Five minutes with Andrew Lane

Five minutes with Andrew Lane

We speak with Andrew Lane, managing director of employee-owned Union Industries – the Yorkshire-based specialist in heavy manufacturing. He tells us about the importance of the interview, getting young people into industry and why making the wrong decision is not something to fear.  

Describe your organisation’s purpose

Our purpose is to provide shareholder value to our employees whilst maintaining our unique culture and brand values. But it goes further. For us, the purpose is to build on the foundations laid by former owners who built the business from nothing and engendered it with a passion to be the absolute best.

How would you describe the culture at your organisation and how do you maintain it?

There are two parts to our organisational culture. Firstly, our focus. “We’ve never missed a deadline so nobody wants to be the first person to do so.” We’re absolutely focused on the job at hand and we go to extraordinary lengths to retain our strong reputation. We once hired a farm tractor and trailer to get through a snow drift to reach a supplier and pick up their goods so we could bring them back to the facility to complete the project.

The second part of our culture is to have fun. You hear laughter and jokes as you walk the corridors – people enjoy working here. We maintain it by being really, really picky when it comes to recruitment. When we interview, we do it with a panel from across the business. We don’t want a rotten apple getting into the barrel. I’ve seen that happen in bigger businesses and I don’t want it happen at Union Industries.

How does your organisation prepare for the future world of work?

It can be quite difficult. The nature of our organisation means we need people who want to work in manufacturing. But we are coming to an age when the younger generations don’t tend to see manufacturing as a viable career path. We need metalworkers, fabric workers and skilled craftsmen – but it is becoming increasingly difficult to find them. We are looking at starting our own apprenticeship scheme, which would equip young people with useful skills, while retaining the kind of workers we need for our business.

In your experience, what is the best way to build diverse teams?

We tend not to attract the corporate type. We are best described as a collection of misfits, which is great when it comes to generating ideas.

For me, what somebody has done with their First from Oxford is less important than someone who’s built a motorbike in a shed. When we interview people we don’t want standard answers, we’re looking for people with personality. We’re looking for energy and enthusiasm, not necessarily qualifications.

What has been the biggest challenge to your growth and how have you tackled it?

Growth is complicated. While ‘growth for growth’s sake’ is something some companies follow, we are resolute that it has to be delivered in line with our core values of quality and customer service.

One of the great things about our employee ownership structure is that we, as senior executives, are accountable to the employee stakeholders. This means that we have to deliver them value rather than just growth.

What has been the best decision your organisation has ever made?

The best decision we have ever made was moving from a conventionally owned structure to an employee ownership one. It’s far more rewarding.

What one decision would you go back and change if you could?

We have done some things wrong in our time – and we’ve also had entirely unexpected outcomes. But I wouldn’t reverse these decisions – I learned far too much along the way. In fact, “I have no problem with making decisions that need to be reversed because that’s the only way I’ll keep learning.”