Inspirational Woman: Jess Penny | General Manager of Sales at Penny Hydraulics

Jess Penny is the General Manager of Sales at hydraulic lifting equipment manufacturer Penny Hydraulics.
Jess Penny

Penny Hydraulics is the UK’s leading mechanical lifting equipment manufacturer. The Derbyshire-based company, which was founded in 1978, has provided lifting equipment for a diverse range of premises, including Buckingham Palace and a Guinness brewery in Nigeria. The company is currently enjoying its most successful year to date, not least in part to Jess’ efforts as General Manager of Sales.

In this interview, we picked Jess’ brain about her career path so far and her ambitions for the future.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your current role

After graduating with a degree in PR and marketing from the University of Central Lancaster, I spent three years at a Sheffield-based web agency called Quba New Media, where I rose through the ranks to become a Senior Account Executive. I then decided to take on a new challenge as the General Manager of Sales at the family business.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I can’t say I have. When I left university, I never planned on joining the family business. However, when you work in sales and marketing, you have a very clear idea of what you bring to a business in financial terms. After a few years of working hard and making money for someone else’s business, I started to wonder why I didn’t do the same for the family firm. This coincided with the General Manager of Sales position opening up at Penny Hydraulics and the agency I was working for telling me there was no room for progression unless someone else left.

Have you faced any challenges along the way? How did you deal with them?

I’m sure it will come as a big surprise to your readers, but I had very little interest in mechanical handling equipment before I started working for the family business. One of my biggest professional challenges to date has been getting up to speed with the industry before having to represent the company less than a month later at a big trade show at the NEC.

I overcame this hurdle by working on the shop floor for a few days to get a better understanding of our products. I also spent plenty of time studying our product range, and asking our engineers to clarify anything I didn’t grasp so I could understand how our products offer an edge over the competition.

Do you have a typical workday? How do you start your day and how does it end?

As a salesperson, I spend a lot of time on the road, so I don’t really have a typical workday. When I am working from the office, I meet with my team every day for a catch-up. We discuss the projects we’re working on and all suggest ways we can improve our processes, which helps us to keep refining and improving results.

Have you ever faced sexism in the workplace? How did you deal with this?

There are certainly times when I feel like parts of our industry are outdated, such as pin-up calendars on the workshop walls, the escorts touting for business at trade shows, and “entertaining customers” by taking them to a strip club.

However, these kinds of things are quickly becoming a thing of the past. As a family business, Penny Hydraulics has never been about this kind of thing, and I can honestly say that I’ve never felt like being female has ever held me back in this industry.

How would you encourage more women and young girls into a career in STEM?

As an industry, we need to move past the image of a man in oil-stained overalls and focus on the range of diverse roles that a career in STEM can lead to. By showing females all the interesting jobs they can enjoy in the sector, the engineering and manufacturing industries are sure to become a lot more diverse — and they’ll reap the many benefits when they do.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you ever had a mentor or do you mentor anyone?

In my experience, being taken under a mentor’s wing is the fastest way to learn sales and marketing. It gives you unprecedented access to someone with a lot more experience in your field, and it’s the best way to develop a skillset you can build a career around. It’s also a shortcut to becoming empowered to make decisions in the workplace, as you’ll know that you’re basing them on the knowledge you’ve gleaned from someone a lot further down their career path than you.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

As I mentioned before, while we don’t engage in any of the sexist tendencies you’ll find in the manufacturing sector here at Penny Hydraulics, I wish the rest of the industry would follow suit. As long as this element runs through the sector, businesses will miss out on the wealth of female talent out there, and both women and the industry will be worse off.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest professional achievement to date has been helping to grow Penny Hydraulics into the UK’s biggest lifting equipment manufacturer. Along the way we’ve developed an innovative design process, expanded our facilities, and won several awards.

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Our goal is to grow revenue by at least 10% year on year, creating more and more jobs for the local community in the process.

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