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Q&A: Paul Hay

6 August 2021

Q&A: Paul Hay

Paul Hay is managing director of Trime (UK) which supplies lighting towers, dust suppression equipment and wash down bays. 

How is business at the moment? Are any markets particularly strong? 

We are very busy. We have just achieved record half year figures here in the UK, with the hire industry making up around 70% of our turnover. Our worldwide markets are also extremely buoyant, particularly in Australia, Scandinavia and in the United States. 

What’s driving demand?

The trend towards fuel-efficient lighting is growing rapidly, largely driven by demand from contractors to their hire partners for emission and noise free equipment. The rail sector and large infrastructure projects like HS2 seem to be prioritising sustainable machinery on their sites.  

How did you get into the world of lighting towers and other hire equipment? 

A strange route! Way back, I successfully completed a degree in Hotel Management at Bournemouth University which had a reputation for the high quality of its study programme. A frequent guest lecturer was Albert Roux. But like many graduates I eventually chose a different career. I started working in the frozen food industry, selling a variety of products to caterers throughout Northamptonshire. I enjoyed sales and when I spotted a vacancy for a position with a local generator manufacturer, Haverhill Generators - which was undoubtedly a step up - I applied and got it. 

What happened next?

I left four years later when I was asked to set up a telesales team for GenSet, who were opening a depot in Peterborough. GenSet was a very progressive company. They soon saw a market for site lighting equipment and consequently they formed their TowerLight division. I was elevated to the position of Lighting Tower Product Champion. TowerLight became a standalone company which was subsequently sold to the US giant, Generac. For a few years I managed the Generac Mobile Products Company in the UK. I then took a short break from the industry before forming Trime UK Ltd, alongside CEO Ray Caulfield, to market the Italian-made Trime products in the UK and Ireland.

What is the biggest challenge facing the industry? 

Managing the supply chain. Recently, we have experienced some big increases in the cost of transport and raw materials like steel, and components. Lead times are also widening. However, we are very fortunate that the Trime Group has a global reach when it comes to procurement. This means our very talented and experienced buying teams can successfully manage the procurement system, and help to ensure smooth production with ‘on-time’ delivery wherever possible.

And what’s the biggest opportunity? 

There is no doubt that ‘eco’ equipment will dominate the construction markets in the coming years. With battery and solar technology moving along at a rapid pace, this has allowed us to begin marketing our T-Zero Pro range of machinery. We are committed to only supplying emission-free lighting towers by 2025. 

Is the hire market proving receptive to this technological shift? 

Yes and it’s driven by their customers. Buyers are realising that many products aren’t just commodity items any more. They recognise that eco-friendly equipment reduces their carbon footprint, addresses others issues like noise, and lowers fuel and running costs. 

What’s the most unusual or challenging customer request you’ve ever received?

Just recently, the Highland and Islands Airports Company approached us to supply emission-free lighting sets for their eleven airports. They also needed lighting for their Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) at Kirkwall Airport in the Orkney Islands. Interestingly, their SATE project will create the UK’s first operationally-based, low-carbon aviation test centre. 

How were you involved? 

We supplied them with our X-Eco Battery sets. These are entirely emission-free and will operate completely silently, via a bank of eight industrial AGM (absorbent glass mat) batteries. They are already in use right across the Highlands and Islands airports.

Who or what inspires you? 

I have had the privilege to encounter many inspirational figures throughout my career in the companies I have worked for and in many of the firms I have supplied equipment to. The two people to whom I owe a lot for helping me to develop my career are Josh Llewellyn and his founding GenSet partner Jeff Davies. They both gave me the opportunities to progress within the industry. Josh’s management style suited young Paul Hay. He empowered all those around him to think for themselves, to go and seize opportunities and to be innovative. Josh’s enthusiasm for the industry rubbed off on everyone around him, and his ebullience remains undiminished to this very day.

What annoys/frustrates you? 

Negativity. A ‘no-can-do’ attitude stifles innovation and creative thinking. This Churchill quote sums up my thoughts: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity: an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

What was your favourite school subject?

I was a student (or ‘pupil’ in those days) at Kettering Boys Grammar School. Inspired by our physics teacher, a group of us set up The Kettering Grammar School Satellite Tracking Group. We succeeded in detecting signals from the Soviet Union's Korabl-1 (Spaceship 1), known then in the West as Sputnik 4. The satellite was the first test mission for the spacecraft that was to become central to the Vostok programme, eventually carrying the first human into orbit. This led me to foster a keen interest in all things ‘space-wise’. The Group was once featured on TV. We even had Russian on our language curriculum, although I never managed to grasp the nuances of the language!

If things had been different, what other career might you have chosen?

I have always been a ‘people’ person. So, with my hotel management degree background, I would probably by now be managing The Dorchester or The Savoy! But equally, the hire industry is a people industry, so I’m sure I made the right choice.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given, or that you would pass on to others?

Empower your teams. Let them learn from their mistakes and enjoy their successes. Although I’m not a great golfing aficionado, this Gary Player quote resonates: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

Tell me a surprising fact about yourself or your business.

I have a close Scottish heritage. My roots are in the Aberdeen area, and there is even a Clan Hay tartan (see below). This is probably why Ray and I have always got on so well.

Do you follow a particular sport and/or team? 

I am an active member of the Kettering Squash Club. I play at least once a week. I love it. 

What are your tastes in music? 

I’m keen on Italian opera and in particular Puccini. But when the Chianti is flowing, I’ll dance to most types of music!

What new skill would you like to learn?

With apparent Chinese world domination looming, perhaps we should all learn to speak Mandarin. 

On what topic could you give a 30-minute presentation with no preparation? 

A journey through the French wine regions from Alsace to Burgundy. I’m really into wine, from my hotel management degree days. Also, at GenSet, Josh and Jeff were ahead of their time in adopting Investors in People and encouraging staff development. They once paid for me to do a week’s wine-tasting course to further my personal interest. 

What’s the secret of success? 

Simple really: work hard. But perpetually keep an open mind, embrace new ideas and always listen to your customers – they know best.

Finally, is there anything you would like to add about the business, the current trading outlook or future plans? 

The Trime Group is very excited about our Goal 2025 T-Zero Pro project. As I said, we are committed to only manufacture and supply zero-emission machinery from 2025. We are well on our way to completing our goal.

Picture below: Clan Hay tartan - Delehaye/Wikimedia Commons 

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Q&A: Paul Hay

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