Meet the MD: James Harding-Terry of PCT

Meet the MD: James Harding-Terry of PCT

James Harding-Terry is managing director of Sheffield engineering firm PCT. Initially beginning his career in IT, after teaching himself computer programming, James took on a further degree in manufacturing leadership before finding himself with PCT. Now heading up the 90 year old firm, James is a busy man. He took some time out to tell BQ more...

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

As managing director of PCT my role involves the daily management of the business, ensuring its growth and longevity. As a £5m turnover business employing 80, it’s a big role and responsibility.


What is it the company does?

PCT is a Sheffield-based engineering firm which operates in a range of sectors including the construction and automotive industries and manufactures around 50,000 towbars each year.

In recent years PCT has become a specialist in the development and fabrication of working at height safety equipment. We also offer high definition plasma profiling and metal fabrication, including prototype development.

The team at PCT works on a range of engineering solutions, including high profile projects for Tesco and Heathrow Airport and fabrication work for independent local companies.


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

I achieved my undergraduate degree in IT from Salford University which was sponsored by Barclays Bank in Cheshire. After graduating, I then went on to work at Barclays in IT training. From there I worked in IT support at the European Commission at Brussels before working at AT&T as a Systems Analyst in Redditch. 

In 2008 I graduated from the University of Leeds with an Msc in Manufacturing Leadership. I then started working at PCT as managing director where I’m now MD and group co-chairman.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

What makes a great leader depends on many factors. One of the many aspects is your personality - having intelligence, charisma, charm and a little arrogance go a long way in leadership. Humility, the ability to accept that you’re wrong and may not always know everything, also cannot be understated.

Your partner also makes an enormous difference to your success. If you don’t have a supportive partner forget it, don’t even try and be a leader. Your level of success will directly depend on the person that you spend your life with.

A great leader means you must understand the problem or issue fully, otherwise you risk looking like an idiot. You also need to be able to see the big picture, the whole problem, how the whole process works, rather than just one little bit of it.

Finally, I think perseverance and tenacity is vital. Expect to do and say the same thing over and over again until it sticks. You will get support from the strangest and smallest of places, enough to persuade you that you are doing the right thing and should stick to your track.


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

My biggest challenge I would say is people. People make or break problems or situations and getting good quality people is very challenging.

The financial crisis of the last eight years has also been incredibly challenging and has required huge tenacity, flexibility and determination. With the financial crisis came over-supply which has led to dropping prices and reduced margins, so we have had to find ways of constantly improving our products and services whilst also driving cost out of it.

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

In my earlier years I practised full contact martial arts as this was a really good way of switching off because you had to concentrate or it hurt, a lot. Now though, I’m lucky enough to have my own pool so I swim for at least ½ mile a day, we also have five dogs so we walk a lot.

I have a beautiful and supportive wife so we enjoy good meals and wine and usually more conversations about work. At the end of the day, if you’re passionate about what you do, you never actually switch off, so it is important to cope with and understand that the role is 24/7.

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

From my early teenage years I was very interested in being a computer programmer. The 1980s saw the start of home computing so I taught myself how to program.

I am still very passionate about IT today. From my interest in IT came an interest in process which has been helpful throughout my career. If you can master process and then get the right people you have a very good combination.

In terms of where I ended up, I grew up in the family business so I worked on the shopfloor from around age seven, and every family conversation was about the business.

I guess that I knew that one day I would be expected to be the custodian of the massive heritage of the family business and I prepared myself for the privileges and challenges that that would bring.

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

My pet hates have changed over time, I’ve become more philosophical as I’ve got older. However, I still hate limp handshakes, bad coffee and untucked shirts. I train every apprentice how to shake hands properly and to look directly into the eyes of the person they’re introducing themselves to.

My biggest workplace hate is backstabbing - at any level. It’s destructive in the workplace and life is hard enough battling with the competition without petty infighting. I’ve dismissed more people for bullying over the years than anything else.


Where do you see the company in five years time?

PCT is celebrating its 90th year in business this year so with this ability to adapt and change to meet the market and ever-changing customer needs, it’s always exciting times ahead. We’ll always be an engineering business but never entirely sure what the future will bring. The products that were 90 per cent of our business 20 years ago don’t even exist today. We must change and adapt constantly.

From a personal point of view, I now want to progress into some Non-executive Director roles, giving my experience and knowledge to help other businesses to achieve their goals.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

I would say ask yourself: "are you really sure that’s what you want to be? It’s going to be difficult and encapsulate your whole life. You won’t have time for anything else, your passion for what you do will need to be all-encompassing."

And if the answer is: "absolutely, I’m sure that’s what I want to be, I know this will be my world" then my advice would be:-

You have two ears and one mouth - listen, focus, listen again, then try and understand every situation and problem that matters, ignore the ones that don’t, you don’t have time for them.

I would also say to mix with people who you consider to be more intelligent and knowledgeable than yourself.As the great John of Salisbury, said, "We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours".

You will learn a lot by listening to others and you will also hear lots of rubbish. You will always learn most from making your own mistakes, try making them educated ones.