Blackfriar: Leaders of the quiet revolution in a shrinking man’s world

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When financial journalist Ros Snowdon first joined the Yorkshire Post she was in for a rude awakening.

One memorable conversation with a chief executive who shall not be named went like this:

“I want to talk to Ross Snowdon.”

“Hi, Ros Snowdon speaking, how can I help?”

“No love, I want to talk to Ross Snowdon, the deputy city editor.”

“Speaking.”

“No pet, I want to speak to Ross himself, not his secretary.”

“I am Ros Snowdon.”

“What, you?”

“Yes me.”

“Oh.”

It wasn’t a great interview and Ros, now the City Editor, was later told by the chairman of another company that she was a bit like Margaret Thatcher – “not a proper woman”. Fortunately things have moved on a lot in the past 12 years. This week Margaret Wood, managing director of Wakefield-based high tech windows to screens company ICW and chair of the Yorkshire Institute of Directors, was part of an all-female delegation invited to Westminster by Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Miliband, a Doncaster MP, is keen to promote women in industry and wanted to find out from those who have succeeded how politicians can help women.

Some 50 successful women were invited to meet Mr Miliband and Ms Wood was there to represent manufacturing, engineering and science.

“Mr Miliband wanted to hear our stories, the hurdles we’ve faced, how we overcame difficulty, what could have helped to make things easier at the time and what we think would work for the next generation,” she told Blackfriar.

All 50 women have had hurdles to overcome to get where they are and all agreed there are things the Government can do to make industry more attractive to women. “A major hurdle that many women now and in the coming year will face is that because of the recession things have gone backwards in terms of enabling women to achieve in industry,” said Ms Wood. “It is almost as difficult as the 1950s when women weren’t expected to go out to work, never mind rise to the boardroom.”

It would be a great shame to think the efforts of the past 20 years could be undone by the recession.

When Ros joined the Yorkshire Post in the late 1990s, there wasn’t a single leading Yorkshire listed company with a female boss.

Now we have Harriet Green at Leeds-based Premier Farnell, Dorothy Thompson at North Yorkshire-based Drax and Judith McKenna at Leeds-based Asda setting a new agenda.

Last year Sheffield also appointed its first female Master Cutler, Pam Liversidge.

Women are succeeding where men have previously failed, all are guiding their companies or sectors through historic lows and none of them bear any resemblance to Margaret Thatcher whatsoever.

Women working in traditionally male areas are no longer seen as freaks of nature. Maybe that’s because they’re just quietly getting on with it.

Long live the quiet revolution.

THE waves breaking over Europe’s economy show little sign of calming, but still Fenner surges on.

The East Yorkshire-based conveyor belt manufacturer yesterday cheered the market with an expectation-busting update, as emerging markets and the booming power sector fuel strong growth.

The Hessle, East Yorkshire, company boasts an admirable growth record. It’s a company celebrating 150 years of growth, is heading toward the £800m turnover mark, and even amid gloomy markets and the possible demise of the single currency, is going at a rate of knots.

While many fear European demand will wane as the toxic cocktail of sovereign debt, poor consumer confidence and low corporate investment weighs heavily, Fenner’s global reach stands it in good stead.

Positive growth noises have emerged from the United States in recent months, while emerging economies such as China continue their stellar growth.

Just 10 per cent of Fenner’s business goes to Europe. Instead it is shipped to or made in the resurgent markets of North and South America, Australasia and South Africa. Perhaps key to all of this was Fenner’s decision not to stop spending during the recession, instead making its factories more efficient with a £150m investment programme while all around rivals were scaling back.

Finance director Richard Perry admits many thought Fenner foolish to continue investing while markets were crashing.

They responded by driving its share price to a low of 32p in March 2009. “People said we’ve invested at the wrong time. The rest is history,” he said. “Anyone else looking at replicating what we have done is looking at two to three years.”

Fenner shares closed at 438p yesterday, and its factories are bulging with work. Blackfriar bets those doubters have had a change of heart.