Spotlight on Team Rhino: Jan McPherson

November 26 2020

For over a quarter of a century, Rhino Doors has been one of the UK’s leading providers of bespoke and CPNI-rated engineered doors to the Defence, Critical National Infrastructure, Oil & Gas and Energy sectors. The key ingredients to this ongoing success have been a commitment to quality engineering, innovation and commercial acumen. In this edition of Spotlight on Rhino we take a look at the commercial and operational aspects of Rhino’s success and speak to Jan McPherson, Rhino’s Commercial Director.

Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background.

My professional background lies in banking and finance. For just over 27 years I worked for Barclays Bank, achieving my banking qualifications (ACIB) and working across a wide variety of departments and roles. My first Managerial appointment was at Barclays South Wales head office. This was an HR-focused role which enabled me to broaden my skills and experience into the personnel/people side of things in addition to finance and banking. I was subsequently asked to set-up one of two Barclays Premier Banking Centres in Wales to deliver a banking and financial planning service to high net worth clients. This was very much a relationship role which included the day to day management of a team of 10 sales managers across South West and North Wales but also led to an IFA qualification to deliver these services.

Following my time at Barclays I was approached by a consultancy firm which was managing and implementing a £15m Welsh Government High Growth programme. This was aimed at recruiting businesses with high growth potential and my role was to ensure the companies were ‘growth ready’ with the necessary plans, processes and procedures in place to facilitate the programme objectives of £1M turnover within 3 years. I was also responsible for recruiting experienced business mentors who would assist these businesses to achieve their goals. This position provided me with first-hand experience of the problems and challenges facing a fast-growing business.

From there, I went on to work with a well-established manufacturing business where I returned to an Operational/HR position. This was a new experience as it gave me exposure to the world of manufacturing and engineering. During this period, I completed a CIPD qualification and worked with the Board to introduce a suite of KPIs to track and monitor the performance of the business with the aim of improving both productivity and profitability.

Which brings me to today. The opportunity arose to join Rhino Doors and I did not hesitate to accept. This represented a fantastic opportunity to use my experience of working with SME’s that have ambitions to grow at a faster pace than the norm and to help ensure that the relevant measures were in place to help sustain Rhino’s ongoing growth.

From a commercial perspective, how has Rhino Doors developed over the past few years?

Even in the time I’ve been at Rhino Doors, it has changed considerably. Initially Rhino was essentially a “lifestyle” business focussed mainly on CPNI-rated doors. Since then, the product portfolio has grown considerably. Today, it’s possible for Rhino to create a completely bespoke, uniquely engineered door for a client on the other side of the world. That would not have been possible 10 or more years ago. Rhino has also diversified beyond doors and now offers market-leading blast walls and explosion relief panels.

Rhino has broadened the range of markets and countries in which it operates. With its roots in the protection of critical national infrastructure (e.g. defence installations, public utilities), Rhino now supports other markets such as transport, rail and oil and gas. Rhino has also ramped up its export activity, with each year seeing an increase in the number of products being made for export to projects overseas.

In line with other fast-growing companies, the business needed to change to grow. This meant new premises, new people, new business processes and a more modern, better equipped facility. Cultural change was also very important, and this has gradually developed over time allowing the business to become more professionalised in its approach. Having a broader product range, strategic partnerships and increasing exposure to related industries and customers has given us a solid platform on which we can achieve aggressive revenue growth and strong EBITDA.

Change is never easy but prior to introducing these new processes and measures, we made sure we had buy-in from the whole team at Rhino. We ran a series of town hall meetings (generally taking place every six months prior to COVID-19) to provide regular updates on the company’s performance. This has not only proved informative for staff but has encouraged them to share ideas and experiences for the benefit of the business overall. A suggestion scheme has also been implemented to encourage and reward positive behaviours particularly linked to health and safety, quality and more.

From a practical, manufacturing perspective, the new facility in Port Talbot is larger, has a better layout than the previous facility and puts us in a position to significantly increase the volume of doors that we can produce. Considerable improvements have been made over the last 12 months to maximise space, alter workflow and improve internal manufacturing practices to drive efficiencies.

As part of our strategy to further diversify our product range, we have also invested in a dedicated R&D facility situated in Lancashire. This is home to our special projects division which is working on several projects which promise major breakthroughs in fire safety, blast protection and the hydrogen economy.

So, it is safe to say Rhino Doors has developed considerably in recent years, with much more yet to come.

Rhino has demonstrated very strong growth over the past 4 years. What changes have been necessary within Rhino’s commercial department to support this?

Perhaps the most striking change has been the necessity to adapt to the NEC3 contract format which our clients increasingly use, even for modestly sized projects. NEC3 contracts have in many ways become the ‘industry standard’ contract solution as they offer end-to-end project management for the entire project lifecycle. However, for Rhino, adapting to these contracts has involved a steep learning curve as they can be resource intensive and also require specialist knowledge.

Traditionally, an order would arrive from a client with standard terms and conditions. Now, we are receiving instruction from clients via an NEC3 contract which can be up to 180 pages. In order to manage these new forms of contracts we have had to implement an extensive QS process, as well as drawing upon external support to ensure we have captured all relevant key data before we agree a contract. Given the high value and specialised nature of our work here at Rhino, we have to pay particular attention to any specific clauses in contracts which could have a significant impact financially or reputationally on the business.

With Rhino continuing to grow, we are seeing a larger volume of tender reviews. As a result, a robust tender review process has been implemented to determine whether or not to proceed with a bid. We have also aligned our tender review process much more closely with our production capability so that we ensure the production facility has the right capacity at the right time to meet the demands of the tender.

I recognise that as Rhino continues to grow, we will face further commercial challenges, however we have the will to succeed and will change and adapt to meet the demands of our customers.

How has Rhino Doors responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?

As a manufacturing business, COVID-19 has had a tangible impact on the day to day running of our business and we have had to adapt quickly. My primary focus has been the wellbeing of our employees from our operational staff in our Port Talbot factory to our installation teams that travel the UK. For that reason, we made the decision to close the factory in Port Talbot during April 2020 in order to allay fears that existed at the height of the pandemic and also to prevent a problem storing completed doors that could not be installed due to client site shutdowns. During May 2020 it was agreed that we would transition staff back to work but not before carrying out a full risk assessment of the facility and instigating appropriate protection and social distancing measures throughout. We brought staff in on a staggered basis to review the safety measures we had put in place and made sure they were comfortable with the changes before returning to work. We also obtained the ‘COVID-19 Secure’ compliance demonstrating to our staff, customers and suppliers that we’ve taken all appropriate measures to stop the spread of the virus and keep everyone safe and well.

Our installation teams travel extensively, so we’ve had to ensure they are aware of and adhering to the different regulations in England, Wales and Scotland. The teams now all travel separately to the installation site and we arrange accommodation that is COVID-19 secure. During the height of the pandemic in March, April and May 2020 we found it very difficult to book accommodation as hotels were (quite rightly) reserved for the use of key workers.

This meant that we needed to instigate change in the way we priced projects, factoring in the additional expenses associated with separate travel and often site-specific PPE.

Many of our back-office staff continued to work from home and this worked well. It was surprising how quickly everyone adapted to the new way of working and in many instances, collaboration between departments was enhanced due to regular video calls.

Is Rhino prepared for future operational challenges such as pandemics, trade restrictions, supply chain changes?

Yes, we have a business continuity plan in place and have learnt an enormous amount from the current pandemic which means we will be able to adapt more quickly should the situation continue or something similar occur. The health and safety of our staff has always been our highest priority, but since the pandemic we are looking to entrench new ways of working that will maintain safety. For example, we’re currently introducing blended working so that non-factory staff can choose to work from home on a part-time basis.

We are also forward-planning; particularly with regards to Brexit should this lead to any disruptions in our supply chains.

At Rhino our export activity has increased considerably in recent years with our products being shipped to countries across the world such as Australia, China and Qatar. We are looking to continue this export activity and as such have established a series of Partnering Agreements and other collaborative ventures that mean we will be able to access overseas markets even if the eventual Brexit deal proves to be sub-optimal.

Our UK supply chain has also been expanded so that we will have less reliance on imported materials and parts. Hopefully this will make us more resilient should the UK face any trade restrictions in the near future.

As you mentioned, in recent years Rhino has stepped up its export activity. What challenges does this present?

From a commercial perspective, export activity involves a whole different set of regulations, rules and expectations than we would normally face with domestic trade. Our commercial team have adapted accordingly, and we’ve developed a much better understanding of the paperwork and documentation required for each export job. We’ve also had excellent support in this regard from the South Wales Chamber of Commerce who’ve been on hand to help answer any queries we may have.

We’ve also received the Made in Britain mark, which will help us to market our products to international buyers and investors. The Made in Britain mark is a really useful marketing tool and allows specifiers, architects and civil engineers overseas to quickly identify high quality products that, as the name of the accreditation makes clear, are Made in Britain.

Looking ahead, we expect export activity to slow down; largely because of the global COVID-19 induced economic slowdown. On the other hand, we expect our domestic sales to increase proportionally, particularly since the Government’s Build Back Better infrastructure programme will see lots of projects starting up over the next few years.

So, we’re positive about the future and our export activity will play a strong part in this outlook.

What does the future hold commercially for Rhino Doors?

We are very much looking to set up more Partnering Agreements both here in the UK and in target markets overseas. Establishing these agreements and design sharing arrangements will make Rhino increasingly resilient, so no matter what crops up in the years ahead, we will still be in a position to deliver our market-leading doors and explosion relief systems.

Our significant investment in R&D is also starting to pay off as we are getting closer to bringing some really industry-changing products to market. One of which is a fire door which promises to bring about fundamental changes to fire safety. The other could play a significant role in commercialising hydrogen as a mass-market consumer transport fuel.

Once these become commercially scalable, I think we will see another significant period of growth for Rhino.

We’re also looking at training partners to service and maintain our doors once they been installed as part of a nationwide after-sales support package for our clients.

In all, the future is looking bright for Rhino Doors; a future in which we will be the most innovative and forward thinking engineered door manufacturer.

What sets Rhino Doors apart from other engineered door companies?

I would say it is Rhino’s ability to provide a truly bespoke service that sets us apart. We are able to work with a client right from a blank sheet of paper all the way through to manufacture and installation. We are also adept at working with specifiers to take into account the whole civil engineering envelope, offering advice and guidance as to how the portal/entry solution will interact with every other element of the construction project.

As you will see from the case studies on this website, we have significant experience of providing solutions for the most challenging of situations and regularly receive referrals from satisfied clients.

I believe that our business is extending the boundaries of engineered doors in a way that no other company has achieved. We have invested a significant amount in R&D and our research team in Lancashire is developing portal and entry solutions and blast protection solutions which will really shake up the market for engineered doors.

We are on a journey unlike any other manufacturer of engineered doors.

Look out for the next article in our Spotlight on Team Rhino series, which will feature our Finance Director, Stewart Handler.   

Want to find out how Rhino Doors can help your project? Contact us today.

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