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Smooth Operator

Look beyond job descriptions when planning a career move, says Paul Smith, recently appointed operations director at Modulift, who was inspired by the company's female leadership, among other things.

It's important to not just judge a new employment opportunity by the general tasks, duties, and responsibilities of the position. I acknowledge that at the early stages of a career, it's important first and foremost to get a foot on the ladder and ensure a regular income. School-leavers and young professionals, therefore, might not have such luxury of choice. However, as a career advances, it's necessary to take a more holistic approach.

Take my recent move to Modulift, for example. It wasn't the practice of operations leadership that appealed to me greatest. Of course, the challenge of securing the future of the company whilst increasing profitability was exciting. But there were two driving factors about the business versus the role that really interested me — dynamic, female leadership, and company culture.

My previous employer was a large sub-contract engineering company—where I was responsible for day-to-day operations, from sales order processing through to dispatch, along with management of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) and IT systems.It wasn't lacking in challenges, but I was more closely aligned with the practicalities of the position rather than the long term strategic future. It was time for a change.

Many people fear change, so stay where they're comfortable. We're familiar with the adages "better the devil you know…" and "the grass isn't always greener…" Often the illusion of job security and the pressures on people to pay mortgages and other bills prevent them from making a positive decision. There's a reason why someone has their head turned or considers grazing on pastures new, and these thoughts should not be ignored. Don't become the person sat at the same desk for a decade complaining about the lack of variation. Take control.

Having worked at a traditionally male-orientated engineering company, the female leadership of Modulift appealed to me. In Sarah Spivey, managing director; and Sue Spencer, technical director, it was apparent that the company was overseen by an ambitious pair that have created an energetic, exuberant culture that I bought into straight away. Change doesn't have to be about finding the polar opposite to a previous role, but in this case it certainly attracted.

There is rightly much focus on encouraging young people and females into science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) careers, and Modulift is an embodiment of that initiative. It's proof that a female-led, young, multi-cultural team can achieve manufacturing brilliance. A significant contrast between my employers old and new is that I'm now at a firm that manufactures and sells its own products, whereas my previous company was involved in producing items for its clients.

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

It is the evolution of that manufacturing programme that formed the second component of Modulift's appeal. I was already aware of the company and its product range, and when I found out it was looking for someone to project manage the build of a new factory I knew that, first, it was a fit with my skillset but moreover it represented an opportunity to get involved with a major project at its embryonic stage. That isn't always possible at established businesses.

Of course, expanding a manufacturing site isn't as simple as adding some square footage and ordering new machinery, and hiring another welder or two. To achieve the end goal of expanding capacity and shortening delivery times will take great planning and cohesion among the entire operation. I guess that's where I come in! Initially, we'll maximise return on investment on the current software solution by streamlining existing processes, for example.

There's always a due diligence process that should be conducted by prospective employees and fortunately I already knew a lot about Modulift. For those perhaps with less inside knowledge, it's important that they gather intelligence about the quality of personnel and existing best practices.

Effecting change in a business with a weak culture and no buy in from employees is a real challenge. My role will involve me bringing out the best in the team, while focussing on multiple small improvements to drive efficiency gains. This is balanced with strategic input to the bigger picture.

I acknowledge that it's a challenge—and that's the point. There's little value in making a lateral or backward move, especially when looking to progress in a career. I want to be part of the success story and will take a massive amount of pride from what we will achieve. Operations require a sure-footed and dependable person, and those traits will surely be tested over the coming months. But it's a challenge to relish, not fear. I am a pragmatic, logical, and loyal person, which will help too.

Modulift have spent many years developing a brand and worldwide distributor network. We are now entering a new phase that will be noted for stability and growth. I am honoured to have the opportunity to be part of that adventure.

Might 2019 be the year you take on your biggest challenge yet? Go for it.

Paul Smith

Operations Director


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