Profile: Theresa Spencer - the automotive finance director who is driving global growth

Theresa Spencer, finance director of Ring Automotive based in Leeds. The company makes lighting and non-bulb products for the automotive industry. Picture Tony Johnson.
Theresa Spencer, finance director of Ring Automotive based in Leeds. The company makes lighting and non-bulb products for the automotive industry. Picture Tony Johnson.
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Ring Automotive’s finance director Theresa Spencer talks about life after acquisition and why she is passionate about supporting women in the workplace, writes Lizzie Murphy.

When Theresa Spencer was head-hunted for the finance director role at vehicle accessories firm Ring Automotive, she thought she knew what she was letting herself in for.

The company had just been taken over by private equity firm Rubicon Partners and it was settling down for a five-to-seven-year period of investment and growth.

“The brief I got from Rubicon and our managing director was that they wanted a finance director who could not just manage the discipline of the financials but sit on the board and contribute commercially,” says Mrs Spencer from the firm’s headquarters, just outside Leeds city centre. “Rubicon wanted to invest and they wanted to build as much value as they could in the business.”

But 18 months later the plan was turned on its head when the company was approached by German lighting giant Osram. Osram which mainly sells its products to manufacturers, had been interested in the business in the past but the timing had never been right to take it further.

“At that point it was a surprise because the approach was a lot earlier than we expected it to be,” says Mrs Spencer, 49. “It took four-to-six months of discussions to decide whether it was the right thing to do.”

In the end it was decided that the deal was too good an opportunity to miss and Ring set off down another path of new ownership.

“The view was always that Osram would be a very good home for Ring and would nurture the company rather than decimate it. It was an exciting process to be involved in,” says Mrs Spencer.

The acquisition - for an undisclosed sum - finally completed earlier this year after approval from the Competition and Markets Authority. “We had 67 people in total approaching us from all areas of Osram so it was a very intense process,” says Mrs Spencer.

Ring Automotive, which has a £46m turnover and 160 staff, supplies lighting, such as headlights and inspection lighting, and non-bulb products, from tyre inflators to high spec battery power equipment, to retailers and large buying groups in the automotive industry. Almost two thirds of its turnover is in non-bulb products.

It also has a vehicle conversion division, which works in a number of sectors, including power management for ambulances.

The acquisition will allow Osram to diversify its product range in the automotive sector, particularly to include more electronics and accessories. From Ring’s point of view, it will offer huge opportunities to expand globally.

Mrs Spencer insists the Ring brand will stay and there are no plans to shrink the workforce in Leeds. There is possibility for growth in staff numbers.

Most of its non-bulb products are manufactured in the Far East and that is likely to remain the case in the foreseeable future.

Osram has its own bulb manufacturing sites so it’s likely that Ring’s bulb manufacturing, which is primarily in Europe, will be brought in-house to Osram eventually.

Ring Automotive currently sells 6,000 products in 75 countries but it has predominantly focused on UK and European growth up to now. Two years ago it opened up a European office in Paris and then set up a warehouse via a partnership in Madrid to stockpile its products.

According to Mrs Spencer, initially these moves were steps towards expansion but a secondary outcome has been to mitigate risk ahead of Brexit.

“When we were putting together our Brexit risk mitigation plans, we were passionate about making sure that the customer would feel nothing,” says Mrs Spencer. “And that is still a priority.”

The company is also investing in its future technology unit in Leeds and by the end of the year, it will have invested over £500,000 in developing new product areas.

Mrs Spencer adds: “There is a lot more emphasis for Ring in Leeds on developing non-bulb product strategies for the globe, working with Osram’s business units in the US, Europe and internationally.”

Born and brought up in Sheffield, Mrs Spencer says she showed an aptitude for maths, logic, and problem solving from a young age. She went on to study for a maths degree at Hull University and then joined PwC’s graduate training programme.

For seven years she lived in London and Cambridge working in the entertainment and pharmaceutical sectors before moving back up to Yorkshire where she spent 13 years in senior finance roles at global office products firm Fellowes in Doncaster.

The stint included several years leading the commercial finance division reporting into the European President, which, she says, helped to develop her commercial acumen and empathy and sparked an interest in business strategy and commercial performance.

The biggest challenge in her career so far, she adds, was taking on her first finance director role at business process and technology specialist Parseq in Rotherham.

“At every step change in my career, I have stood in front of it and felt fearful of it. It’s not easy to feel that and take the step and do it.

“Sometimes I think females need a little more support and encouragement to help them believe in themselves and take the step. More often than not, the thought of it is worse than doing it,” she says.

Introducing girls and young women to the experiences of businesswomen who have ‘made it’ is key to tackling gender imbalance in the workplace, says Mrs Spencer, who has a 10-year-old daughter.

“I think one of the problems we have is that there’s an assumption that it’s impossible to get the right work-life balance but I think you can.

“We just need to try and find ways to provide more evidence for our up and coming female leaders that it’s all do-able.

“With good practical support network at home and mentorship at work you can make it work.”

Curriculum Vitae:

Title: Finance director at Ring Automotive in Leeds

Date of birth: May 2, 1970

Education: University of Hull BSc in Mathematics, Chartered Accountant ICAEW

First job: Trainee accountant at PwC

Favourite holiday destination: Barbados

Favourite song: A Different Corner, by George Michael

Favourite film: Love Actually

Last book read: Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg (a friend bought it for me)

Car driven: Landrover Discovery Sport

Most proud of: Doing a half decent job of parenting my beautiful, smart and funny 10-year-old daughter, Isabella.