Buoyant Quarter—Buzz Off
In her latest blog, Sarah Spivey, the managing director of Modulift, looks beyond the numbers in reflection on an uplifting opening quarter to the year.
Pretty soon, companies that report to shareholders or inform capital markets about their operations, will be releasing Q1 2016 financial results. Journalists and commentators will pore over announcements as they try to assess the state of the marketplaces in which those businesses operate.
The usual buzzwords and phrases will appear. You know the ones—‘order intake’, ‘order book’, ‘sales’, ‘capacity’, ‘investments’, ‘buoyant’, and, dare I say it, ‘cautious optimism’.
I know what CEOs and CFOs mean when they strike a cautiously optimistic tone, but I think it’s important to put retrospective analysis in real terms, especially when managing directors—like me—need to chart a path and, more importantly, motivate a team of sales professionals, engineers and marketers.
Most entered 2015 in an all too dangerous (ignorant, even) cautiously optimistic frame of mind but, as this blog discussed throughout last year, the 12 months that followed were turbulent (there’s another buzzword) for many. For some, the future even started to look bleak. Of course that isn’t because of the phrasebook they used to compile their shareholders’ reports, but those pages can only tell us so much.
Get off the curve
Learning from the lessons of 2015, we must all look back at the first quarter of this year with a strategic and proactive approach. That was certainly reinforced at the marketing-themed module of the Chartered Director Programme I’m taking at the Institute of Directors (IoD), an independent association of business leaders.
The module was led by Murray Eldridge, who works with a desalination company and also runs his own business that helps companies develop high performance cultures and outcomes. Interestingly, he has worked on a number of projects with mega companies, such as Shell, and has extensive experience in the oil and gas sector.
Murray sums up the Chartered Director Programme pretty well: "The structure and the content of the course are good, but actually having a group of likeminded people with similar responsibilities in terms of directorships and board accountabilities to really kick things around with is what makes it great." Hear, hear!
As Murray said, we can all too readily become obsessed with where we are on the curve, which is the part we don’t control. More important is to accept the bigger picture for what it is and adapt a business to thrive accordingly. Murray didn’t talk about marketplace troughs like dead-ends, yet nor did he suggest those on a crest of a wave should light up their cigars.
Market reports say things like ‘favourable conditions’ and ‘positive influences’. But what does that actually mean?
Take oil and gas, for example. Everyone is infatuated with it. Go to a trade show and one can’t get far down an aisle without someone talking about oil prices. This trade event season will be the backdrop to many conversations about experts’ increasingly optimistic forecasts moving into next year and beyond. People will be skipping around, punching the air at the prospect.
It’s narrow-minded. Of course oil prices impact businesses in our sector, but what happens if there’s a seismic shift and we can’t rely on it at all one day? Would we all drop dead?
They’re hypothetical questions but my point is, businesses are not governed by the sectors they serve. Modulift isn’t an oil and gas company, it’s a below-the-hook equipment company. A business can be loyal to the sectors that consume its products and services without being emotional or sentimental. Boardrooms need to be true to their own core values and set their own course.
Pick up points
Ok, let’s put things in real terms. We have a good first quarter to build on. A lot of business has been driven by projects that were delayed during 2015. That’s combined with picking the fruits of our labour in targeting a variety of sectors with sales and marketing campaigns—a strategy that was implemented as uncertainty gripped around 12 months ago.
The health of construction has contributed too, and it’s been interesting to monitor the behaviour of the sector. Many years ago I remember us selling lattice spreaders, suited for long, light loads where a spreader beam is deemed too short for the lift. They have hardly featured on our order book in recent years but we’ve dispatched three in the last two weeks. And that’s from existing customers who were aware of our ability to supply them, but just decided to press the button now. It makes it a really interesting time to be in this industry.
We’re able to respond to such spontaneity, despite delayed projects coming online simultaneously, as we made a decision last year to build up our stock of standard products to enhance flexibility. It’s that bigger picture thinking that Murray alluded to at the IoD. The curve meanders on, but we’ve got our own agenda.
Now, with a healthy inventory, we can meet demand quickly, whilst keeping a spotlight on bespoke projects, which will be a focal point throughout the year. Wind and nuclear sectors are of particular interest with that in mind. As demand for non-standard below-the-hook solutions continues to grow, we’ll be expanding our engineering department accordingly.
It’s worth reiterating the importance of being flexible in these climes. We may see markets normalising but for now we need to be ready for anything—and from anywhere.
Speaking of the global picture, we exhibited at Breakbulk China from 14-17 March, where Sophie Briggs and Malcolm Peacock represented us. Feedback was consistent from previous shows in that the event attracted a truly global audience. Even though Breakbulk stages regional shows, its Shanghai rendezvous draws key players from all geographies, which makes it one of the most productive events on the calendar.
Look out for the next issue of Below the Hook, the Modulift magazine—out soon. And I’ve heard a rumour we’re going to be on the front over of Cranes Today magazine’s April edition, which features our recent tandem bridge lift as the Job of the Month.