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‘Here’s to you – Mrs Robinson’

‘Here’s to you – Mrs Robinson’
7 May 2024  |
Rightly proud of pump manufacturer Landia UK’s 30th anniversary this year, Liz knows the ins and outs of those eventful past three decades, because she’s been there since day one. But as the epitome of an unsung hero, she politely grimaces at the very thought of this article and its headline being put out into the public domain.

In a humble converted outbuilding engulfed by some interesting odours from a nearby chicken processor in Shropshire, England, Liz bravely took a leap of faith in 1994 with Hugh Vaughan to see if the long-established (1933) Danish pump company could establish a foothold in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

“Living in the same village, Hughie and I already knew each other outside of our day jobs” explains Liz. “Hughie always said to me: ‘I’ll have a job for you one day,’ and true to his word, that’s exactly what happened. I joined him at a local agricultural supplier.

“Hughie was already selling Landia pumps and mixers, but he’d reached a point where he needed to move on, so approached Landia with his vision of setting up a dedicated business in the UK; and as they say, the rest is history.”

While on maternity leave at the agricultural supplier, Liz answered a loud knock on the door of her home, to find a typically forthright Hughie standing there saying: ‘I’ve done it! Let’s get a business plan together. We’re Landia UK now, and I want you to carry on being my PA.’

‘Everything else, and more’

Liz soon found though that she was (apart from sales), handling ‘everything else, and more,’ which 30 years later, she does to this day. This is someone with their finger firmly on the pulse. Ask a question about what, who, when and why at Landia UK, and Liz will almost certainly know the answer.

“I had to learn fast,” she said, “but to this day, I still don’t have my own office. For me it’s always best to be able to pick up on and be involved in work conversations with colleagues to keep on top of what’s going on. I can’t bear it if I feel like I’m in the dark when somebody asks a question. I never want to lose touch with the day-to-day nitty-gritty. It’s the same with our customers, especially when they need help. It is very important to listen. We’re a problem-solving company; not just selling products off the shelf, so with our enthusiasm for putting things right, we believe that there is always a solution.”

Keeping everything shipshape, while Hugh Vaughan concentrated on sales, a first month figure of £19,000 back in 1994 was a very encouraging start for Landia UK. Hughie was a very straight-talking man who fearlessly led with his chin. Liz’s role therefore also included the diplomatic task of (in the nicest possible way) ‘keeping him in order’!

A few years in, with sales and Landia UK’s reputation growing steadily and healthily, the company’s first mechanical engineer was taken on (Dave Baldock), who is still with the Shropshire firm today, and also happy to be very much behind the scenes.

Then in 2002, Landia UK moved into impressive, purpose-built Danish-designed premises, later to be extended for that all-important stock of readily available spares, plus a workshop and growing number of staff. Co-ordinating engineers, appointments, fabrication, equipment, spare parts, and the whole logistical shooting match once again moved the goalposts of Liz’s job description to something slightly more than that of being a PA!

“The move to new premises was a big investment for Landia,” said Liz, “demonstrating their total commitment to the UK and Irish market, which Hughie had built up, despite us apparently being the most expensive on any tender list. But as is still the case today, we will strongly argue that with our equipment lasting 10-20 years or more, we’re very probably the cheapest when judged fairly on total cost of ownership.”

Tragedy struck in 2018. Hugh Vaughan went on holiday, but never came back. He and his wife were killed in a car crash.

“It was such a shock,” commented Liz. “A horrible, horrible shock. All these years later and I still find it hard to believe that he’s not here. It was devastating.”

Liz and the now thriving Landia UK team didn’t need any incentive to continue growing the business, but there was no sitting back. Some in the industry predicted that without Hughie’s always assertive approach, it would be the end of Landia UK without him. Little did they know Liz though. Despite the huge shock and the hugely significant loss, the so-called ‘receptionist come accounts woman’ knew exactly what was going on at the company and how to run it.

Liz, together with Paul Davies (who has been with Landia for over 20 years), knew they could continue and develop Landia UK as Hugh would have planned, with Liz running operations and Paul managing sales.

“I knew we could do it,” said Liz. “Giving up is always the easy thing to do, but there are people here, especially the younger ones, who have their whole careers in front of them. They are our future, so I felt very responsible for us gritting our teeth and keeping everything going.”

“The pandemic was another challenge,” she added, “as it was for everyone. For our lads on the road going to maintenance appointments, especially over long distances, it was very tough and tiring in the initial period of lockdown, with no hotels open. But we had to be there to support our customers. None of our team moaned and groaned. They just got on with it.”

With her finger on the pulse, Liz will admit that she’s always found it difficult to let go, but as Landia UK moved on with her at the helm and Paul Davies leading the sales drive, she says she’s learned to delegate and switch off.

“It’s never easy,” she said. “But with the right people in place, you can still keep your eyes open, but trust them in their roles, and importantly, have a life outside of work. Back in the early days of Landia UK I remember needing a doctor’s appointment, but I kept fobbing them off, explaining that I couldn’t leave the office because I was the only person there. The Doctor called me and said ‘who do you think you are; the prime minister?!’  Nowadays, I am far more sensible………”

As is the case across so many industries, recruitment, post-Covid, remains a challenge. For many years, Landia UK has had a very successful apprenticeship scheme in place. Talented engineers such as Josh Edge have worked their way through to become members of the sales team, armed with expert knowledge of the Landia equipment and its effectiveness from time in the workshop and out on the road carrying out servicing.

She continued: “With recruitment, I totally understand that life has changed since the pandemic, and that many people now want to work partly from home, but it has to be a two-way street. It’s vital that employees have their rights, but again, it needs to be a balance for the companies’ requirements.”

‘Consistency and continuity’

In typically modest fashion, Liz says she leaves the selling to the salesmen, but those who purchase Landia pumps and mixers are immediately put at ease that all of their dealings with the company will be handled from start to finish, very efficiently and professionally. With Liz around, this doesn’t happen by accident. This consistency and continuity with back-up go a long way in securing repeat business, so maybe Liz should take some well-deserved credit for sales too.

And Landia UK in another 30 years’ time?

“We all want to increase sales and keep the graph going the right way,” said Liz, “but despite getting priced out sometimes because we are a Rolls Royce manufacturer, the company (approaching its centenary) is clearly doing something right – and I am very proud to be playing my part.”

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