Anne Wilson MBE is Managing Director of Numill, a Sheffield-based engineering company engaged in the manufacturing and remanufacturing of cutting tools, serving industries including high precision automotive, aerospace, oil and gas, rail and general engineering. The company is an experienced exporter, with half of the company’s repairs service made up of export sales. Anne purchased Numill in a management buyout following a career change from banking to engineering after she pursued a degree in management and a postgraduate qualification in strategic management.
“…If you think about it, everything we touch or see it has a connection with engineering or science in some way. From phones to glass bottles and make-up to shoes…”
From employee to employer
From a working-class background, mum was a cook at Henry Boot’s headquarters in Sheffield and dad was a bus driver, I never expected ever to be anything but ‘employed’. Working in banking and then a wider finance role, I joined Numill as bookkeeper still with no notion of doing anything but a good job for my boss.
He supported my further education, returning to a classroom at 40. After leaving school at 16, I returned to education obtaining my ACCA Accounting Technician qualification and then a management degree followed by a post graduate qualification in strategic management.
Even when I wrote my dissertation discussing the options for Numill on my director’s retirement in which I planned the management buyout of Numill, I still had no serious thoughts of owning it – I expected to manage it on his behalf, but then I bought it and became sole director and shareholder in 2006.
Balancing head and heart
The ‘day’ job has been a challenging one.
My strategic head needs to be scanning the horizon for opportunities and potential threats (Brexit, elections and a crisis in the oil industry). My financial head has been spinning in the deepest recession we’ve ever seen. I do believe that my financial background has been crucial to our survival. I do ‘love’ my numbers – my ‘geek’ streak!
My heart and passion is for Numill and what we do. Selling Numill’s expertise to others is the best thing I can do. In a small company, you are close to everything that’s going on – especially the people you employ. You can outsource functions but you can never outsource responsibility.
Engineering is everywhere but the engineering sector isn’t just for engineers
Engineering still has a bad reputation with parents and the majority of teachers or careers guidance advisers do not have industry experience or concept of what is involved.
Engineering is no longer the dark, satanic occupation it was once considered to be. If you think about it, everything we touch or see it has a connection with engineering or science in some way. From phones to glass bottles and make-up to shoes – even if it’s not thought of as traditional engineering we can easily forget the machines used to make these items have to be ‘engineered’.
Not everyone involved in engineering works on a machine. We need so many other supporting employees to make it a success. These include solicitors, accountants, sales and marketing, export specialists, warehousing, drivers, catering, cleaners. There are so many different, but important, contributions to build a successful sector. In larger organisations, they will employ this expertise in house and in SMEs like Numill we will outsource our requirements.
The most important thing is for everyone to know what is available to them and aspire to be the best they personally can be.
New opportunities brought about by new rail infrastructure projects
Projects like HS2 and hopefully HS3 which will give our region the greater connectivity to drive economic growth in the north are a great opportunity for companies to get involved with. It is still a challenge to access the supply chains on some of these big infrastructure projects. I recently had the chance discuss both with Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Honourable Chris Grayling, when he visited our factory in Sheffield for himself.
At Numill, we do have a rail presence and my strategic goal is to further embed ourselves into the industry. Creating strategic alliances with industry membership groups such as Rail Alliance give us the opportunity to network with others involved at various levels including Rail Supply Group, Rail Delivery Group, Network Rail and many more. If you’re not there taking part you don’t know what is going on.
Increased technology in the automotive sector means more opportunities for women
The automotive industry does still appear to be male oriented, as are many ‘traditional’ industries. However, with the increase in technology there are certainly more opportunities for women to be involved.
To achieve this, we need to be intervening in our education system much earlier, from primary level, so students, teachers and parents understand why STEM (and STEAM, which adds ‘arts’ into the mix) are vitally important. We need to get the role models in early. At 11 or later we are already too late.
How smaller organisations with less resources for training and HR can attract and retain more female talent
I joined a small engineering company and now I own it. People do often see a smaller company as not having a progression pathway in place, but this wasn’t the case for me – although my ‘progression’ was to buy the company! I know many small businesses in my networks who have fabulous staff morale because the employees feel included in a ‘family’ unit.
Since joining Numill, I gained my ACCA Accounting Technician qualification, CMI – Chartered Management Degree, post graduate qualification, Chartered Manager status, and most recently graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business national cohort, receiving my certificate from Mike Bloomberg no less!
If you show your determination to succeed and demonstrate aptitude, resilience and inner strength you can achieve in any environment.
Why events like International Women in Engineering Day are so important
Raising awareness of what is available for people to aspire to is vitally important. If we need to package this into more focussed events such as International Women in Engineering Day to raise that awareness then it is a good thing.
Feeling that you have the support to encourage you to push that personal boundary or step outside that comfort zone to be the best you can possibly be is vital. We need to make sure that the network and information is available.
We need to provide positive role models for up and coming employees, entrepreneurs and business people to aspire to.
Always an exciting place to be – doing things differently and making improvements
Numill is, for me, always an exciting place to be. Even if times are tough, and I’ve seen some, it is a reason to do something differently and make improvements.
In the latter part of 2015 I shipped out 150 years of experience to restructure the company. (I even made my husband redundant!) That was a challenging time but necessary move in order to rebuild and position the company for future growth. However, being part of a small company means we can react quickly to changing circumstances. The oil situation has had a major impact on our turnover but being diverse in our sectors and export markets has helped us to deal with it.
Numill is a 48-year-old company with a fantastic reputation for expertise in our field. Working on our brand and raising awareness of our services to industries is what we have to do every day. Those who know us love us – those who don’t know what we can do for them yet are in my sights.