Two weeks before the UK entered lockdown in 2020, Sarah Stephens, Managing Director of ASG TGM took possession of a new large bed Zimmermann 5 axis CNC machine; a significant investment for the firm at £1.3m.
Less than fourteen days later the manufacturing supply chain was sent into turmoil, firms were sending workers home, major manufacturing sites were closing in lockdown and ceasing or withholding orders; it was not a situation for the faint of heart. Fast forward two years, Sarah looks back on this period where that Zimmermann machine became the heartbeat of the firm, spearheading growth which has now doubled the size of the firm’s turnover to in excess of £5.2m.
“COVID was a real challenge for us as a business, but we won an exciting defence package of work for Leonardo Helicopters at the right time which saw us through this period at a time when many suppliers in the sector were not so lucky. The machine investment had set us apart, making us able to do work others could not. We are finding now that the businesses that were able to survive and have the support and finance to cover that lull in sales, are now thriving and are successful” comments Sarah.
The story of Sarah’s journey to become Managing Director, like many females in the sector was somewhat accidental, working her way from the bottom step of her father’s engineering firm; Techni-Grind (Preston) Machining Ltd, which is now part of the rapidly growing ASG Group, based in Stockport; building a group competence specialising in CNC machining & assemblies within hard & soft metal treatments. The humility Sarah has flows through her in describing her role now, a strength to her which is underpinned by her passion and stoicism; “Personally, the growth I have made from starting from the bottom and progressing to managing the business, still seems strange. When people ask me what I do, I say I work for an engineering firm. It is only then that my husband chips in and tells them that I run the place.”
“The main lesson I wish I had learned earlier in my journey which I realise are so strong now is to build a competent team around me which is hungry for knowledge and development – In the last two or three years, we have built up a good team within TGM, everyone has their own suite of skills. We bounce off each other and this has created accountability in the time and a healthy work-life balance which I have realised many business leaders are not able to enjoy and this has really driven our performance.”
The journey has not been easy as the UK manufacturing sector continues to lament the shortage of young engineers coming in to working age, something Sarah is all too aware of. “Schools seems to promote university and further education, but that is not right for everyone. Apprenticeships should be spoken about a lot more within schools and colleges as you can train and learn without putting yourself in a pile of debt.” Indeed, ASG TGM intends to embody this commitment and is busy planning a newly designed apprenticeship programme ready for 2024.
Sarah is not stopping there, as a gen-Y business leader, she is recognising the importance of putting the firm onto a firm, sustainable and socially conscientious footing and has set in motion investment for a carbon-reduction plan including fitting of solar panels to the factory roof scheduled for Q1 2024 and in machine & system monitoring to identify energy saving opportunities. “Manufacturers need to do more to project our environmental credentials to society and as a mother of two young boys, I have a long-term view on the health of our planet and that of our society, so it is important to me that the firm is on track to improve the world around us as well.
Simon Weston, Managing Director of ASG Group commented; “It’s been a privilege working alongside Sarah, she is well deserving of the recognition she is starting to get for the success at ASG TGM as she is creating a strong culture that enables us as a group to able to deliver right cost, right time, quality engineering solutions to our world class customers in safety critical components in the aerospace and defence sectors.”