Queensland Steel and Sheet: pedal to the metal

By: Ruza Zivkusic-Aftasi


Queensland Steel and Sheet CEO Cecily McGuckin is reshaping success in the steel industry

Queensland Steel and Sheet: pedal to the metal
Cecily McGuckin

 

What happens when you add a woman to a male-dominated business? Growth.

Cecily McGuckin, of Queensland Steel and Sheet (QSS), has been forging a new path forward following her appointment as CEO of the family company.

 Not only has she moved the business to a larger warehouse but she has doubled the number of her workforce.

The 42-year-old mother of three has been busy transforming the business that her father, Barry Hunt, established on a handshake with partner Ken Thompson (pictured) in 1985.

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She joined the business a decade ago and was appointed CEO three years ago.

Growing up, there was never an expectation for her to get involved in the business, she explains.

However, 20 years ago Hunt approached her to join QSS, which she declined as she was in the midst of building her own career in retail construction development.

A decade later, upon having her first child, McGuckin had set up her own consultancy business. It was then that her father asked her again to join the business.

"It was never something that we discussed as I was growing up, it was never really an intention for me to be part of the business," McGuckin says.

"I came on board 10 years ago and pretty much the work started and I’ve filled that role over the years and slowly taken on more and more.

"As much as it was successful at the time for Dad, there was not a lot of structure and I think that really happens a lot when you’re a founder – you’re so involved in building the business to that first point and I think it’s very traditional that the second generation come along and give some different experience and perspective to be able to develop it and grow it to the next level."

RISKY BUSINESS

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Appointing a woman to the board has its risks, according to McGuckin.

"It was a really big risk for my father to get me on board not only as a female but as his daughter," she says.

"He’s very proud of myself and where the business is, as, to be honest, it was very different 10 years ago.

"There were a lot of butting heads with the industry but I think I’ve now been able to prove myself and I’ve got a good reputation.

"I’m very confident that the business holds itself very well in our industry and we have been and always will be known for our customer service which really is what the business is about."

A trailblazer who marches to her own drum, McGuckin has realigned her career to a personal passion. She juggles work and family life, saying it’s all about fulfilment.

"It took a long time, honestly, whether you’re male or female, I still had to prove myself and my work to the industry and my staff that I was capable of doing that role so that takes a while for people to be able to get that confidence," McGuckin says.

"It’s taken a little bit longer than it should have been but that was also me growing and developing into the leader that I am today.

"Continuous growth is really important to me and for the people who work for us.

Now it’s at a point that I really do have full autonomy to do the right thing for the business and I have the confidence that what I am doing is the right thing as well."

COMPETITIVE EDGE

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McGuckin has doubled the number of her staff to 30, of which three are women, and increased the fleet to five trucks, of which two are Kenworth, two Isuzu and one UD.

The company supplies steel throughout Queensland and northern New South Wales.

It uses its own fleet for local work and up to 20 other transport companies for subcontracting, of which five are used on a regular basis.

QSS has always bought second hand trucks and has no plans on increasing the number as according to McGuckin it’s more cost-effective to have subcontractors.

"We believe it is more cost-effective to be able to use contractors than having our own guys going up for that, that’s why we’ve got five trucks and we’ve slowly built that over time."

Based in Pinkenba, QSS is one of the country’s longest running, family-owned steel distributors.

The company prides itself on service, something Hunt improved considerably when he created his own computer system some 20 years ago, focusing on real-time order notifications to ensure customers always knew where their items are at.

That computer system is used across the warehouse, to track trucks and for picking and packing. The company has an in-house IT team and constantly updates the system.

"It’s just one computer system we use for the whole business which is quite efficient and everything is in one spot, we don’t have to jump from one system to another.

"It’s a specific system we’ve created, not something that we’ve bought and adjusted.

"Dad had the foresight about 20 years ago about creating our own computer system and with that we’re able to tell our customers pretty much from the get go where their steel is and where it’ll be until it gets dropped off," McGuckin says.

"So they never have to chase us up, they know exactly where their item is and as soon as they place an order they get an email telling them they’ve got it.

"We also GPS track our trucks so we know where all of them are at all times.

"It’s all the little things that we believe that we do right that basically allows us to be competitive; it’s making sure that we are competitive with price and making sure that we understand our customers as best as we can.

"I personally spend a lot of time seeing our customers; I need to understand from my perspective whether they’re big or small.

"I see them because they need to know that they’ve got our 100 per cent support, not only from their sales rep but from the whole team," she adds.

"We can have someone pick up a piece of steel from us and be out in a shorter time than any of our competitors."

VIRUS SPREAD

QSS stocks one of the widest product ranges in Queensland and work with leading steel mills around the world; from plate, gal, and colour to hot rolled, cold rolled and zinc.

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Plummeting trade volumes out of China and the flow-on effect to containerised trade from other countries is yet to make an impact on QSS but McGuckin says the company has a certain amount of stock on hand.

"We’re very diligent about that as everyone is but we’re in contact with all of our traders on a regular basis and always have been no matter whether this be the case or something else, if there is any delay we always have a backup to be able to cover up for that so we hold a certain amount of stock on hand because of that reason," McGuckin says.

"The last thing we want to do is impact our customers because we don’t have supply. So, no, coronavirus is not impacting us at this stage, we are very much covered at the moment."

LESSONS

McGuckin meets unforeseen effects, such as the coronavirus, by always keeping a step ahead.

"I’m constantly looking at what our struggle is over the next 12 months and how we can address it," she explains.

"Then I look at things like succession planning for my kids and pretty much what if something happens to me tomorrow and what are our backup plans for someone who leaves this business.

"I am always looking to make sure that all my roles are covered; you have to keep on looking forward to make sure we cover ourselves and that’s why we’ve moved into our current facility.

"Unless we moved, we wouldn’t be able to increase our span like we did, so that’s pretty much what it comes down to, looking at every little aspect of the business," she says.

"But you also have to be able to look back; unless you look back at what you’ve done wrong or you’ve done great, you can’t learn from that."

LIKE FATHER, LIKE DAUGHTER

Despite being born in two different generations, McGuckin and Hunt are hard workers.

For McGuckin, though, procedures are everything. She values the right staff, saying some of them have been with the company for 25 years.

"A lot of our staff have been with us for five, 10, 15 and even more years so it’s great that we’ve got people that understand the way we like our business to be run and we have a great team that supports us – they have our back 110 per cent," she says.

"My job, I believe, is to support my team to be able to do the best that they can do and communication is a massive thing for me – providing the best procedures to be able to make us as efficient as possible.

"I love our customers; we have some amazingly loyal people that have been customers for a really long time and I just love the fact that it’s a family business and we’ve been able to transition to the next generation.

"Who knows what the generation holds? They say once the steel industry is in your blood you can’t get it out and it’s very true, I love it, I just love what I do."

HANDLING

With steel prone to rusting, the most important thing is to keep it dry. Moving to its current site with plenty of undercover space, QSS protects its goods no matter the weather.

"We have a massive unloading deck so that allows us to be able to protect us 100 per cent so when we’re loading and unloading things don’t get wet," McGuckin says.

"That really has been a massive game changer for us to be able to ensure that anything being unloaded and loaded is being protected, and all of our trucks have got curtains.

"We also have to be careful how we pack steel; we try and make sure that we eliminate any problems because it can be damaged very easily.

"We’ve tested and tried so many different ways, even to the point where we used to use steel strapping where we now use plastic strapping. That’s a safety issue for us so the boys were often getting splinters and cuts because of the steel strapping.

"Changing it to plastic eliminates that but what it also does with our actual strapping machine is it automatically detects tension so it allows us not to bend the steel when we’re strapping it down."

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ON THE FRONT LINE

Peter Ridge (pictured below) has been with QSS for 25 years as logistics manager and runs the day-to-day operations in the warehouse, managing distribution.

What he likes about the company is that it treats staff and customers like family.

"I like no secrets," Ridge says. "If I’ve done wrong I, want to be told I’ve done wrong and if I’ve done good, well, leave me alone and I’ll keep doing it. But there’s no guesswork from my part, I know exactly how I stand and that’s basically why I’ve been here for so long."

Some of the changes he’s noticed since McGuckin has come on board are procedures.

 "Everybody knows what they’re supposed to be doing," he adds. "Berry and Cecily are straight to the point but there’s a lot more explanation with Cec that goes behind it so you have a lot more clarification with her than what you did with Barry."

 In regards to customers, he’s noticed that not many buy in bulk anymore. As for the fleet, tolls and price of fuel is a standard issue but trying to find good drivers can be a challenge too.

Some of the contractors have been with the company for a long time, and with that comes the understanding of how the business works, Ridge adds.

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