NSCG

Leaders in industrial manufacturing – Q&A with Pamela Bingham

Matthew McDonnell | 29 August 2023

Pamela Bingham has an impressive CV. Beginning her career in law, she later moved into manufacturing where she has held leadership positions at FTSE 100 companies and been a member of the Supervisory board at a FTSE 250.   

Most recently she was CEO of Glen Dimplex Heating & Ventilation (€500m Turnover) and is now one of the most recognisable faces in industrial manufacturing.

Here she talks about her career, DE&I in manufacturing and advice she would give to others looking to begin their career in manufacturing with Matthew McDonnell…

 

Matthew McDonnell (MM): Can you tell us about your early years and what life was like growing up? What made you want to pursue a career in law?

Pamela Bingham (PB): I was raised in a small village in Fife. The village was once a thriving mining centre, but the mines now lie closed and dormant and since the last recession, the area has remained one of the most deprived on the East coast of Scotland. I lived in a small, local authority-owned house, attending a poorly funded state school but was lucky to have talented and supportive teachers.

I excelled in Physics and, having achieved a perfect score in my national exam, wanted to study physics at university, however, my teacher cautioned against this as a possible successful career path, believing law would be a good discipline for my logical and analytical abilities. I took my teacher’s advice and was the first in my family to attend university. Law was a good choice for me as it involves critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective communication, all of which are skills that are needed in business. I was a court practitioner, appearing in court daily, advocating for my clients.

 

MM: What drove your career pivot from law into manufacturing?

PB: I particularly enjoyed working for local businesses appearing in court on their behalf, drafting contracts and negotiating to achieve favourable terms. I was inspired to work in-house for manufacturing businesses after successfully supporting a business owner to defend himself from a lawsuit that would have destroyed his business. The lawsuit came about because the business had entered a contract without an appropriate level of protection. I knew then that my skills and passion for making a difference were best used inside manufacturing businesses to protect them in the long run. In fact, my passion for protecting British manufacturing businesses had its roots in my youth…

My father (now retired) was a blue-collar worker, having been made redundant several times due to business failures caused by mismanagement. In particular, the failure of Ferranti International in the 1990s had a significant impact on my young psyche. I watched men lose their jobs due to the company over-expanding, spreading its resources thin, and diverting attention from its core competencies. This lack of focus on its strengths, together with poor cost control, resulted in Ferranti’s declining profitability and ultimate demise. I also watched my dad being made redundant from Marconi’s when it failed due to its heavy reliance on contracts related to the declining telecommunications industry, making ill-fated acquisitions, and investing in technologies that did not yield returns.

Growing up in a family affected by factory closures and financial difficulties, I witnessed first-hand the consequences of poor management decisions. This upbringing instilled in me a deep resolve to be a better manager than those who had previously overseen the factories my father worked in.

Becoming a leader in the manufacturing sector has allowed me to exercise my passion for improving management practices.

I want to create a work environment prioritising excellence, growth, efficiency, innovation, and employee welfare..

Assuming a leadership role, I have always sought to drive positive change and contribute to the success, growth, and stability of manufacturing businesses. Furthermore, my background and familiarity with the challenges employees face on the shop floor give me a unique perspective: I understand the importance of effective communication, fair practices, and investing in employee development to foster a motivated and engaged workforce. My goal as a leader has been establishing a culture of transparency, accountability, and continuous improvement throughout businesses. Ultimately, my decision to become a leader in manufacturing businesses was driven by my determination to enact positive change, improve management practices, and create resilient manufacturing businesses that are among the best in the world.

 

MM: What has been the biggest challenge for you in your career so far?

PB: I enjoy developing the vision and growth roadmap for businesses, seeking to develop new products and grow in new markets both organically, and inorganically, via acquisitions. These are the most easily managed parts of the business, as I have acquired over ten companies and enjoyed integrating them, seeking to leverage synergies. Also, new product development and customer expansion are areas I have enjoyed focusing on with success.

However, as an experienced leader of a manufacturing business, one of the most challenging aspects of my job is taking the decision to downsize and make people redundant. It’s a challenging and emotionally-taxing process that affects not only the individuals being let go but also the entire organisation. I genuinely care about the well-being of my employees; I also need to make tough decisions that ensure the long-term sustainability of the business. This involves analysing the financial health of the company, considering market trends, and making difficult choices to reduce costs and improve profitability.

Another challenging aspect is managing the fallout and maintaining company morale during the downsizing process. It’s crucial to communicate openly and transparently with the remaining employees, ensuring they understand why the changes are necessary. Striking a balance between honesty and instilling confidence in the future can be quite delicate. Furthermore, leading a team through downsizing requires a strong focus on effective communication. Employees may have concerns about job security, changes in roles and responsibilities, and the overall direction of the company. As a leader, it’s vital to be present, accessible, and provide clarity amidst the uncertainty. It requires a delicate balance of compassion, business acumen, and strong leadership skills.

 

MM: How has DE&I progressed throughout your career? Do you think manufacturing is a sector that has proactively embraced diversity at the board level?

PB: Diversity and inclusion in the manufacturing industry, especially at the board level, have been areas of focus in recent years. While progress has been made, there is still work to be done to ensure equal representation and inclusion. Many manufacturing companies have recognised the value of diversity and are actively working to improve representation at all levels of their organisation. This includes increasing the number of women, people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and individuals from different socioeconomic backgrounds in leadership positions.

By embracing diversity, companies can benefit from a broader range of perspectives, experiences, and ideas, leading to more innovative solutions and better decision-making. Board-level diversity can also help foster a more inclusive culture throughout the organisation, making it more attractive to a diverse talent pool and ultimately enhancing overall business performance. However, it is important to acknowledge that progress has been incremental and there is room for improvement.

Some barriers to achieving diversity and inclusion at the board level in manufacturing might include traditional industry norms, unconscious biases, and the need for broader cultural shifts. To further promote diversity and inclusion, manufacturing companies can implement strategies such as setting goals and targets for diverse representation at all levels, establishing mentorship and sponsorship programs, providing training on unconscious bias, and ensuring equal opportunities for career advancement. By actively working to embrace diversity and inclusion, manufacturing companies can create a more equitable and inclusive industry that not only benefits their employees but also contributes to the long-term success and sustainability of their business.

 

MM: What advice would you give to the generation just starting their careers in manufacturing?

PB: As someone just starting their career in manufacturing, there are a few key pieces of advice I would like to offer:

  • Embrace continuous learning: Manufacturing is an ever-evolving field with new technologies and methodologies emerging regularly. To stay competitive, it’s crucial to have a mindset of continuous learning. Stay updated on industry trends, seek out opportunities for professional development, and adapt to new tools and techniques as they emerge.
  • Build a strong foundation: Focus on developing a solid foundation of technical skills and knowledge in manufacturing. Whether it’s understanding lean manufacturing principles, mastering CAD software, or learning about automation and robotics, a strong technical background will set you up for success and open up various career paths within the industry.
  • Seek out diverse experiences: Manufacturing encompasses a wide range of sectors and job roles. Early in your career, don’t be afraid to explore different areas within the field to gain a diverse set of experiences. This could involve working in different departments, taking on cross-functional projects, or even pursuing internships or apprenticeships. By doing so, you can discover what truly interests you and develop a versatile skill set.
  • Cultivate problem-solving skills: In manufacturing, problem-solving is a valuable skill. Seek out opportunities to develop this skill by actively participating in troubleshooting activities, process improvement initiatives, and finding creative solutions to challenges that arise. The ability to identify problems, analyse data, and propose effective solutions will help you stand out in the long run.
  • Nurture strong interpersonal skills: Building relationships and effective communication are vital in any career, and manufacturing is no exception. Enhance your interpersonal skills by developing strong teamwork abilities, active listening, and effective collaboration. These skills will help you interact effectively with colleagues, leaders, and other stakeholders, leading to better outcomes and personal growth.

Remember, starting a career in manufacturing is just the beginning of a potentially rewarding journey. Embrace learning opportunities, be adaptable, and keep a growth mindset. With dedication, perseverance, and a commitment to excellence, you can thrive in this dynamic industry. Good luck!

Matthew McDonnell is a Senior Consultant within the interim management team at NSCG.

Learn more about Mattthew here.

 

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