One of Birmingham's best-loved businesses is embracing change by signing up to a pioneering degree course.
World-leading whistle manufacturer Acme Whistles has become one of the first city firms to sign up to a new syllabus which allows staff to do the bulk of their degree work without leaving the office.
The leadership and management course, which is being offered by Birmingham City Business School, allows top business talent to hit the ground running by studying for a BA (Hons) degree in the workplace.
Around 20 students a year will be sponsored by a West Midlands firm, working in-house for the duration of the three-year programme.
Students will complete the academic part of the course by undertaking four periods of intensive study at the business school.
Existing employees of a sponsoring firm can also complete a fast track version of the degree in two years.
One of the first to enrol on the new course was Holly Topman, from Acme.
The 28-year-old is the daughter of Acme Whistles owner, and former Birmingham Chamber president, Simon Topman.
Acme, which has been making whistles since the Industrial Revolution, now exports products to more than 100 countries worldwide.
The distinctive sound of their whistles has been heard everywhere from the deck of the Titanic to the battlefields of the First World War.
Acme Thunderers were used for decades by football referees, most famously by Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst to call time on the1966 World Cup final.
The firm now makes six million whistles, sirens and hooters every year, and even supplied the whistles for Olympic officials during last year’s London Games.
Mr Topman said he hoped Holly’s new course would bring fresh ideas to the well-established business.
He said: “This company has been here for 140 years and, although what we do is fairly low-tech, we have always embraced change when it comes to adapting the way we run our business.
“The reason we have survived and flourished is that we’re open to new ideas, we are innovative in our products and research methods.
“Yet I’ve realised I’m at the stage where I can’t be taught new tricks, so I need to start passing on responsibility to a younger generation who have grown up with technology which continues to shape the way companies do business.
“Birmingham City Business School has developed an enviable reputation, especially when it comes to digital business and social media.
“It’s what so many firms do well in America – take a really simple idea but present and sell it better using the most up-to-date technology. They run rings around us. I hope Holly’s degree will make her fluent in these modern ways of selling and that she will bring ideas inside these Victorian walls I would have never thought of.”
Students on the course normally receive a salary from their sponsoring organisation, as well as sponsorship of their university fees.
Holly has been working for Acme for the past four years after a spell in event management.
She said: “Some of my earliest memories are of my dad taking me to the factory on the way to primary school to ‘clock in’ every morning, which entrenched the get up and get on with it ethos towards work.
“My degree will be tailored specifically towards this business, so has a big focus on manufacturing.
“I understand why I’m learning specific theories or looking at certain academic studies – it’s not just a dry, generic module on finance or business strategy.
“Going through this process gives me the confidence to ask my dad to change things. I can justify why a process needs to alter and back it up with strong evidence.
“Working in a family business means it is usually even harder to change your dad’s mind than it is a regular boss.”
Mr Topman will be discussing the company degree programme at a Birmingham City Business School’s campus at Millennium Point from noon until 2pm on May 1.
* For more information on the event and the course, call the school’s business services team on 0121 331 6550 or email email@example.com