Scaffmag speaks with Layher Ltd UK’s new Operations Director Katherine Fox on transferable skills and tenacity.
How linear has your career been, to date? Did you enter the industry at an early age and then take a traditional developmental path, rising through the ranks via a combination of in-house and external training, qualifications, and promotions? Or can you still recall a former life lived in another sector?
More and more people are approaching work listlessly, and if Katherine Fox’s story is much to go by, the most forward-thinking firms in our industry should embrace the opportunity to take in staff from other fields.
As the new Operations Director at Layher Ltd UK, Fox is tasked with delivering the scaffolding giant’s shared leadership strategy. Key to this is UK logistics, operations, stock ordering, depot functions, accounts, Credit control, HR and internal sales.
More importantly, though, she’s taken up the role as a fresh arrival in the construction world, entering at a senior level thanks to past experience garnered in very different environments. And that knowledge brings clear advantages to the company.
Cutting a long story short, while studying at university Fox actually dreamed of being a museum curator, but soon found herself drawn to a management programme at Marks & Spencer. Half a decade on, she moved to Homebase, gradually ascending to roles including learning & development advisor, and then KBB installations specialist.
From there, there were successive years at John Lewis, first as National Installations Manager and then within a discreet team focused on internal start-up activities — essentially, bringing staff up to speed on new niche consumer offerings that required particular skills, points of delivery and knowledge. Or, as she puts it, developing, piloting and rolling out “innovative concepts grounded in customer research, helping to augment the portfolio of services across both John Lewis & Waitrose”.
“I’m a prolific ideas generator — there are only ever solutions, no problems,” Fox says, explaining that her last role with John Lewis was Vice President of Business Transformation, before diving into the skills she possesses as a result of that storied resume.
“I am passionate about creating a vision that others can buy into. I think it’s very important to be interested rather than interesting, asking questions and really listening has been a key skill I’ve learnt to help me become an effective leader.
“I can lose a whole day listening to my team and seeking to understand what we can do differently to help them be more productive and feel valued. I’ve developed my skills as an agile practitioner and progressive change leader who is passionate about unlocking commercial and people potential.”
Suffice to say, you don’t achieve any of Fox’s success without making an impact, and she’s keen to point out that calculated risk-taking, and being brave enough to try out new ideas, is ingrained in her ethic. As is “a restless tenacity for improving the customer experience”.
“Failures have been few and far between over the years, but that’s not important. Instead, it’s the way we learn from those wrong turns, move on, and apply that knowledge to the next challenge that really counts. Because when your job is rethinking, that’s the only logical approach, and the only way to guarantee solutions are found”.
“The home sector has always felt like a distant cousin of the construction sector, so it didn’t feel alien when I first researched the opportunity at Layher Ltd UK,” Fox says.
“I looked at the role and immediately thought ‘I can add real value to the development of this company’. The size of the international business that operates from the head office in Germany is very impressive and I was attracted to the concept of working within a worldwide business but with the autonomy of being a national subsidiary.
“Within 5 minutes of my first interview, I knew this was the role for me,” Fox replies when we ask what made her feel construction was a logical sector to move into. “I’ve had the warmest welcome from both the UK and International team — it already feels like home. A real testament to how Sean Pike — Layher Ltd UK Managing Director has engaged and developed the team.
“Layher Ltd UK have been extremely open to new ways of working, implementing new ideas and changes in process. Call it ‘transferable skills’ call it a ‘corporate mindset’ if you like, but at the end of the day, it’s about employing the right person for the right role,” Fox adds.
“Sean was transparent at my interview that he was recruiting for someone outside of the scaffolding sector and was looking for someone who has the right leadership behaviour to support growing the business,” she says of how open construction feels to those from other industries, before we move on to how the sector can improve external intake.
“I think the most important step is to be open to change and engagement with other sectors. Being open-minded and not accepting the norm will help you to discover the wealth of experience, skills and diversity that are out there to explore.”
Fox also points out that, in an industry that’s used to high risk, being risk averse when it comes to shaking things up seems misguided. And, if one thing is for sure, there’s never been more reasons to consider the benefits of employees from other walks of life.
According to Construction Skills Network’s forecast from last June, the sector needs almost 217,000 new recruits by 2025 just to meet domestic demand. Since then, the world has changed dramatically, and the task of keeping the scaffolding up — literally and symbolically — has only become more complex.
With that in mind, while there’s a clear need for more specialised skills on-site, as ScaffMag has addressed in the past, there’s also an urgent shortage of people with top level management and logistical nouse, many of which can currently be found treading different paths.
This article was first published in the ScaffMag Magazine Issue 17