MKM Branch Director Billie Hardy: Leading by example

MKM Branch Director Billie Hardy: Leading by example

As a woman that has risen to the top in a predominately male-dominated sector Billie Hardy, Branch Director of MKM Building Supplies’ Morpeth branch, explains how she has witnessed first-hand the ways in which the attitudes and perceptions towards women in construction have changed for the better over the years — and how much more diverse the industry continues to become.

Sharing her experience with PBM, Billie’s success story is one she hopes can inspire more women to think seriously about developing a career within the sector.

Q: What attracted you to the building and construction industry?

A: It’s an industry that been part of my family for many years. My Dad owns a building company — JMM Building & Civil Engineering — and there are other trades in the family too. I spent many happy Saturday mornings as a young girl going with my Dad into our local merchant whilst he picked up supplies, and pretty much grew up on building sites at the weekends so I could spend time with him.

The people side of things always stuck with me and was something I was interested in. However, my first professional job was actually in a customer services role in the finance sector, but this wasn’t for me. I was a bit lost career wise at 20 years old, but a six-month maternity contract came up in an administration role at a builders’ merchant that was closer to my home.

Q: And what happened next?

A: The maternity contract gave me a solid grounding in the merchant sector and the endless possibilities it could provide me as a career path. Working from the bottom up gave me a good understanding of the industry as a whole too, which I quickly realised was all about people. It was definitely something I wanted to pursue.

Based on my performance in that early maternity contract, I was offered a full-time job and took it.  Over the next 14 years, I’ve worked extremely hard to develop my career. I’m very ambitious, but at the heart of what makes me tick is providing exceptional customer service, delivered with a smile on my face and with a bit of banter thrown in for good measure.

This has given me the chance to develop my experience and knowledge, from working on the trade counter to sales, customer service and operational roles, culminating with the opportunity to become an assistant branch manager, which I held for a number of years.

When the opportunity to work for MKM came about, I grasped it with both hands. I knew the brand well and had a pretty good idea that this was a merchant that did things differently. Everyone I spoke to seemed so happy at MKM, and the company’s ‘customer first’ ethos sat perfectly with my own objectives and aspirations of how a business should be run.

Q: What are the best aspects of your role at MKM Morpeth?

A: It’s an extremely exciting and diverse role but, as a massive advocate of providing outstanding customer service, what MKM and I value the most is looking after all of our staff and customers and making sure they are happy. If people enjoy coming to work or coming into your branch with a smile on their face, it not only creates a fantastic environment to work in but also a positive and welcoming one for our customers to come into and feel a part of.

Sharing her experience with PBM, MKM Branch Director Billie Hardy’s success story is one she hopes can inspire more women to think seriously about developing a career within the sector.

Q: Tell us about your experiences as a woman in the building and construction sector?

A: Since I started in the industry, the sector has changed dramatically for the better — and continues to do so in a progressive way.

In the early days, if a customer saw a woman in the branch, many would question if that woman knew what they were talking about, and they’d be plenty of banter that could sometimes step over the line.  There were also instances where a customer you were dealing with would ask to speak to one of the lads instead, so they could double check the information I had given them was right. I literally heard it all!

The world we live in today, certainly within the building industry, is completely different. That’s not to say that society as a whole doesn’t still have work to do but my experience at the trade counter is only good news for how far the industry has come.

It’s a much more accepting sector of women, which I believe has happened for a number of reasons. Firstly, there’s more and more women and diversity coming into the industry that is helping to push the sector as a whole forward. We also bring a slightly different skill set, thought process and ways to approach various commercial challenges — which is helping it progress through more ideas, shared learnings and enhanced processes.

Ultimately, perceptions have definitely changed. I don’t hear what I used to many years ago; customers understand we do know what we are talking about and there’s so much more respect for women in what is still a male-dominated sector.

Q: What are the benefits you see of having a diverse team and working in a diverse business?

A: Some of the biggest challenges I faced over the years link back to perceptions and there not being many women in the industry, never mind a woman in a senior position, and some people didn’t look kindly on this.

But having diversity in the workplace is good news for any business, whatever industry you work in. It makes workplaces better, with different cultures and ideas, and it makes people feel more comfortable. You don’t have as much judgement because there are different people from all different places and backgrounds, and it can also make customers feel more welcome and at ease.

Q: Finally, what do you most like about working for MKM?

A: Having worked within the nationals for many years, there’s no doubt that MKM does things differently. The brand is extremely strong in the areas in which we operate, and we have developed an enviable reputation in the market for providing outstanding levels of customer service, in a friendly and welcoming environment.

I believe the MKM business model, which gives branch directors a stake in the business and the freedom to run their branch as they see fit, drives this. On a local level, branch directors feel empowered to make the right decisions for our customers’ needs at the coalface, but with the backing of MKM central support.

This gives each branch individuality and the competitive edge, where customers aren’t just a number. We are part of their success and much as they are ours.

Sharing her experience with PBM, MKM Branch Director Billie Hardy’s success story is one she hopes can inspire more women to think seriously about developing a career within the sector.

Sharing her experience with PBM, MKM Branch Director Billie Hardy’s success story is one she hopes can inspire more women to think seriously about developing a career within the sector.

A version of this article appeared in the April edition of PBM. Click here to read the full digital issue.


Related posts