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.
“…I am not unique and I’m one of many female entrepreneurs already travelling the world for work and business. I would encourage anyone to get out there and take that first step. My first venture out of Europe on my own was to fly to Bangkok and Singapore. It was an exhilarating experience…”
Shocked, surprised and humbled to have been awarded an MBE
I was recently shocked, surprised and very humbled to find out I had been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list. The citation read – “Services to Engineering in Yorkshire”. Numill is a Yorkshire based company located in Sheffield – a manufacturing heartland of which I am extremely proud. Being ‘born and bred’ in the region is, as they say, something to be proud of.
My career to date
My background is banking and finance, starting out as a junior cashier in the chief cashier’s office before joining Midland Bank (HSBC) in 1976 as part of the team employed to bring some of the bank’s international services to the city. Following a period of maternity leave and the quite sudden death of my mum in 1988, I left the bank. At that time it was ‘full time or no time’ and there were no women managers in the bank and little sign of aspiring to be one any time soon.
A period of part time posts – still in financial institutions – followed before taking up a position with a local company specialising in welding equipment to look after their accounting function and payroll etc.
Losing my father: A catalytic effect
Losing my father to become a 40 year old orphan had a catalytic effect. I needed to do more and put the time I had been spending with Dad to good use so it wasn’t wasted. I went back to college to do an accounting qualification to ratify my knowledge for future employers. I also decided on a career move to help me achieve more of my potential. There were a scary few months in there as I didn’t settle in a big organisation fraught with bureaucracy over sense. I answered a newspaper advert – “Book keeper required – Apply box…”
This turned out to be Numill – a precision engineering company. I got the job, worked alongside the person who was due to retire in a few weeks and then made the job my own. I gradually expanded the role to take on the day-to-day management of a small business encompassing everything from petty cash to balance sheet and everything in between such as H.R., health and safety, along with other statutory requirements.
From hypothetical to real life management buyout
Education was still a big motivator for me. Following success of becoming an ACCA Accounting Technician, I embarked on a Management degree supported by my boss and subsequently a post graduate qualification in Strategic Management. My dissertation at strategic level was: “Passing the Baton – Management Buyout of Numill Ltd”. Hypothetical at the time (2004), but then I bought it to become sole director and shareholder in 2006. It’s my 10th year this year which is amazing!
A niche, value adding service for a client base that includes some of the world’s most prestigious companies
Numill has a niche, value adding, service to offer clients involved in manufacturing things from metal and other materials. We work with our customers across all sectors but mainly described as the “Big Four” – automotive, energy, rail and aerospace. Our client base includes some of the world’s most prestigious companies – Ford, Renault, Mercedes, Jaguar Land Rover, Cummins, JCB, Progress Rail and David Brown amongst many more both in the UK and through our export distribution networks.
Our export network is predominantly European at present but with a footprint in South East Asia and a new venture in progress in Turkey.
Repairing and manufacturing cutting tools for industry
Numill’s service includes both the repair and manufacture of cutting tools for industry. Our manufacturing service concentrates on bespoke tooling and small batch work. However, our capability covers much more than this with the expertise to produce components, machine parts and offer sub-contract machining and turning services.
The repairs service – or to use the terminology for the Government’s new initiative – “remanufacturing of cutting tools” – enables customers to have damaged and worn tooling repaired, giving 100% of the capability of a new tool, often at a fraction of the cost. Customers can benefit from significant savings but in the knowledge that they are getting a quality service from Numill. The environmental benefits are also significant as there is less waste created whilst protecting finite metal resources.
Our export profile
Numill has been exporting for many years with 18% of turnover going overseas prior to me joining. When I bought the company it rose to 24% following initiatives I had put in place. Prior to the recession in Europe our export had risen to 40%. After the severe European slump the average is now increasing once more to around 30%. Numill has a strong brand in Europe and is known for service and quality. These are the messages we intend to take in to new markets.
Support from UKTI
I have worked with UKTI [UK Trade & Investment] since 2010 on programmes involving dedicated visits to countries in South East Asia including Thailand for an exhibition, Singapore and Malaysia. Although UKTI has suffered budget contractions there has been support available with signposting, knowledge and subvention to assist with travel to new markets. Last year I joined a Trade Mission to Turkey organised by International Trade Forum, a peer to peer export networking group based in Sheffield.
This trip was supported by UKTI enabling me to visit a new country of interest to us. The strong automotive industry makes Turkey an ideal target for market entry. We now have contact with an agent who is promoting Numill’s services.
Tool trials have been completed with further marketing and research being conducted with the help of Sheffield Hallam University and its Venture Matrix programme, where students work on real life projects using their skills. I am currently working with a Ph.D. student who is taking the research into greater depth for us with market surveys and mapping of potential targets.
Entry into new markets – a slow burn built on relationships
Entry into new markets can be a very slow burn as it is important to make contact, build relationships and embed your services with integrity. If you ask any exporter what the key is, the majority will say ‘relationships’ every time.
I am not unique and I’m one of many female entrepreneurs already travelling the world for work and business. I would encourage anyone to get out there and take that first step. My first venture out of Europe on my own was to fly to Bangkok and Singapore. It was an exhilarating experience to be sat in the boardroom of a Singaporean company with the M.D. and seven of his best engineers, and being told to ‘begin’ my presentation. I knew my subject and walked from there with my head held high.
Success begins with just one step
Do your research on the market and culture. Always be aware of your own safety but do not let it stop you. Success begins with just one step!
Numill has been through a significant restructure recently to ensure we are stronger for the future. My ‘goals board’ now has a strategy through to 2020 with target markets, clients and industries.
When I bought Numill I said I’d give it 15 years. Now in my 10th anniversary year, I am so excited by what the future holds I still want to give it 15 years.