Sheffield lifting firm on the up with young boss
When 19-year-old Ella Cheetham became managing director of a Sheffield lifting gear company the nude calendars on the shop floor were taken down without her having to say anything.
It was a supportive move by male staff - one of several since she took over at Lifting Gear Products in May.
But it would be a lie to say it had been easy. She also faced “horrible” ageism, sexism, scepticism and dissent.
But the company was on a downward spiral and she had asked her dad Paul, the owner, for the job.
Since then she has found the courage and confidence to face down problems and drive the firm forward.
LGP, based on Petre Street, Burngreave, operates in a sector where “hairy-arsed engineers are used to dealing with hairy-arsed engineers,” Ella says. And the firm itself was stuck in the past.
“I had to prise the typewriters off them.”
She added: “I have had some horrible references to my age and sex. People saying, ‘you can’t tell me what to do,’ and, ‘I don’t care who your dad is’. They probably agreed with what I was saying but couldn’t accept me.
“I have reached a confidence now where I’ll do what is right.”
Needless to say some people have left.
LGP is part of the Europa Engineering group of five firms owned by Paul Cheetham.
Founded in 1952, it once occupied several buildings and supplied huge organisations like the Coal Board. Today it is in one unit and employs 11, including four women.
Ella says she knows the business inside out, having worked for the group since she was 13, taking minutes in board meetings.
In September she turned down a university place with a bursary to start full time at LGP. She came in as sales executive before moving into group business development.
She was being groomed for her dad’s job in a few years until matters at LGP came to a head.
The firm had been through several managing directors and the future looked so bad selling up was on the cards.
Ella said: “There had been five years of turmoil. We’d lost so many customers. It was my family’s money. Something snapped and I decided to act. A lot of customers have welcomed me, some have said they’ll see how it goes. It’s an old fashioned industry and people don’t like change, but I’m proving them wrong.”
Under her leadership LGP has revamped its offices, signed 150 new customers and started a clear out running to 15 skips and counting.
Ella plans to open a second site in Manchester next year.
She’s also hired Gareth Cain, aged 33, as shop floor supervisor.
Her first interview question was to the point: “Do you have a problem with me being your boss?
“He said ‘no’ it’s the 21st Century.”
The company is a family firm, it employs brothers Barry and Mel Kent and Barry’s son Tom. The shop floor is a mass of chains, straps, hooks and hoists. The firm is moving out of wire rope and hire, Ella says, to focus on its bread and butter: the inspection, supply and repair of chain slings and loose lifting equipment.
“I’m in situation I never thought I would be in.
“I don’t know anyone in a similar position. But a lot of people have taken it very well and perhaps that’s our niche. My dad calls it the firm run by the ‘blonde bird’.”
SHOCK AS GIRLS’ SCHOOL PUPIL SHUNS UNIVERSITY FOR A JOB IN INDUSTRY
Ella Cheetham went to an all-girls school in Wakefield and the teachers simply could not handle her decision not to go to university, she says.
It could have been that she turned down an unconditional place to study business, which included a financial bursary. Or it could have been that it upset the school’s aim to send everyone to further education. Either way, she was warned she would ruin her life.
None of her friends are doing anything similar and among her peers - children of bosses - she says she doesn’t know anyone with the same drive.
She added: “I think there’s nothing better. I’m doing what I love.”