Tuesday, December 4, 2018
Remaining affable even in the throes of one’s vocation is important.
I’ve never had much time for arrogance or self-righteousness and there’s plenty of it in the marketplace where I ply my trade, and no doubt others. The lifting sector is a fun place to work and it’s given me many lifelong friends, but there will always be those who think they’re better than others around them, often without substance. It’s an ugly trait—and it’s bad for business.
The standout advantage of being approachable is that people approach you. That’s hugely beneficial when growing a business, expanding a team, or looking for a new opportunity. In isolation it’s flimsy—good people will only take bad product so far—but as a facet of a sound, all-round business model, personable leaders and staff go a long way, as I like to think my company has proved.
Media relations are a component of that ethos. I’ve heard many stories about firms who “don’t need” the trade press, for example. They rebut interview requests and don’t share their successes through fear of divulging secrets. Worse are those who bemoan the lack of coverage without doing anything to get it. Fail to respond to an email inviting submissions for a trade show preview and it’s unlikely you’ll make the front page. It’s not rocket science or even cutting-edge PR. I’m a big believer in working with a sector’s trade journals and encourage other business leaders to make themselves available as an industry commentator.
One such interview request recently came from Maria Hadlow, editor of Lift & Hoist International (LHI) magazine. I’ve watched the journal grow in recent years and it does an excellent job of covering the industrial lifting equipment marketplace. Maria wouldn’t appreciate it if I went into the details of our discussion, reserved for the pages of her magazine, but I wanted to share a hidden benefit of participating in such an editorial exercise. In taking Maria’s questions I was forced to reflect on the company’s journey and in remembering where we’ve come from, my senses were sharpened to where we want to end up.
It bordered on cathartic.
Projects and people
Two subject areas dominated the interview—the higher-level projects where we are able to command the respect of purchasing decision makers, and the ongoing importance of people to our continuing success. In 2006 Rope and Sling (RSS) was a family-run business located in South Wales, employing less than 10 people. Today, we have depots in six locations across the UK and over 50 people report for duty every morning—or evening depending on the scale of the job in hand. We punch a lot harder these days.
As Maria quizzed me, I recalled details of landmark projects using our below-the-hook equipment this year alone. BAM Nuttall (BAM) will utilise our rigging gear during the landmark modernisation of the Rothera Research Station in the Antarctic. BAM is working in partnership with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), part of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), to deliver civil engineering projects associated with the RRS Sir David Attenborough.
Name dropping, I know!
Then there’s the 100t capacity beam we returned to Tata Steel’s Continuous Casting Plant in Port Talbot, Wales, having completed modifications and subsequent testing. It was the latest in a long line of assignments we’ve fulfilled for another household name.
And not forgetting the Thames Tideway Tunnel project, a major new sewer. We’re a frequent visitor, providing lifting equipment and periodic Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) inspections.
Approachable we remain, hence our recent donation of lifting and rigging gear to the neighbouring Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre in East London as the charity had a requirement to lift a 2.5t rescue support boat out of the River Thames onto land for maintenance and repair. It was an uplifting project in so many ways.
One more is the Ferrybridge Power Station Multifuel 2 (FM2) project in Yorkshire. Originally home to three coal-fired power stations, the site was decommissioned and is being upgraded to burn mixed fuel including biomass—fuel from waste and waste wood. A scope of work from contractor Đuro Đaković Holding d.d., a Croatian mechanical engineering group based in Slavonski Brod, saw us tasked with thorough examination of two, 127t capacity lifting beams and two 82t capacity lifting frames that had arrived by container from Croatia.
Yorkshire was a focal point of the interview with Maria. We opened our second site in Rotherham (in the south of the county) in May 2008, under the stewardship of Ron Harrison, a former colleague. It was a risk and certainly a tough time but it soon became our fastest growing depot. The downturn at the time worked in our favour: potential customers had time to speak to (approach) us so we could develop better pricing structures for them; they were downsizing their businesses so we were upsizing. Fittingly, this year, Rotherham and Wales were our two highest performing sites.
As Ron proves, it is important to choose the right people to work with. I put personnel in place that I can fully trust; the various depots are too far from South Wales to micro-manage. Of course there are standards to upkeep, but I trust the managers of each depot to do what is right for the business. As I told Maria, it is a bigger buzz to live and die by one’s own decisions and with support managers can improve their own abilities.
It takes more than the management team to make the business tick, however. Every member of staff received a bonus last month (November) to express our appreciation for their commitment to the cause in 2018. It’s never only about the money—it’s much more than that—but it is my hope that some additional compensation went part of the way to showing my gratitude. With their help, I know we can do it all over again next year.
We’ll raise a glass to that at our upcoming Christmas party at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Cardiff where, importantly, staff will be joined by their partners to celebrate. Often consistent with the aloof style of management referenced earlier, too many companies ask their employees to put work before family or at least get the work-life balance wrong. I always enjoy meeting employees’ other halves and loved ones.
The fact that we have 80 people attending our festive get-together suggests that they want to spend time with their partners’ colleagues too. It’s secondary, but it’s true that a valued, well-treated staff is more productive than those who are downtrodden and disillusioned. Depending on the size of the operation—I admit to finding it harder these days, myself—owners and managers should know their team members as people before personnel who fill positions.
Year of the engineer
One gets asked the question a lot at this time of year: how do you reflect on the last 12 months? And: what are your goals for the New Year. In most cases the same textbook answers are given, touching upon cautious optimism tinged with dread over the looming Brexit. I’ll spare my loyal readers a repetition but it’s worth gazing forward nonetheless.
So what will 2019 bring?
We’re looking to acquire an engineering business at the first viable opportunity to expand workshop capacity and enable us to deliver custom below-the-hook solutions with greater efficiency. Expect construction, steel, oil and gas, tunnelling, and crane hire markets to be among those driving demand for lifting gear. Inspection will remain a core area of focus for us as we leverage our expertise to complete LOLER-related and other services to clients. We’ll continue to reiterate the importance of working with lifting equipment specialists, as explored in my previous blog, versus diversified hire firms.
We’ve already committed to exhibiting at and sponsoring LiftEx 2019, following a successful two days at the Marshall (formerly MK) Arena in Milton Keynes, where the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) staged its annual event last month. If I had a gripe, it would be that LEEA could have showed a little more appreciation of commercial backers and exhibitors by way of a meaningful stand visit. Without us there wouldn’t be a show, after all. Not to detract from the brilliant work the association does otherwise and we are ferociously loyal to its training and educational content.
That concludes another blog, indeed another year of monthly commentaries. What subject areas might you be keen for me to explore in 2019?
If you celebrate it, have a fabulous Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd