We interview Jess Penny, General Manager of Sales at The Penny Hydraulics Group, who tells us about her experiences as a woman in industry.

What is your job title, and how long have you worked in the industry?
I’m the General Manager of Sales at The Penny Hydraulics Group. I oversee our internal sales team based at our premises in Clowne, Chesterfield and manage all Penny Hydraulics marketing activities.
After getting my degree in PR and Marketing, I worked at a small up-and-coming web agency in Sheffield. I started as a Project Assistant and worked my way up to Project Manager and then Senior Project Manager within two-and-a-half years. I then transitioned in to my current role in the family company, which I’ve now held for four-and-a-half years.

What inspired you to join the family business?
I never planned on joining the family business, but in sales and marketing, you have a clear idea of what you bring to a business in financial terms. It got to the stage where I was working very hard and bringing a lot of business to the agency I was working for. In short, I wondered why I was making other people lots of money when we have a business of our own that I could contribute to? I decided that it would be a sensible move to let myself and my family reap the benefits of my work rather than someone else. I was also hungry for progression and it reached a point where I was told there was no further progression within the agency unless someone else left, and I was looking for more.

I am of the opinion that sales and marketing offer transferable skills that can easily be applied to different industries, so I knew I could do a good job and really bring something to the family business. Working in a web agency, I spent all day working on our client’s websites and implementing online marketing campaigns, which meant that I was now experienced in all the latest digital developments and techniques that I could apply to Penny Hydraulics.

At the time, internet marketing was a relatively new concept and marketing professionals were just starting to get a feel for it, so there was a general lack of understanding around it.Penny Hydraulics had websites, but I could see there was a lot more we could do with them to explore opportunities that could increase the company’s online presence and therefore sales.

What interests you most about the industry?
To be honest, I had very little interest in mechanical handling equipment until I started working for the company. This itself was part of the challenge — I knew I already had the necessary skills to do a good job, I now just needed to up my knowledge on our products and gain practical experience in the industry so I could get a clear understanding of our target markets and fully understand our product ranges. I gained some practical experience by working in the factory, which definitely helped, and the month after I started it was our big trade show where we exhibit at the NEC. To prepare for this, I had to learn all the products and their applications, and this was also an excellent opportunity to really get to know our customer base.

Since I’m now so immersed in our industry, I have naturally developed a keen interest in the legislation surrounding it, our competition, and the industry trends and news. This information all helps me do the best possible job of our sales and marketing. Now, if I see a vehicle-mounted crane on the motorway, I look at the finish of the product, the labelling, how neat the installation has been, how compact it is, and how much it will lift — all in comparison to our products.

Do you have any specific experiences/ opinions about being a woman in a male dominated industry?
At university there wasn’t a single male on my degree course, which is quite the contrast to the world of machinery, trucks and industrial plant equipment, which is very much still a male dominated industry. There are times when I feel certain aspects and practices within our industry are really dated, such as the ‘naked lady calendars’ all over the workshop walls, the strippers touting for business at trade shows, and when‘entertaining customers’means taking them to a strip joint for the evening. Fortunately, these sorts of things are becoming quickly outdated, and being a family business, this is never been something that Penny Hydraulics has been about anyway. I can honestly never say that being female has ever held me back in this industry. For the vast majority of our meetings, I am the only female, but this just seems normal now.

At middle management level or higher within our company, there is one other female who is also at General Manager level. Jocelyn is a highly talented engineer with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. I look forward to the day when we are both sat around the board room table, but this is based on the skills and experience we will bring at board level and nothing to do with our gender.

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