People are the bedrock of business

Posted on 8 Jan 2009 by The Manufacturer

With a turnover that has rocketed 20 per cent to £25 million in little over two years, the success of Sheffield-based former Manufacturer of the Year Gripple cannot be put down to any one thing. But without its 200-plus employees, none of it would be possible at all

Gripple makes wire joiners, tensioners, suspension systems and earthquake bracing systems – tools used to stabilise things and secure them down.

The effectiveness of its products is a close analogy of the HR inside the firm.
“The starting point of any success is first-rate people,” says Gripple managing
director Mark Edmonds, “first-rate people and a first-rate culture to support them.
Without those you might as well forget about it.”

So how do you ensure you’ve got the best people in the right frame of mind?
Gripple use a company called Management Bank for their recruitment needs. The firm is nearly 20 years old and, as a specialist in manufacturing recruitment, has had its services utilised by Gripple since the turn of the millennium.

Also based in Sheffield, the company is able to afford Gripple the bespoke care and attention required to bring the right staff in when needed. Management Bank assigned Gripple a personal account manager, Deborah King, who has been working with them since the start of the two firms’ relationship. She works from Gripple’s site at least once a month in order to keep in touch with what’s happening at the company.

“She understands our culture,” said Edmonds, “and that means she knows exactly what we need and she gets it for us.”

It’s this kind of personalised service along with consistently successful appointments that has led to Management Bank becoming one of only two external shareholders in Gripple – a mark of respect that speaks for itself.

“We wouldn’t allow a company who didn’t have the best interests of this company at heart to share in our success,” continues Edmonds. “Management Bank make sure they get us the best people available who will fit in with what we’re about and get the job done. It’s in the best interests of our future prospects which means it’s also in theirs.”

A good indicator of the type of person Gripple wants is the range of questions asked at an interview. If candidates are more concerned about how much pay is on offer than their career prospects, then Edmonds tends to doubt they have
the dedication he’s looking for. It’s Management Bank’s job to find this type of person, making Edmonds’ job easier when it comes to questioning candidates in front of his desk.

And by all accounts they do it well. “I can say without equivocation that Management Bank Recruitment see each assignment as finding the right person
for us and not just earning a fee,” Gripple founder and chairman Hugh Facey MBE is on record as saying.

To give a flavour of the company culture embedded in Gripple, unlike in many companies these days, the employees aren’t given free shares in the firm. But, as previously mentioned, there are only two external shareholders in the company.

Employees buy the shares instead. Free share schemes are offered by firms as part of a package that offers potential income in excess of a basic salary that often starts below what that worker might usually expect to earn. The free shares bring the basic pay up to acceptable level.

In some cases they are also used as a tool for staff retention. The shares are awarded annually but cannot be sold until a set number of years later. Employees therefore always have the incentive of cashing in shares a year down the line as an incentive to remain on the books. That’s not the case at Gripple. “Our people invest in themselves and each other. The success of the company and therefore the dividends paid depends on the efforts of the shareholders
themselves. And this way the staff see more of the fruits of their labour. It’s a massive incentive for them and it’s a way of ensuring we have the right type of people on board – those that have the confidence in themselves and their colleagues to continually over-achieve.”

Everyone gets their money straight up at Gripple; there are no bonuses for certain factions like sales teams or management. “We believe that if we agree a contract with a firm and then honour that contract – manufacturing and delivering products to the correct spec and on time – that success is down to everybody in the team, not just a salesman,” said Edmonds.

As for holiday, everybody from the directors to entry-level operatives on the shopfloor get the same annual entitlement. “All of this helps to show our staff that this is very much a team operation and that everybody has an equally important part to play in our success.”

Employee retention rate is also very high, despite the lack of the tactics described above in its respect. “Occasionally people join and decide the job is not right for them or we decide they’re not right for the job, but if people settle in here they tend to stay for a very long time. We have a number of employees here who have been on the books since the company first formed,” said
Edmonds, “and that’s 20 years!”

A measure of Gripple’s success, aside from phenomenal growth in profitability,
various accolades and an innovative product design that is threatening to define its industry, is its short-term plans regarding its staff numbers. With budgets
now mapped out and finalised for 2009, Edmonds has calculated that he
can take on a further six staff next year.

Modest it may be, but expansion of any kind is becoming increasingly scarce.
Simply planning to keep the staff they have on the payroll might make positive
press for a manufacturing company in the current economic climate so a steady
growth in numbers certainly reads well.

And as far as this company is concerned, ‘steady’ must surely be the operative word. A Gripple that isn’t defeats its own purpose.

This year, Gripple is holding its inaugural annual innovation contest which
Management Bank has sponsored. This is a competition open to any employee in
which the workers submit their own design for a new product in the Gripple line, a
new element to the production process, a more efficient operation procedure or
pretty much any innovative idea from which the company might benefit. The
prize for the winner is £500.

“A great idea can come from anywhere,” said Edmonds. “We’ve got a highly
motivated and intelligent workforce whom, as we’ve said, are investing in their
own futures. This means our environment is primed for those ideas to flow. Of
course we want to encourage people to come forward with those ideas because
we might just find the next little gem in Gripple’s future.”

Edmonds is adamant that Gripple would not be in the position it is now without
the workforce it has had over the last 20 years. “Everybody is on board together.
We like to think of Gripple as an extended family, one that’s expanding all the time but knows where it came from and what it’s all about.”

His advice to other manufacturers? “Respect your staff and they’ll respect
you. Simple as that.”