Dubliner performs sterling service at royal mint
Former Waterford Crystal executive Shane Bissett leads mint division through turnaround
Shane Bissett: royal mint ‘a strong consumer brand’.
As the UK royal mint is more than 1,100 years old, it’s not surprising to discover it had become a little stuck in its ways. The appointment of Dublin-born Shane Bissett as its director of bullion and commemorative coin in 2011, however, led a sea-change that has made the organisation much more commercially focused.
As the world’s leading export mint and the UK’s oldest manufacturing organisation, the royal mint produces all the coinage in the UK and makes coins and medals for a further 60 countries.
When Bissett joined, he was put in charge of its loss-making commemorative coin business in an organisation that was undergoing a transition from a public sector body to semi- state and which was expected to start bringing in the money, as well as literally making it.
Bissett, who comes from Malahide, has vast experience in working with blue-chip companies and venture capitalists in the branded consumer goods area and likes a challenge. But even he was taken aback by the work involved in getting the mint to modernise.
“The organisation faced a number of difficulties, not least of which was how to improve its commercial performance. Culturally there was something of a journey that the royal mint had to go on because they were just transitioning out of being part of the civil service, so we had to develop a commercial culture internally,” he said.
“The mint had never measured things like customer feedback to see how it was performing. In addition, operational costs were huge because we would service around 150,000 customers in any given year, but this was all done through direct mail, which was very costly. Our web team was purely there to deal with technical issues at the time. But we’ve successfully turned this around and are now at a point where 70 per cent of orders come in online.”
Helped by increased sales of commemorative items arising from the Queen’s diamond jubilee and the London Olympics in 2012 (the mint manufactured all 4,700 Olympic medals) and with a revised commercial strategy, the organisation is now really coining it.
“We set out a project so that we could structure the mint to come out of 2012 successfully on the back of those two key events. To strengthen the business we also launched the mint into the bullion market, because I thought: who better to buy gold and silver from than an organisation that has been there for more than 1,100 years?”
Bissett was responsible for the most successful Olympic coin programme ever with sales of £102 million. Relaunching into the bullion business has also been a canny move as it has led to three-year sales of more than £400 million.
He also led a drive to secure Welsh government funding for the construction of an £8 million visitor centre in Llantrisant, near Cardiff, where the royal mint has been based since moving from the City of London in the 1960s.
Last year, Bissett was honoured with a director’s award accolade by the Institute of Directors Wales for taking the mint from loss-making to a stabilised profitable business with an average return on capital employed of more than 20 per cent for the last three years.
Bissett cut his teeth at Waterford Crystal, where he helped launch and market John Rocha-designed goods. He says much of what he learned there served him well in his role with the mint.
“What attracted me to the job was that the royal mint is such a strong consumer brand. In many ways, it felt like there were similar processes at work there that were present at Waterford Crystal,” he said.
Having first moved to Britain in 1997 and helping to grow the crystal firm’s UK market share, Bissett then undertook the turnaround of Stuart Crystal and its integration into a new combined crystal division, before taking up a senior strategic position within the Waterford group.
He then joined the Silentnight Group, leading the commercial turnaround of the front end of the furniture division before it was bought out as part of a management buyout.
Following this he returned to Ireland, where he gained significant international exposure running Glen Dimplex international for a few years before returning to the UK with the mint.
“As my role has progressed, it has moved more towards the supply chain and operations but at the heart of everything I’ve done has been a consumer brand,” he said.
Bissett enjoys living in Cardiff, a city he describes as vibrant. Despite having spent most of his life working in the UK, he’s hopeful that one day he’ll be back in Ireland. For now, he’s excited to be leading the mint’s visitor centre project, which is due to open in the summer of 2016.
“As the oldest manufacturer in the UK, we’ve a great story to tell,” he said.
“One of the things I think that will be a huge hit with visitors is the Irish Free State coins, which were manufactured by the mint and is a series that is considered one of the best-designed in the coin world.”