BIAFD: 'Women in the Industry' - An interview with Glenda Roberts, Group Sales Director of TR Fastenings Ltd
Interview by Will Lowry, Editor for Fastener and Fixing Magazine.
What have been the key points of your career?
“I originally started in fast moving consumables with two American corporations. However, I could see with the advent of computerisation that things were going to change and that they were not going to need 450 sales people on the road. I therefore moved into industrial sales in 1982 and within five years I had risen to sales director. In 1990 I joined TR Fastenings Ltd as sales director for the Telford manufacturing site.
I could see from joining TR that the company was growing and it just felt the right thing to do. TR had a fresh approach and were at the early stages of vendor managed inventory, which was new at the time.
A key point was around 2000 when our customer base was drifting towards low cost countries abroad and leaving the UK. We decided to set up a global team and catch the business that was moving abroad. I put a team together and worked extensively out in China, as well as eastern Europe, and was instrumental in the opening of our Hungarian operation.
What we found when we went to these countries was that a lot of the senior people that we dealt with in the UK or in Europe had gone out and were running the plants. This meant that straight away we had a relationship. They liked what TR did for them in the UK and they wanted to recreate that in China, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, wherever it maybe.
Our business has grown substantially on the back of it, and following the global multinationals has probably become the key driving force of our business today – especially with the automotive market.
At the time, setting up businesses around the world was difficult. I was travelling on my own, and whilst I enjoyed trailblazing and setting up something new, it took a long time to get the momentum in the different markets. But once the ball was rolling you could make it a success. The key was having a good team with knowledgeable people.”
How has the company and market developed since you started?“A key development was in 2007, which is when TR Fastenings started to have a stronger automotive strategy, as we could see that automotive was going to be the fastest market coming out of recession. Focusing on the automotive sector enabled us to upscale the way we operated and put us in a different league – as we could provide the products and importantly the service. The demands of the automotive customers are a lot more stringent and they require a lot more service. By working at this level for the automotive sector our other customers benefited.
Another big change has been globalisation. Thanks to our decision to follow our customer base and set-up operation around the world, we could take advantage of opportunities. We now have three global account directors and strategic business managers that work with our locations around the world to ensure the same service is delivered.
We have got to the stage where we are supplying some global companies over 45 sites, which means everyone has to work to the same blueprint. To do this you have got to have good people on the ground servicing them locally; good people in the middle that have all the skills sets to make the business ‘lie down’; and the global account directors and strategic account managers to work closely with the customers – so that we properly represent what that clients need, wherever they are in the world. We have won quite a lot of business awards through this approach, which we jealously guard.
I must point out that we don’t just focus on the ‘big’ companies, we have business models to support different sectors and sizes of companies. We take a logical approach and we are not just interested in the ‘big players’, we have a nice spread.
The final difference is legislation – the amount of paperwork and legislation now compared to when I first started with TR is almost night and day. I think because of product recalls and warranties, and the way the world is going, if you don’t have the necessary paperwork in place you are not able to deal with the big companies.
You need to be able to ensure you have the right certifications – such as ISO/TS 16949 and ISO 14001. Customers now expect these as standard. You also need be aware and prepared for topics such as conflict minerals and the bribery act, plus the requirements for non-disclosure agreements. Being able to provide all this information immediately elevates you above the competition.
Our attitude is that if new legislation is on the horizon then we will embrace it early and be ahead of the game – to take the pain away from customers. We have done this successfully with REACH and RoSH2. In fact, we had customers coming to us saying that they had a RoSH manager and they would need to work with us and we were able to tell them our products were already certified. This underlines our philosophy of being a leader not a follower.”
What opportunities do you see for the future?
“I think technology will play a big role in the future. It has already made enormous difference to our life for the better. Everybody now has got a laptop, a mobile phone or a tablet, but 17 years ago it was a lot more difficult. I remember being in China and having to use a dial-up line for my laptop, which made it very tough. Now you have Skype that enables you to keep in touch with the office easily and you can talk face-to-face with customers or colleagues on the other side of the world.
Other interesting technologies include 3D printing – where we are doing a lot of prototyping – as well as liquid metal moulding, which we are exploring with the aim of helping us to shorten lead times.
Another opportunity is e-mobility, we have done a huge amount on electric vehicles and we are trying to understand how the market is going to change and what fasteners will be used for the future – such as in composites and new materials. We can then look at what is missing in our portfolio and how we can fill that gap.
Finally, as well as continuing to see purchasing managers in companies, we are focusing on engineers and designers. We recently restructured our whole website to target engineers – so that we can get involved in projects at the beginning.
Previously you would deal with the commodity managers who would send you a drawing. Now they want you involved in their design centres, and they want the early involvement. You could be dealing with an engineering group that is in Germany, designing a product that goes into North America. Because we are in both these areas we have engineers that can work with the different continents, which is a huge benefit. We are always trying to see what can keep us ahead of the game. Customers will always need fastenings and it is about catching that next wave.”
What did you think of BIAFD’s initiative to focus on ‘Women in the Industry’?
“I hadn’t been to a meeting before, so I hadn’t realised how male dominated it was, so I think BIAFD was trailblazing really. There were some quite strong ladies that attended, a lot that I knew within the industry but had never had the pleasure to meet. It was quite nice to see the numbers of people there. In years gone by I would go to seminars and found myself being the only woman in the room, which I quite liked because you stood out from the crowd. But I am seeing more women attending meetings within the industry, which can only be a good thing. I hadn’t expected the turnout that BIAFD managed to achieve. I think they did a great job in getting everyone there and I think a telling point will be the next meeting. Most of the people I spoke to said that they would be back. I am planning on attending the next one, so that shows how much I enjoyed it.”
Interview by Will Lowry, Editor for Fastener and Fixing Magazine.
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