Debbie Heald is co-owner and managing director of Heald Ltd, a company which designs, manufactures and installs a range of innovative solutions which protect high profile sites against hostile vehicle attacks. Heald’s products include bollards, road blockers and barriers across sites including presidential buildings, embassies, border controls, airports, oil refineries, stadia, banks, shopping centres and many more. Debbie is an experienced exporter and in January 2016, Heald was granted use of the ‘Made in Britain’ marque to differentiate their high quality products in a competitive international market.
“…Take time to research your chosen markets, seek help from the various organisations that are out there, for example, UKTI. Also, surround yourself with a great team. It is important to have a planned strategy but also be prepared to change quickly in line with market requirements…”
An unexpected career in manufacturing, but I wouldn’t change anything
I began my career working for the local authority in Beverley, East Yorkshire after I left school. I also undertook an additional six years of studying at college and university where my main focus was business studies.
In 1994 the opportunity arose to take voluntary redundancy from the council. I decided to use my redundancy money to purchase a 50% share in my partner’s company, Heald Ltd. Together we make a great team; as managing director I manage most aspects of the business with the support of my partner Rod Heald, who oversees product design and development.
Previously an agricultural engineering business employing only two people, we now supply vulnerable properties around the globe with high quality security products.
I had in no way expected to embark on a career in manufacturing, however I wouldn’t change anything. Every day is different and I love being part of a dedicated team, creating products that protect people and properties worldwide.
Through my links with universities and other organisations such as STEMNET, I try to encourage other females to consider a career in this field. STEM careers are largely male dominated… It’s time this changed!
Heald Ltd designs, manufactures and installs a range of innovative counter-terror products such as roadblockers, barriers and bollards that aim to protect vulnerable sites around the world. Our products play a leading role in the defence of properties against terrorists and criminal organisations, and are installed in airports, shopping centres, military sites, government buildings and many more.
Heald is keen to invest in new machinery and keep production in-house to ensure best value processes. All parts of the manufacturing process, including electronics, are conducted at our base in Hornsea. We aim to continue launching at least one new product each year. We’re also developing modern technologies using solar and low energy applications.
When I took charge of Heald, it had no standardised procedures. We relaunched the firm and introduced policies such as ISO9000, which has been instrumental in gaining the approval of government sponsored testing programs and export strategies.
Export success through forging relationships
With an ever increasing global demand for security products, the last few years has seen the company expand our consumer base across the UK and globally. Forging relationships with partners and distributors in the USA, mainland Europe, the Middle East, Thailand, Algeria, Russia, Australia and Singapore has been key to our success and these relationships are something that we continue to develop.
With the growing threat of terrorism in modern society, our innovative products are fundamental to the safe guarding of many vulnerable sites and citizens worldwide. We’re dedicated to creating our own, significantly improved versions of the standard roadblocker.
We have developed a strategy whereby we attempt to obtain patenting for our unique security product innovation and then start with our distribution partners to get this unique product into security specifications. This does not necessarily eliminate our competition but it certainly reduces it to an absolute minimum as no other company can supply the equipment.
Further export plans are in place to catapult the company forward over the next few years. We plan to continue our search and appointment of new distributors around the globe who are committed to our brand and products.
Major challenges have arisen from working in different countries and with different cultures, but understanding these differences and working with our existing distributors – and also with the help of UKTI [UK Trade & Investment] – has made us a much better informed, and therefore much stronger exporter.
Export markets and future growth potential
Future growth potential for Heald is huge as we have now have main inroads into the USA. We currently export to Europe, Middle East, Far East, Australia and many other countries. New to our export strategy is the USA where we have made great inroads in the last 18 months; we plan to continue to nurture these new and exciting opportunities.
Especially when working overseas as a sub-contractor, we have learned to understand the different cultures in the different markets we are active in, and how things are done differently in different areas of the world. This has led us to update and improve all our technical data to make it much easier to follow and avoid costly mistakes. It has made us look hard at our company and become much more efficient.
Support from UKTI
We aim to further elaborate on our export strategy with support from UKTI, having recently joined the UKTI’s Passport to Export programme, which sees us working with a dedicated advisor on how to access export opportunities across the globe.
We will soon relaunch our new website, which the UKTI have worked with us on, enabling us to consider our global consumer base and how best to target different cultures.
Being a woman in a strongly male dominated sector like security and defence
Personally I have not found any negativity in the workplace within my chosen field. If you know your stuff then people generally respect you. It’s plain and simple really – you get out what you put in and if you work hard enough then you can achieve great things.
My advice to other exporters… Take time to research your chosen markets, seek help from the various organisations that are out there, for example, UKTI. Also, surround yourself with a great team. It is important to have a planned strategy but also be prepared to change quickly in line with market requirements.
We are currently looking for more distributors in key markets, and creating new innovations to meet our clients ever increasing security needs. We have lots of new and exciting projects in the pipeline!