From local start-up to global take-off
BELFAST BRIEFING:From her first day as a machinist, Patricia Clements wanted to take over the factory
Do you remember how you felt at the end of the first day in your first job? What you were probably not doing was working out how you might somehow, some day, be able to buy the factory that you had just started working in.
That, however, is exactly what Patricia Clements was doing at the end of her first working day, when she was just 15 years old.
She started her career as a machinist in the Forestbrook Mill in Rostrevor. Today she not only owns Forestbrook Mill but it is also the head office for her business, which exports all over the world.
It is exactly this kind of vision that explains why Clements has just won the award for outstanding businesswoman of the year in the second annual Women in Business NI awards.
Clements’s company, Bradfor, manufactures aircraft seat covers for the airline industry. If you happen to be flying first or business class with major airlines from British Airways to United Airlines, there is a strong probability that Bradfor is playing a key role in your comfort factor.
Clements set up her business 16 years ago after she saw an opportunity to work with B/E Aerospace, which manufactures a broad range of products for the commercial, business jet and military markets.
B/E Aerospace has a major facility in Kilkeel, just down the road from Rostrevor, where it manufactures and assembles business- and economy-class seating for leading airlines.
Bradfor specialises in supplying leather and cloth seat covers to B/E Aerospace plants in the North, in England and in the United States. She has developed the company from an ambitious start-up employing 12 people to being a vital part of the local economy employing nearly 100 people.
Clements looks back on her “46-year career” with more than a touch of pride but every day she walks through the door of Forestbrook Mill she is still reminded of where she started.
“I knew that I wanted to be more when I was a machinist, I always wanted to have my own business. Even when I was 15, I had ambitions. It is a bit of a joke but one of my first presents from Santa Claus was a sewing machine – which I still have today – but I always knew what I wanted to do.”
Clements took every opportunity she got to learn whether she was a machinist, a supervisor or a manager.
“I have a great sense of achievement but it hasn’t been easy. Being in business can be very lonely and very difficult, but one thing about winning the businesswoman of the year award has shown me is that you are not alone – there are other people out there doing what you are doing too.”
She has stuck rigidly to two principles throughout her career to which she attributes her success. “Always produce a good product – the very best product possible – and always deliver on time.
“There is no doubt in my mind that my very good, loyal workforce is one of the key reasons why we have succeeded and why we, as a company, have come through difficult times. There have been big challenges for the sector . . . It is very competitive and the industry has struggled in recent years. That has been a challenge for our business too, but we have kept our heads down and worked through it and that is just what you have to do.”
Clements believes that since she set up Bradfor in 1996 the trading environment has not got any easier; if anything, it is is tougher in 2012.
“We are an export company so we have to be out there selling our product, we have to go with the flow, but we have a quality niche product and that is one of our strengths. We have to be competitive but it is all about quality for us.”
For her, the real reward is being able to do something she loves. “I am Rostrevor born and bred and to be able to work in the village where I live, to create a business that employs local people and to know that the products that we produce in our small company in Northern Ireland are being endorsed by major airlines across the world is just fantastic.”