Manufacturing firm Leeds Vacuum Formers (LVF) was started by Nigel Coates and his father in 1987. Now MD, Nigel explains how his business went from garden shed to multimillion pound success.
What is it the company does?
LVF is a family owned and operated business that manufactures high quality thermoformed packaging solutions – primarily trays – for both food and non-food markets.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
I’ve always thought being an MD means you need to be the master of all trades – or at least have a pretty good handle on them all. On a normal day I’d say my main role is to ensure that my management team has access to the right resources to ensure they can maintain our enviable levels of customer service and satisfaction.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I started out as an engineering apprenticeship with Yorkshire Switchgear, and worked there for 13-years – ten of which I spent in an R&D role – before leaving to start up LVF with my father, Harry Coates in 1987.
LVF actually began life in his garden shed, and was formed on the back of the experience he’d gained working in the vacuum forming department of John Waddington Cartons. We were initially involved in prototyping and small-batch runs, but gradually over the next 10 years we became more active in medium to high volume supply. Our move to our present site in 2004 heralded a major expansion of the business and firmly cemented our position as a leading supplier of thermoformed packaging to many of the UK’s leading brands and retailers.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
A great leader must be many things to many people, but being a good listener; being sympathetic to the opinions of others; and having clarity of thought that enables them to see a clear path to the desired result, are key attributes.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
We’re currently in the midst of a £600,000 expansion, which includes a 25 per cent increase of our output capabilities and the building of a 2,700sq ft mezzanine level to house an expanded tool room. As such, I’m faced with the challenge of balancing the effort and resources required to deliver that expansion, with those needed to meet customer requirements in what is an ever-changing market.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
As with many business owners the problem of stress can be very real and I, like many others, head to the golf course to relax. And like so many others, I rarely find it that relaxing – at least until the ball’s been sunk in the 18th hole.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Following my beloved Leeds United during the glory years of the late 60s and early 70s I dreamt of pulling on the white shirt and hearing my name chanted by thousands of adoring fans at Elland Road. Unfortunately, a lack of pace and two left feet meant those dreams never came close to being fulfilled.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Perhaps my greatest pet hate, and one I know I can do absolutely nothing to prevent when it occurs, is when you’ve pulled out all the stops to deliver the almost impossible for a customer only to find out the product launch you were up all night enabling them to be ready for has been delayed.
Other than that, people fiddling with the air conditioning control in the meeting room when they know I’m the only one allowed to use it should really be a sackable offence!
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
I don’t like to put figures on future plans, especially when looking five years down the line. Therefore, let’s just say that given our current expansion, I’d like to see us closing in on capacity and on the verge of expanding once again. All, of course, with a burgeoning list of extremely satisfied customers.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Be prepared for the task ahead; don’t let set-backs, which will almost certainly rear their ugly head, put you off; and remember – hard work will ultimately bring its rewards.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
There are so many things I’d like to sit down and tell my younger self, but if it was limited to just one piece of advice it would be learn to delegate responsibility rather than attempting to control everything yourself.
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