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How the University of Sunderland is driving improvements with Wearside Audi

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Published on 17 May 2024

Wearside Audi
Wearside Audi

A programme developed by a University of Sunderland professor has helped a world-renowned car brand save efficiency and costs, not just in Sunderland but across the UK, through a collaboration with the University.

Associate Professor in Cultural Management Dr Derek Watson's ‘5-Step Process Improvement’ model helps to identify opportunities within businesses, working directly with employees who highlight real-life problems within their working practices.

Under the mentorship of Dr Watson and Senior Lecturer Sarah Ford, 25 employees came together to discuss issues such as cross-team working, internal processes, communications, and operational initiatives – with the aim of coming up with solutions which will benefit not just the company but also Audi customers.

Dr Watson told us: “The model reflects one of the Business School's unique selling points, in which academics are both qualified teachers and practicing consultants. I like to call this ‘Teaching beyond the textbook’.


“Such exposure in generating commercial solutions not only provides impact but is embedded within our curriculum to enrich student learning and employability.


“Working with Audi Lookers colleagues was a true delight, we witnessed their employees identify and validate their current working procedures and generate viable solutions for the company, department, employees, and very importantly, Audi’s customers.”

The partnership with Audi Lookers started in 2022 following a meeting of senior executives from leading car brands with the University, who came together to discuss the changing landscape of automotives and job opportunities for future graduates.


Richard Hyde, Head of Business at Wearside Audi, said: “Our dealership already operates a culture of continuous improvement which it manages through a Branch Improvement Group and team member contribution.


“The 5-step improvement plan operated via Dr Watson, complimented this culture, and allowed direct contribution from our team members allowing them an individual voice.


“Given that those best placed to improve our environment are those working within it, this process proved extremely effective. 


“A selection of those business improvement suggestions funnelled through the programme are currently in the process of being implemented and there are more still in store for propagating in the future.”


Sarah Ford, Senior Lecturer in HRM and Leadership at the University of Sunderland, who worked alongside Dr Watson, said: “A big thank you to Richard and the team at Audi. It was an amazing experience to work on the project and engage with the dedicated staff behind the scenes. Their warm welcome and genuine eagerness to ensure its success were truly appreciated”.


The relationship between Audi and the University continues with future opportunities for students to learn more about the wide and varied careers within the motor industry – many of which are hidden behind the sales and servicing frontage. 


Plans for a Doctoral student placement within the Lookers national Audi Division are also in development.