newton also fosters loyalty with subsidised skiing, surfing and climbing trips for staff, as well as tickets to the Glastonbury festival.
As all employees share in the profits of the business, which has a turnover of around £20m in the UK, he hopes staff will also have a financial incentive to stay.
Wedgwood believes Newton can keep growing at around 30pc a year, as long as its advice keeps improving performance.
“We meet people from the shop floor up to the boardroom who say: 'Oh no you can’t change that because x, y and z will happen.’ Challenging those assumptions is one of the main things we do.”