Keira Proctor: A family business

once-upon-a-time

 

Keira Proctor spends her days in the Victorian house that’s been in her family for generations, sitting at the desk that used to be her grandfather’s, with her dog Dougal at her feet. And it’s from there, now converted to a fully functioning office which houses over half of the company’s 130 staff that she runs her award-winning and rapidly growing family business, looking to expand into new markets all over the world.

The A. Proctor Group began life manufacturing textiles and supplying flax to Scotland’s mills. Now, four generations later, it is a specialist manufacturer and supplier of innovative breathable membranes and vapour control layers to the construction industry. They also supply specialist insulation products into oil and gas, rail and automotive industries.

Much of the success and expansion of the past few years has been driven by exporting. Keira said: “What we find works extremely well is to focus in on one particular country or market and make sure that we understand the local regulations – the local requirements.

“And once we understand that and what the customers want, that’s when we start to see success. We have customers in 19 countries and we have actually supplied projects in 22 in 2015 alone.

“Probably one of the most challenging things is actually finding the decision makers in these markets and what Scottish Enterprise has done is put us in touch with people who know people.”

Getting to know decision makers and finding out, through them, what the market wants has been the key to the company’s international growth. Once the need is identified, by listening to customers – and to staff that deal with customers – innovation is often necessary to create a product that meets the need.

Under Keira’s direction, A. Proctor Group has evolved its products to meet demand in new markets. The company is committed to this process through extensive research and development at their headquarters in scenic Perthshire.

Based in Blairgowrie may seem, on the face of it, remote from the global markets Keira and her team are focussing on. And, while travel is essential, a rural base isn’t a disadvantage.

“There’re much cleverer ways to export now,” she said. “It’s very important to be committed to exporting and to show your potential partners that you are happy to be ‘in country’ and supporting that relationship. Once that relationship is in place it’s easy to facilitate over the internet by way of email, Skype calling, and so on”.

And finding clever ways of showing commitment to global markets reflects the spirit of solving problems that infuses the whole business and the people within it.

Keira’s grandfather Alistair and his brother Herbert entered the construction market in the 1960s, quickly establishing strategic partnerships across Scotland. Then, when her father Allan joined the business in 1982, he diversified the product range to produce a system solution for the construction industry. He went on to develop class-leading products for A. Proctor Group’s customers and pushed into export markets.

“With his army background, he was a strong leader” said Keira. “But in 2012, due to illness, dad asked me to take the reins earlier than anticipated and I had to climb a steep learning curve with the support of the existing Board of Directors.

“I, like dad, have grown the business further, expanding into several new sectors such as rail, automotive and oil and gas. I’m proud to be continuing this legacy.” But she added: “I couldn’t do it without the support of my family.”

Earlier this year, the company was recognised by the Family Business Unit when it was the winner of the 2015 Scottish Family Business of the Year Award. “It gives all of us who contribute to the A. Proctor Group’s success a real boost as we actively seek to build and expand upon our achievements to date. I would like to thank our employees, who are our biggest asset, for their hard work and dedication to the A.Proctor Group,” said Keira.

“My father always said to me that our staff are our biggest asset and I agree with him. I’m committed to ensuring all employees are treated fairly and to encourage managers to challenge and grow their team’s capabilities.

“I’m a strong believer in a positive work environment. The combination of hard work and good fun provides a platform for employees to put forward new ideas, recommend positive changes and influence where the organisation is going. Staff are listened to and encouraged to think outside the box.

“No idea is too silly or boring to investigate, quantify and try to make work. We need new products, new ideas to push the company forward.”

A suggestion from a junior member of staff at a regular R&D meeting led to the company branching out into the rail industry with an innovative product solution, now worth more than a million pounds in the UK, with opportunities in Europe rapidly expanding.

This kind of thinking typifies the direction A. Proctor Group is heading in. Under Keira’s leadership, it is committed to customer-led innovation and establishing effective partnerships. They plan to continue to develop new products with value-added solutions for use all over the world.

She said: “Our technical expertise in areas such as breathable membranes, acoustics and thermal insulation has placed us in a market-leading position across many of our divisions. “We benchmark and evaluate what we do not have, to constantly improve our competitive edge in the marketplace and strive to meet our customers’ expectations.”