Feature: Women in Rental

By Steve Ducker24 March 2015

Marzia Giusto, director general of Nacanco

Marzia Giusto, director general of Nacanco

The global rental industry is a dynamic and fast-paced market, populated by hard working and highly skilled men and women from all walks of life. However, as with the construction and engineering sector in general, the perception can be that it is something of a male-dominated industry.

But this is changing, according to research from the UK at least, where recruiter Randstad CPE said women were expected to make up 26% of the UK’s construction workforce by 2020, and are increasingly taking up senior roles.

The European Commission has also published a study on statistical data on women entrepreneurs in Europe, which showed that women entrepreneurs constitute 29% of entrepreneurs (11.6 million) in Europe

IRN caught up with women in senior positions in the global rental and equipment manufacturing industries to find out how they got to be where they are, what they enjoyed the most about their work, and what their forecasts were for their part of the industry this year.

Marzia Giusto, director general, Nacanco

Ms Giusto, a member of the family that has owned powered access equipment rental company Nacanco since it was founded in Spain in 1982, is the director general of Nacanco SpA in Italy, where the aerial platform rental company made its debut in 2001.

“I began in the financial department, and as the company matured and its structure changed, I moved up through the ranks. From 2001 to 2009 we grew very quickly and decided to put a more professional management structure in place. I started taking care of Nacanco Italy in 2007," she said.

“The rental business always changing, and you have to solve a lot of problems. Here in Italy we are focussing on our everyday operations, we need more analysis and statistics; we want to look deeper into each operation. Margins are very hard at the moment so we want to improve efficiency.

“I had the opportunity to join this industry through the family business, but I don’t think it makes a difference if you are a man or a woman in this business; the principle is that you have to know your market very well – you have to look deep.

“My feeling is that this year will be flat year for the Italian rental industry. We saw decreases from 2009 to 2014, and will try to recover what we lost. I think the market will probably be better in 2016 – it might be better at least. We are focussing on our approach to the market, with much more attention on the customer. We are also branching out beyond core construction to other markets such as the events and industrial sectors.”

Teresa Kee, director environmental health & safety, NES Rentals

US-based NES Rentals offers a range of equipment for rent from boom and scissor lifts to forklifts, earthmoving machines and on-site equipment such as generators and pumps.

“Before I joined NES, I was working at Sears in the corporate offices, managing all the environmental due diligence, and I put a feeler out with some contacts at the time that Sears was merging and I came across NES rentals. I knew nothing about the aerial work platform (AWP) – moving industry afforded me the opportunity to learn more about health and safety.

“I think the rental industry is consistent with the construction industry overall, it’s a male-dominated industry as a whole. We’re trying to improve this at NES. I belong to the National Association of Women in Construction, which had its national conference in September, and we gave the AWP managers’ course at that event. It’s a great network and support group.

“To get into the rental business you need a willingness to learn. It is a somewhat a specialised industry, and I’m no means a mechanic or a driver – so I would recommend to anyone joining the industry to definitely go through operator training, ride along with the driver, shadow a mechanic, these are the best ways to fully understand what it’s like at a branch level.

“This industry can be kind rough and rugged, so it is important that you can get your point across in a calm fashion. Also I would say that having to know a little about a lot of things is probably the biggest challenge of my job.

Ms Kee said the company was expecting a good year in 2015, with an increase over 2014 which itself was a positive trading year. She also forecast that the issue of health and safety would continue to grow on the industry agenda.

“We saw lots of developments in 2013/14 across the industry, including our partnering with IPAF for E-learning. When you start having some of the main players in the industry raising that bar, the industry is going to start expecting it. Quality training programmes are becoming hugely important for our industry.”

Nina Aasland, CEO, Naboen

Norway-based Naboen rents a wide range of equipment from aerial platforms and other access machines to earthmovers, heating and dehumidification as well as garden tools. Ms Aasland founded Naboen in 1996 together with her husband, having both come from companies in the oil industry.

“We had just sold a company in the oil industry and were ready to invest in a new business, we saw there was a great potential for a rental business in Norway,” she said.

“It was a tough start but we now have a NOK160 million (€18.5 million) turnover and employ 55 people. I love my job, the most important factor is the people that work with me, and that is why I started a training and business development programme in 2010 – we train to make each other better, by communicating properly, fostering a good team spirit and good co-operation - the concept is to be a good neighbour to one another. Naboen means ‘neighbour’ in Norwegian.

“The challenging thing about this industry is simply that here are no shortcuts to success, it’s only hard work. The training that I introduced for employees is both a challenge and a good thing, for instance. Our mission is to be the best neighbour in Norway – we made a five-year plan with eight goals to reach within that time frame, with 2015 being the last year. They included establishing two new outlets in Oslo and Haugesund, and boosting our annual turnover to NOK60 million (€6.9 million).

“We have actually achieved all eight of our goals from the five-year plan already. In fact, we actually expect to see turnover increase to NOK225 million (€26 million) this year, mostly fuelled by our new presence in Oslo – this is a big generalist rental service right in the capital, so we are expecting to see growth as a result. We haven't had a presence in the capital yet, so I would say organic growth features in our future from this new development.

“I don’t think the rental industry has an image problem when it comes to attracting women to senior roles in Norway, but there are few women in senior roles in the international side of the business.

“I have to say that I've been in the rental industry for almost 20 years, and have been quite lonely as a woman. I don’t think recruitment in general is a problem – the industry needs to hire more women into senior roles, it is as simple as that. I don’t think recruitment in general is a problem.

“I would warn any newcomers - male or female - that the rental industry is a very young, expensive and exciting industry to work in. We need an innovative and skilled workforce to meet the future needs of the rental market.”

Gill Riley, founder/managing director, GGR Group

UK-based GGR Group specialises in the rental of glass vacuum lifters and mini cranes, together with pick and carry cranes, access platforms and other smaller equipment.

“The company has been going 20 years this year,” Ms Riley said. “My brother and I set up the company after we went to an exhibition, found some vacuum lifting equipment and started renting them out to the glassing market.

“Then we saw a mini crane at an exhibition, and after that we started importing mini cranes, pick and carry cranes and other equipment. We now import equipment from all over the world, directly employ over 100 people, with around 160 direct and indirect employees altogether. Our turnover for 2014 was just under £20 million (€26 million) – compare that to our initial investment of £5000 (€6596) and you see how far the business has come. I see 2015 being our best year ever, with more growth in 2016 as well.

"I like the people in our industry and I like the industry itself - it is very interesting; there is always something new going on. We are lucky to have some great people working with us - they are friends really, it’s a nice company. We’ve also got a great relationship with lots of our customers, a lot of them are friends and we’ve been friends with them for years.

“We are specialists, and we are very good at what we do and have an excellent reputation. Health and safety is very important to us, and you’ll find it’s not quite the same with a lesser competitor.

“I don’t think when girls go to university they think ‘Oh I might go into construction or plant equipment’. There are lots of families in this business, especially the crane side of things. The father would have started it, then the sons become involved, and a lot of the women go into accounts.

“I’ve not actually come across too many women myself in plant and construction. I’m proud to say that I have the first female mini crane operator, and she’s good – she’s really good.

“Getting ahead in this industry is about hard work and believing in yourself. Health and safety is also so important, I cannot stress that enough. So many people ignore it - they focus on undercutting people and trying to cut corners and it’s disgraceful.”

Yvette Henshall-Bell, managing director global backhoe loader sales, JCB

UK-headquartered manufacturer JCB is a global supplier of construction equipment. Ms Henshall-Bell said she began as a chemical engineer, and after working in that industry for about 10 years, principally designing process plant for refineries and petro chemical plants, she got into the sales and marketing side of the business.

“It was that change of direction that led me to apply for a job at JCB in 2001,” she said. “At the start of the recession in 2008 I took on the role of director of sales for UK and Ireland, working with our dealers to sell equipment to all the major rental companies. I took up my current role in 2013.

“I’m dealing with the iconic JCB backhoe loader. It’s true to say that many rental companies have moved away from backhoe loaders but I’m confident that that tide will turn with the exciting new products we’re planning for the future.

“These will be even more versatile and will carry out more applications, with one machine doing the job of two or maybe more. This will add value not only to the customer who hires the backhoe, but also give income generation opportunities through attachment rental.

“There are lots of opportunities for men and women in this industry and it’s not about the gender; it’s about the attitude and approach to the industry. In my experience there are more women in the hire business than in the general contracting sector but there is always extra that can be done to encourage more to join.”

Ms Henshall-Bell said she would encourage anyone joining the rental industry to work with manufacturers. “Tell us about your challenges and we can work with you to help you evolve machines that can make you more successful.

“The UK rental market is buoyant because there are plenty of new construction projects underway. Internationally, rental hasn’t traditionally been as big a proportion of the market but I see that changing and growing.

“There are rental companies operating over a number of countries and that requires co-ordination in the approach that manufacturers have to those rental companies. These are exciting times and as always JCB will work with the rental companies to develop unique and innovative products to make us all successful.”

Paula Manning, vice president and general manager, Century Elevators

US-based Century Elevators is a full-service industrial elevator manufacturer offering a wide range of equipment for sale and rent from rack and pinion elevators to construction hoists, transport platforms and material lifts.

“I’ve been in this business now since 1997,” Ms Manning said, “And every day is different – I perform project management for engineering and sales as well as PR, and representing the company on influential standards development committees.

“I am also on the executive committee and am and president-elect for the Scaffold and Access Industry Association – I will become its first female president in 2016.

“I can’t be sitting still, but I find the sheer volume of work a challenge sometime. In 2013, for instance, our company grew over 300% – we had to work out how to maintain the company, to plan for parts and stock. We learnt a lot. We have more than 50 individual hoists and platforms in our fleet and have 39 permanent employees as well as multiple contract employees day-to-day.

“These days I meet more women in positions of power than earlier in my career. I would say the single quickest path to success for any individual, male or female, is knowledge – know your product, know your customer etc. Many of our customers and vendors have also become personal friends.

“2013 was an absolute anomaly for us – it just so happened that everything fell in that year, so we don’t use it as a baseline at all. Looking at 2014, it was slower controlled growth in comparison, but it was still a very strong year – we saw growth in our rental market greater than our sales market, actually we doubled our rentals in 2014.

“Half of our business is focussed in the West Coast area, where we are seeing massive growth in the petrochemical industry, as well as significant growth in commercial construction. I believe we will grow our fleet between 20% and 25% in unit terms this year.”

Patty Coleman, director of fleet, Sunstate Equipment

Sunstate is a US-based equipment rental company offering a diverse fleet including aerial equipment to compressors and tools, compaction equipment, trucks and trailers, earthmoving machines, generators and lighting.

Ms Coleman said she was first introduced to the equipment business through her high school’s job training programme, which saw her work part-time for a tyre business until she graduated, when she continued to work for the company.

“I ended up asking lots of questions – getting involved with the dispatch and service structure, and learning more about the business. I became assistant manager in a few years, and Sunstate equipment was our number one account so I also got the opportunity to meet and work with lots of people from Sunstate and to get to know the company.

“I had a lot of respect for Sunstate and how it was run, so after I had my family I eventually got an office assistant position at Sunstate in 1990, and just had this thirst to understand why we do things the way we do. I was never happy with the status quo.

“Now I’m celebrating 25 years at Sunstate – I’m in charge of a numbered fleet of around 60000 machines, worth US$1 billion (€875 million).

“Women are very scarce in our industry, rarely do I encounter women in my day-to-day activity at a senior level. Construction in itself is not an industry that typically attracts a lot of women, unless they’ve grown up in it.

“My belief is that you are always training your replacement, and should always have a succession plan in place. I see with some new people that they just get it – you see that spark in their eye, you see that they are wanting to learn in an ever-changing environment. And that’s exactly the kind of person I want to mentor.

“I would also say that going back to the high schools, the technical schools, the community colleges is also a way to find new people, male or female.”

Ms Coleman said Sunstate was bullish on market prospects this year. “After four good years of substantial growth, we are expecting another good year in 2015. We have diversified out customer base over last four years so that we are not as reliant on construction – we branched out into refineries, events etc. We feel pretty confident.”

This is a feature from the March issue of IRN. For the full feature, or to read other features from the issue, please subscribe to the magazine: http://www.khl.com/subscriptions

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