A legendary boss running a local icon

Lee Brothers Cabinets and Joinery has been a local icon in Rotorua since 1926. The boss, Paul Ingram has grown with the business starting as a young fella sweeping the floors before progressing into his joinery apprenticeship, so he knows one or two things about running a company, that makes people want to work there.

Paul IngramPeople regularly approach him for work and he has no problems retaining existing staff. “I believe it comes down to reputation, having a great company culture, a variety of work and still using traditional skills,” says Paul.

So how does Paul create a great company culture so employees look forward to coming to work every day and want to stay?

“We have a great team with a mix of ages and we take an interest in everyone. We acknowledge each other’s creativity and promote a positive attitude and we recognise the achievements of others. The company is life-friendly and has the flexibility to offer glide-time to fit family life.

“We also have an inclusive culture where everyone has the opportunity to contribute and we encourage staff to have contact with our clients. For technical jobs, they will have a site visit and meet the client then have the satisfaction of seeing the finished article," says Paul.

Lessons learned from the global financial crisis have inspired Paul to engage a business coach to assist with ideas for business planning and to shape the company into a sustainable business. Paul believes the training of apprentices is where their growth will be.

He has started an effective way of bringing young people into his business by implementing a ‘paid work experience’ for them. “ It’s a good way for young people to get an insight into the joinery trade and we get to know them too,” he explained.

Once they sign up for an apprenticeship, Paul thinks the key is to give them a variety of work.  He says, “I’d like to think they feel they are the stars! They have opportunities to take on demanding projects and are not just left to make sashes and screw together cabinet carcasses.

“A positive relationship includes communication, encouragement, keep pushing them ... throw them in the deep end and then help them out.

“We make it a requirement of their apprenticeship that they enter the MJ Apprenticeship Awards at least twice – so they are always looking out for the ‘right’ project to enter."

When asked what makes his business a successful one, Paul explained, “It is due to a mix of technology and people. We can’t ignore the technology as these days it is a big part of the industry but we still have the scope for the traditional skills and people skills. This also allows us to pick up a range of work which is not as attractive to other companies.

“Success is about having staff who genuinely want to do a good job – I can honestly say everyone out there (in the workshop) wants to do a good job.

“Although relatively new to the Joinery NAG, I value the opportunity to provide input shaping the training of our apprentices. Having had a great experience myself, I’m dedicated to providing that same opportunity for our apprentices at Lee Brothers and the wider industry.  I firmly believe that a career in trades is a viable, actual preferable, option to university education. With targeted training content that matches modern joinery manufacture and with a good balance between on-job and specialist provider training we can provide rewarding careers within our industry. I’m always happy to have a chat around apprentices and training.”

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