Spotlight on Team Rhino: Stewart Handler

March 03 2021

Rhino Doors has been a leading provider of high-performance engineered doors for critical national infrastructure, defence, transport and energy industries for over 25-years. In this edition of Spotlight on Team Rhino we speak to Stewart Handler, Rhino’s Finance Director, and delve into the financial aspects of Rhino’s success since joining the team 16 months ago.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your professional background.

My career started over 20 years ago in finance, as a Chartered Management Accountant and I have many years of experience as a Finance Director. But to get here, I took an unusual route. After leaving school at 16, I began working as an apprentice telephone engineer for Post Office Telecommunications. Once I had gained all of my technical qualifications, I began studying for an HNC before completing a degree in Business Studies at night school whilst working and supporting my young family. My path then changed and I embarked on the journey to accountancy through CIMA, while working with the Co-Operative Wholesale Society, as part of their internal audit department. My background has been varied and I have worked in a variety of businesses, from PR and construction to advanced manufacturing.

How far has Rhino grown over the past few years?

I have only been working with Rhino since October 2019, but in that short period of time I have seen significant change. You would expect me to focus on the financial growth and that has been excellent, with 35 percent growth in turnover since I started, but it is the growth of the business as a whole, which is the most impressive.

A comparison between the business now and, for example, three years ago shows a significant improvement in every area. We have a strong executive, but that is now supported by a team of managers that has been strengthened through recruitment and development. We now have better systems in place, not just from a financial perspective, but also operationally, with much improved work practices.

From a financial perspective, how has COVID-19 impacted your work?

COVID-19 has had minimal impact upon my day-to-day activities. We are all now used to video conferencing via various platforms and I am very fortunate to have an excellent home office arrangement.

Our systems have allowed everyone to access information from anywhere, so in that sense, working from home has not been a handicap. However, what has been hard is the absence of face-to-face communication – whether it’s office banter or giving support to colleagues, it’s hard whether they are just 2 miles or over 200 miles away.

April 2020 was a tough month for everyone – what had promised to be a great start to our new financial year, was turned on its head due to closing the factory. We had entered the new year with a record order book, but as all of our installation sites were closing, we were left with no option but to shut down. With this in mind we utilised the Government schemes available and as a board we took the decision that everyone should receive full pay, because we had the financial strength to allow that.

Thankfully we were able to re-open the factory on May 4th 2020 under Covid Secure conditions and we haven’t looked back since! The past 12-months has been a real team effort and to increase output and we even introduced a night shift in the factory. We have produced our accounts on time, with improved analysis and also paid our suppliers on time. Financially, we have never looked stronger!

Do you believe that Rhino Doors are financially prepared for any future challenges, such as another global pandemic or Brexit?

I would have to say yes, but I think it would be hard for anyone to say they are ready for another global pandemic. Prior to re-opening the factory in May, we introduced safe working practices in line with the Covid Secure framework, but another pandemic may place different pressures upon us. What I am confident about, is our ability as a company to rise to the challenge that any future pandemic may place upon us. We have had to cope with different Government restrictions according to where we were working. Our manufacturing facility is in South Wales, we have an office in North West England and many of our installations are in Scotland, so we have had to adapt to the local restrictions appropriately, but our flexibility has allowed us to manage the situation.

Financially, we are stronger now than we were at the start of the outbreak – in fact, we are stronger than we have ever been and should give us comfort whatever the future brings.

However, Brexit is rather different – we have very little direct trade with Europe and as such are not faced with the challenges that many businesses are currently concerned with. On the contrary, we take pride in the number of businesses that we deal with in South Wales, keeping it local is important to us and we are proud to support British manufacturing as a whole.

Has the development of bespoke products boosted financial growth within the company? If so, how?

All of Rhino’s products are bespoke, to some degree – no two projects produce an identical door and as such, we devote a huge amount of time to research and development to ensure that we manufacture the right product for each application.

Whilst a lot of our manufacturing activity falls within the CPNI category, a significant amount of production is for bespoke doors, for major projects ranging from applications within the defence sector to the London underground. These present a different set of challenges from a design perspective as each application is unique and so we have to start with a blank sheet of paper each time.

Developing bespoke doors has had an impact on the financial growth of Rhino Doors as it has opened up a market that previously, we had not considered within our scope. This is all part of the strategy developed by the executive, as expansion into new markets is essential to achieve the growth we have targeted.

Has Rhino Doors recent export activity presented any financial challenges?

The greatest financial challenge for a business is not only managing the working capital but also ensuring that we have sufficient resources when demand is at its peak – this becomes a balancing act.

The export challenges have been more logistical and operational than financial – in all cases we have invoiced in Sterling rather than the local currency, so that has removed the exchange rate risk. The greatest difficulty is when payment doesn’t arrive when promised, as it has an impact upon that balancing act and then trying to follow that up, when the customer is on the other side of the world. Because the contracts are high value, there has been additional strain placed upon the cash flow – but this is nothing that we couldn’t manage!

How do you feel Rhino Doors has performed over the past year, compared to other manufacturers?

At Rhino we don’t measure against other manufacturers, only against the budgets and forecasts that we have set for ourselves. To try and measure our performance against other businesses can be both difficult and misleading as they may have been operating in very different circumstances to us. We have however performed well against our own budget and are ahead in terms of turnover and profitability – a tribute to how hard everyone has worked in these very trying circumstances.

You are relatively new to the Rhino senior management team, so what are the key changes you have observed in how the business and the people within Rhino have developed?

When I first joined Rhino Doors, the senior management team all made me feel very welcome and we have gelled really well. Our skillsets complement each other and I believe that we are now starting to feel the benefits of change with improved reporting and communication.

The improved reporting has aided our decision-making processes and because of our flat structure, we can move quickly with the confidence that we have the right information and resources behind us.

We have also recruited key personnel into our management structure, so there has been a real improvement in the team behind the Directors. However, it has not all been about recruitment – we have developed the staff and promoted from within, recognising the talent that we already have and rewarding them appropriately. We are now shaping the team to take advantage of the opportunities that are just over the horizon, creating an agility within management that will enable us to maximise those opportunities.

What does the future look like for Rhino Doors?

The future looks very good! We have a strong order book, a great workforce and excellent leadership that will enable us to take advantage of the opportunities that 2021 holds. We are developing new products that will produce a step change in our business – it’s a very exciting time to be part of Rhino Doors!

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