Meet the MD: Julie Bickerdyke of Austin Hayes

Meet the MD: Julie Bickerdyke of Austin Hayes

Julie Bickerdyke, MD of Austin Hayes, places caring high on her agenda- caring for her staff, customers and shareholders. She took some time out to share some other aspects of her day-to-day working life with BQ.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

My role is to ensure we meet our objectives:

  1. To protect what we have and build for the future
  2. To make profits: for re-investment, for the shareholder and for reward
  3. To retain a happy and motivated workforce
    1. I manage a team of two directors and three senior managers, who I ensure are involved in major decisions.  We are currently working together on our future strategy. I spend a lot of time talking to and guiding my staff and talking to our customers.  I also take the lead on our PR activity.


      What is it the company does?

      Austin Hayes is a specialist in refurbishment and surface coatings, working primarily for the engineering and defence sector since its formation in 1953.

      63 years on, Austin Hayes is a market leader in the refurbishment of ammunition containers and the firm has vast experience in providing specialised surface coatings services to the engineering industry. This extensive experience, along with technical expertise and the highest quality standards has propelled the company to be a leader in its field and boasts 89 employees, and a turnover of £6.5 million.


      Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

      I started my professional working life as a junior auditor for Barrowcliff & Co in Leeds.  I moved on after two years to work for a larger company, Victor, Walton Croudson & Co. 

      That company merged with Alexander Sagar & Co and eventually became known as Sagars.  I was with them for nine years, specialising in business services for SMEs and I only left to have my daughter, Carys. 

      Whilst working at Sagars I had regular clients who I visited monthly to prepare management accounts.  One of these companies was Austin Hayes. 

      I kept in touch with the staff at Austin Hayes and visited with Carys and later with my son Jordan.

        While Jordan was very young, Austin Hayes asked me if I would prepare the monthly management accounts. 

      Eventually the position of Company Accountant became available and I took the job on a part-time basis, becoming full time when the children were older. 

      I studied for, and took, my CIMA exams whilst working at Austin Hayes and became ACMA qualified in 2008 within two years of starting the course. I became Finance Director shortly after. 

      I shadowed the Managing Director, Nik Vjestica, for two years prior to him taking a step back in March 2015, when I became Managing Director.


      What do you believe makes a great leader?

      Caring is high on my agenda – for your staff, your customers and your shareholders.  I have a personal mission to help others to grow and being a leader puts me in a great position to be able to achieve this.  Empathy and listening skills are also vital.  I couldn’t help people to grow if I didn’t listen to what’s important for them and take the time to really understand them.

      I would also add making decisions quickly and not avoiding difficult conversations.


      What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

      The hardest thing for me has been realising that I have to lead strongly and make difficult, sometimes unpopular decisions.  I started out trying to get everyone to agree on the decisions, which ended up with no decisions being made.  Now I take opinions on-board but make the decisions even if there is no agreement.  Everyone knows they have had a chance for input and I will make the decision I believe is in the best interests of the company.


      How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

      I am a volunteer with People in Action at their Crossgates Thursday Club for adults with learning difficulties.  I love the time spent with the members; it is incredibly rewarding and always puts a smile on my face and puts my worries and concerns into perspective.

      I spend quality time with my family and friends.  I have a group of girlfriends that I’ve known for 25 years and we get together regularly.  I especially enjoy spending time with my husband, Keith.  We have regular trips to the theatre, meals out, weekends away and holidays that involve some element of excitement such as kayaking, zip wire and even bob-sleigh this year.  

      I listen to music, especially David Bowie and enjoy Pilates.


      When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

      When I was very young I wanted to be a princess, then I wanted to write novels (I was a huge Enid Blyton fan) and in my teens eventually settled on wanting to be a chef and owning a hotel.


      Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

      It annoys me when people leave dirty teaspoons in the bottom of the sink instead of putting them in the dishwasher. I never see anyone doing it so I just put them in the dishwasher myself.


      Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

      In five years we will have doubled our commercial work turnover.  We will have invested in new technology to remain at the cutting edge of industrial coatings.  Our Health, Safety and Environment commitments will be exemplary.  We will have further improved our internal systems and be fully utilising our MRP system.  We will be renowned for being the best specialist coatings applicators in the UK.


      What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

      Be brave; it is tough and can be lonely; not everyone is going to like you and you shouldn’t expect them to. Believe in yourself and don’t give up at the first problem. 

      Make sure you have good people and communication skills.

      I would highly recommend hiring a business coach.  I have had a number of coaches to guide me in different areas and they have all been incredibly helpful and have provided good value for money in the long term as they have given me the sounding board and confidence to be myself.  I would also recommend joining a peer group, where you can discuss business issues in confidence and gain insights from other business leaders.