“The leadership programmes have really helped us grow our business.”

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“The leadership programmes have really helped us grow our business.”

John Boyle is the managing director of Safety Fabrications. He has taken part in both the Scale-Up and STEP leadership programmes at Sheffield Hallam, and is now sending employees on the Small Business Leadership Programme. 

What does your company do? 

We design and manufacture a range of products, such as ladders and walkways, to serve the safety needs of industry.  

How are you growing your business? 

In recent years we’ve moved from being a bespoke fabricator to a manufacturer, which is a big change. Beforehand, the customer would ring up and we would make a bespoke product to their specifications. We realised we'd reached a ceiling as a business, and we invested a lot of time into R&D.  

We now have a production line here in Sheffield, and 90% of the components of our products are from our standard range, so it’s very efficient. We pass on those savings to the customer, allowing us to compete in a global marketplace. 

As a leader, how did you manage this change? 

Everyone in the company was on board with the strategy. To me, leading a change process is about sharing ideas, talking them through and mapping out a vision. They've all bought into it — and influenced it — because they can see that we’re building a better, more sustainable business. 

How has your business been affected by Covid-19? 

The economic slowdown has led to a dip in demand for some of our products. But there have also been opportunities. A week or so into the pandemic we started selling a social distancing barrier. Before Covid it was designed to stop people falling off rooftops, but since we’ve marketed it as a social distancing barrier it’s seen an 80% increase in turnover. We’ve sold them to building managers, retail outlets, pubs and even the general public. 

How have the leadership programmes at Sheffield Hallam helped you?

The programmes at Sheffield Hallam have been really influential. They allowed me and the senior management team to set aside regular time to take an overview of the business and think about where we want to take it.

On the Scale-Up programme, we were trained in how to become a manufacturer and grow the business. We needed guidance, and that’s what was provided. We learned an awful lot from the lecturers — getting buy-in from employees, putting a plan in place, referring to the plan, explaining it to everyone. 

Then on the STEP programme, we worked with two other businesses. We met on a monthly basis, set out a vision, talked about the barriers we faced, and did a series of exercises. It was brilliant for us and led us to make concrete changes to the business, including creating a new role of designer, bringing product design in-house, and changing the way our manufacturing flows. 

What are you hoping to get out of the Small Business Leadership Programme?  

It's very much an extension of what we're doing — helping manage change and creating a more efficient and effective business. Because it is all about change. Our business is changing, the marketplace is changing, and we have the effects of Covid and Brexit. In that context you've got to keep making decisions and give the business a clear pathway. 

What are your long-term plans for your business?  

We’re aiming to be the UK’s leading ladder supplier and walkway manufacturer. And we’re getting there — our ladders are fitted on Blackpool Tower and our walkways are used in places including Manchester, Heathrow and Gatwick airports, Manchester United football stadium, and Whitechapel railway station.

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