NEVER SAY DIE! When the going gets tough, recycling chief Vikki shows she's got what it takes to win through...: KELLEY PRICE, pictured, meets the woman who has brought J&B Recyling back from the brink of not one, but two disasters.
The 38-year-old MD of J&B Recycling took over the running of her father Alan Jackson's solid fuels business and transformed it into one of Teesside's largest recycling firms.
From her first steps in business as a teenager, she steered the struggling company in a completely new direction - and brought it back from the brink.
Vikki herself was the last person to think she'd be at the helm.
"I wanted to be a nursery teacher," she laughs, "I only came to help out in the summer while I was waiting for my exam results at 17."
She was made transport manager, and discovered she liked the work. An open university management course and a road transport qualification later, and she was running a fleet of 35 vehicles.
Back in her father's day, J&B was a major importer and exporter of solid fuels, holding contracts with big players such as the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB), which was the cornerstone of the British electricity industry for nearly 40 years.
But the privatisation of power stations in the early 1990s opened up international trading channels, allowing UK electricity suppliers to import directly. The move dealt middle-men like J&B a hammer blow.
The company was forced to focus on the domestic markets, which were also under threat of fierce competition from the gas sector. Four J&B sites in Nottingham, Teesport and two in Hartlepool dwindled to one.
Before long, Alan reached retirement age and gave his daughter a choice.
"He told me 'you can either go work for somebody else or do something yourself'," Vikki remembers. "We still owned the site, so I went for it."
She moved in as the solid fuel industry was dying on its feet.
Then the UK's youth suddenly developed a love affair with alcopops. The connection? "Alcopops took off in the late Nineties, but the bottles were non-returnable, and were ending up in landfill," says Vikki. "We needed to diversify, to find a niche. We had the infrastructure, the site, the weighbridge. So we started collecting."
As it turned out, recycling waste wasn't that different to coal - it still needed to be washed, graded and separated.
A timely helping hand in the form of the 2000 Government-set Waste Strategy gave the councils green targets to meet - and J&B Recycling something to go knocking on doors with. Being among the first to market, it didn't take long before the company had built up a portfolio of authority contracts.
Within one month of the company managing Redcar and Cleveland's household recycling site, recycling levels shot up from 30% to 70%, ticking lots of civic boxes.
The green agenda continues giving breaks for recycling companies - a plethora of recycling rules and regulations for the private and public sectors shows no signs of abating as the global warming crisis heats up.
"When we first started, landfilling waste was far cheaper than recycling," says Vikki. "Now it's the other way round. It was a waste of time approaching small businesses (then), but now there's a definite cost saving to be had."
J&B was one of the first companies to promote recycling of plastic bottles - a material which, in light of the old weight-related recycling targets didn't bear down too heavily on authorities' agendas.
Finding its recycling niche has been the company's strength, Vikki believes.
"We were unique, because we only offered recycling. Other waste management companies were focused on waste collection and are now having to look at recycling. We did it the other way round."
Even the huge market crash for recyclate towards the end of last year is counted as a blessing. "Companies had previously come in and won a lot of business in high-end markets as prices rose. The price dip knocked that competition out of our way."
But it was a fire last February, which ripped through the company's premises, causing damage worth thousands, that truly tested Vikki's mettle.
"It was amazing how our staff pulled together. We went onto 24-hour shift operations - people were coming forward with suggestions because we were all working towards the same goal, working to keep our livelihoods. It made the company stronger, without a doubt."
Now the 65-strong company has moved into pounds 5m premises in Hartlepool and has an impressive portfolio of contracts.
Vikki, who is married with two children - her husband, Stephen, also works for the business -admits that changing the entire direction of J&B has not been without its day-to-day difficulties.
"My little boy is nine today," she smiles. "It was difficult working 15-hour days and getting up at 6am. I couldn't have done this without the help of my family.
"I learned a lot from my dad, his vast knowledge and experience has stood me in good stead. It's nice to go back and run things past him. But you can never get complacent.
"When I was a child and my dad was in business, I thought he'd have that company forever. We had a thriving business, went down to practically nothing, then built it back up again. You have to change with the times, you can't just sit on your hands and wait for it to come to you."
CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN: Vikki Jackson-Smith, above and left, has met every challenge head on in transforming J&B Recyling into one of Teesside''s biggest recycling firms
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|Publication:||Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)|
|Date:||Oct 6, 2009|
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