Always Choose the Challenge

23rd April 2021

Cumbrian Entrepreneur Lynne Mallinson Discusses Her Role as a Non-Executive Director of H&H Group Plc 

Lynne Mallinson has been a Non-Executive Director for H&H Group for almost two years now and has influenced a great deal across the firm in this time. Here Lynne considers her career and the opportunities she has taken in light of the IWD theme for 2021, “Choose to Challenge,” and shares some words of wisdom to all across the industry.

H&H Group plc is one of Cumbria’s most progressive companies, with its Head Office based at Borderway in Carlisle. Founded over 140 years ago, originally as farmstock auctioneers, today, the Group operates as a holding company, for Harrison & Hetherington Auction Marts and seven successful operating companies. These encompass: Livestock and Machinery Auctioneers, Estate and Land Agents, Auction Rooms, Commercial Printers, Digital Solutions, Creative Design, Chartered Surveyors and Insurance Brokers.

Each of the Groups’ Board members bring with them a breadth of specialist knowledge and individual skills, and Lynne is one of the Group’s two female Non-Executive directors. Lynne lives at Dacre, near Ullswater, and assists husband David and son Rory in the running of their 300 acre tenanted dairy and sheep farm. Lynne’s own background is in agriculture: her whole family is farm-bred and rooted in and around Cockermouth in Cumbria.

What is your background and career path?
I was brought up on a farm, with a long line of farming in my family. As such, I have very strong roots within the Agri Sector. I have always been in business in some way or another. I joined my local bank aged 16 and worked my way up to become a Bank Manager at only 22. Working for the bank gave me the foundations for understanding the financial aspects of running a business, as well as reading a set of accounts and dealing with customers. These are all key skills which I have drawn on ever since.

Eventually, I switched to running a business myself, almost purely because of my love of baking! I ran my company, Country Puddings Ltd, initially from the farmhouse kitchen which then quickly progressed to an industrial bakery on a business park. Dovetailing my experience of making food with the strategic and financial aspects of a business was my dream job.

When you start a business, you have to learn everything, and the journey from running a kitchen table business to then exporting pallets of puddings around the world certainly brought with it excitement and opportunity. I ran Country Puddings for almost two decades.

As well as the many successes, there are lots of challenges too. I believe these are integral to the profusion of knowledge you build up as you go. In life, whether it is with family or in business, there are lots of challenges to overcome, but you find ways to make things work and make progress: there are huge learning curves, but alongside you can achieve a great deal.

How did you become a Non-Executive Director for H&H Group?
I was appointed Non-Executive Director in August 2019. After a life connected to farming, I have always been very aware of H&H. I’ve been to several marts and even sold my first puddings at Borderway farmers’ markets. I have been brought up with the organisation and brand of H&H all my life, so when I was approached, I really felt that I had the tools and skills in my background – as well as the passion needed – to take up this role. My position involves futureproofing and developing the portfolio of companies within H&H Group plc.

What do you bring to your role?
As a Non-Executive Director, I believe that in order to ensure we are “Fit for the Future,” I must play a key part in both supporting and constructively challenging the Executive teams within each of the Group’s companies. Whatever the issue or opportunity is in the decision-making process, we are there to ensure that everything gets debated and suitably considered. So, my role is essentially about checking we are going in the correct direction.

Using the skills I have developed through my time at the bank, running my own business and being a parent governor of the local Grammar School, I always try to put on my opportunity hat when looking at company issues. I look for opportunities and try to assess their benefit to the business. It is a role I really do enjoy, and it is something quite different. You are not hands-on, rather one step removed, but you do still play a key part in the future direction of the company.

I have worked in local businesses as well as my own, so I have a wide perspective on business practices. I am also always very keen to see the contribution of women being encouraged in what we do, and further embedded in our practices.

Historically, agriculture has typically been a very male-dominated industry. As a result, I find it so refreshing to now see two women on the board of H&H Group, given it is an agriculture-based company. I am very much for equality and for women in business, though personally I have always tended to shy away from women-only events in business and commerce. I believe in a mixed approach to staffing and appointments, and although I of course want to encourage women to go into business, I personally believe that this should not be at the cost of business progress. We want a seat at the table, but we do not want to take it over. For me, this is all about balance.

H&H Group is a very fair employer, with equal opportunities. If, for example, you are a woman wanting to be an auctioneer, there are openings for you. There are many women working very successfully across the Group’s businesses, and many chances for more to join. There are already a number of apprentices who have worked their way up,  and are now joining the many knowledgeable and experienced women who are becoming leaders,  within their fields.

What are your duties?
As a Board, we meet around eight times a year. I am also on two sub-committees: the Audit & Risk Committee, which looks at business risks, and the H&H Land & Estates Sub-Committee. These are challenge focus groups, which report back to the full Board on relevant details and the progress being made. This is great for me, as I am a challenger. It’s one of my key strengths, and of course, importantly it is also the theme of IWD 2021 this year.

It is also a personal challenge too though. To really understand each business, you do need to do your homework – researching each one and the issues it faces from a wider industry perspective. My role has become much more in-depth, and this last year has certainly meant the Board has been much busier.

What about the future?
In recent years, huge strides have been made and things really are changing across the industry. This is because we are being forced to change our ways of working and thinking now. COVID has caused the majority of businesses to stop, at take stock, and think of recalibrating. For example, many of our livestock sales and all of our machinery sales are now successfully taking place digitally. We also know that many people can now work from home, so we are examining the continued feasibility of this, and how we can support homeworking for the whole family.

The H&H Group is a progressive people business. We are aspiring to be the employer of choice, and we are here to energise the next generation. Now more than ever we are about Farming Futures, in which everybody has a stake, so it is very much about listening too. As a Board and as a business you have to listen – to customers, employees, and the wider demands of the economy.

And finally, it is about choosing to challenge. Every single one of us has to have confidence – in ourselves and in our abilities and be ready to grasp the opportunities. I heard a quote many years ago: “She believed she could, so she did!” This has become the mantra which I have always followed. Life is too short, so please, if you are reading this and have an idea or vision, follow your dream. You can do it!

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