Berenice North of Access North
Berenice Northcott, managing director of Access North Structures, tells BQ why being a woman in a mans world isn't always a drawback and how Access North has become such a success under her leadership
What does your role involve?
I have a fast-paced, hands-on involvement in the business. I wear lots of different hats and cover everything from communicating with rope access teams on sites throughout the UK, to planning and quoting for projects, coordinating marketing campaigns, and developing colleagues – the list goes on!
What is it the company does?
As buildings and structures become taller, more unusual and increasingly complex, the challenges associated with inspecting, maintaining and keeping these spaces safe are growing equally tough.
However, this niche area of construction is actually our speciality. That’s why we’ve grown to become renowned as the height experts. Whether we’re tasked with an inspection, maintenance or cleaning project, our highly-skilled and multi-disciplined technicians will use pure rope access techniques to provide safe, professional and innovative support for these hard to reach areas.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
Growing up, I never had a route mapped out for my career, but looking back, I didn’t have any barriers either. Having an open mind and a drive to make things happen has been important, and I’ve always done what I enjoy. I really think success stems from being happy in what you do.
When I finished uni I worked front of house in a leading film and photography museum, before developing my career in the world of design and marketing. However, my husband had worked in the industry for eight years before we came together to start Access North in 2011 and I soon started to apply my skills in FM.
I’ve learned the trade ‘on the job’ so to speak, to the point I’m now running our company.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I believe a great leader comes from being able to follow. If you are able to follow and understand what is it like to be on both sides of the coin, then I believe you will gain respect from your fellow man. Another mantra that I try to live by, is ‘listen’ - a lot can be said when you listen carefully and don’t speak.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Whilst I don’t consider it a challenge as such, I am noticeably a woman in what is I believe is seen to be a man’s world. Whether we’re dealing with a construction, facilities management, health and safety, risk assessment or maintenance enquiry, the lead point of contact is usually a male, as are most of our rope access technicians. My peers are often surprised to see a female at the helm of a business like ours, but as our reputation has grown, I actually see this as an advantage not a drawback.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I make sure I take time out. I’ve got a little boy, who’s nearly two, so the chance to do things together, as a family, is what I look for outside of work. I also love getting back into my creative bubble and upcycling furniture or doing some interior design. And you can’t beat half an hour of peace and quiet in a lovely coffee shop or a really epic movie.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What didn’t I want to be?! A dancer, an artist a secretary like my mum! However, I had no idea what career paths truly existed. I think it’s fantastic that, given the boom of the internet and social media, young people now have so much inspiration at their fingertips.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?
Negativity and playing the ‘blame game’. Construction can be a tough and fast paced environment, which can sometimes come with its stresses. However,, the strength in a company is how individuals work together as a team. I aim to lead and instill in our team that it is ‘problems we are solving, not procrastinating on who was to blame’. Obviously getting to the bottom of why the problem occurred in the first place is very important, but it is the solution as a team that drives the situation forward.
Where do you see the company in five years time?
Since we set the business up over six years, we have steadily seen the business grow, with more rapid expansion over the last two years. In five years time I see the company continuing to go from strength to strength, with us aiming to be seen as the ‘go to company’ for all work at height.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
This is a difficult one as I still feel I have a lot to learn and give, however so far in my years in business, I would say to never ask anyone to carry out work that you wouldn’t do yourself. I always try to listen and lead in a positive outlook rather than leading through fear.