SHEFFIELD’S Hillfoot is looking to expand into new export markets in 2018, as it gears up for “exciting times” with three new senior appointments.
The engineering steel supplier is one of the largest stockholders in the UK market and for the last 12 months has been led by former Tata executive Ian Beveridge.
Now, Craig James becomes managing director, continuing his long association with the company.
He joined Hillfoot in 1994 and has been instrumental in the growth of its client base and development of its wide-ranging services operation. He told The Yorkshire Post that his approach would build on, rather than contrast with, that of Mr Beveridge, who will remain on a part-time consultancy basis.
“My focus will be on customer retention and customer growth,” he said. “We will always have a foothold in spot [one-off] and transactional markets, but we need to develop our contractual business and long-term relationships, and that where’s my experience and expertise will really come in.”
He added: “Our industry has had some desperate times over the last 10 years, but there’s been a steadying of the market from both the demand and prices point of view, and we’re very much in a positive frame of mind now.”
One area that Mr James intends to grow is export sales. They currently account for just 4.9 per cent of Hillfoot’s total turnover, but Mr James would like to increase this figure to 15 or 20 per cent within the next two years.
“When the oil and gas markets were stronger, it was about 15 per cent, but we got distracted to a degree by having to stabilise our UK market.
“But now we want to get back into the export markets, in part to reduce our exposure to the UK market,” he said.
The company, which employs 52 people, is strongest ins what Mr James calls the “local export markets” – Czech Republic, Poland, Spain, Germany, Ireland – but is trying hard to develop its presence in the Far East, via operations in Singapore and Korea, and is looking at the Australasian market.
“We tend to find there is a demand for British supply, because it’s trusted and quality-driven,” he said.
“Equally, there’s insecurity in the Far Eastern markets so they come to European, and especially UK, companies because they know they’ll get what they ask for. And it’s the same with the Middle Eastern markets.”
Also promoted is Simon Taylor, another long-serving member of the team, who becomes executive director.
Mr Taylor returned to the company for a second spell in 2009 and has since overseen its purchasing operation. In doing so, he has built a robust supply network of specialist steel producers around the world, enabling Hillfoot to supply the high-quality materials demanded by the manufacturing sector.
Kasia Jesiolek steps up to become Hillfoot’s new technical and quality manager.
Since joining the company in 2009 Ms Jesiolek has provided in-depth technical advice to customers, helping manufacturers to achieve cost and efficiency savings.
Mr James said: “It’s an exciting time for Hillfoot and these changes will help us to continue growing.”