Liz Hazeldene, manufacturing MD: Boost your people management skills and you can succeed in any industry

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Being a female leader in a manufacturing organisation often requires a willingness to learn, problem solving skills and bravery. What it doesn’t necessarily require? A background in engineering or ‘on the floor’ manufacturing experience.

Liz Hazeldene serves as Kohler Mira’s Managing Director, the first woman to hold this position at the 900 employee bath and shower manufacturer. Liz joined Kohler Mira in 2002 and spent five years in Mira product marketing and four years in sales before becoming Business Director for Rada, the commercial arm of Kohler Mira. Liz became MD in 2014. Today, Liz oversees and leads the entirety of K&B UK activity.

However, her professional journey began with a graduate management training programme, a marketing diploma and MBA rather than a STEM apprenticeship or degree. In her marketing role for DIY brands, Liz made sure she learned enough about manufacturing operations to be able to ask the right questions and understand the challenges of the business.

“You can’t master everything,” Liz says. “Once you get to any leadership position, you will fundamentally be a generalist. It’s about managing and motivating people to focus on the right goals for the company.”     

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A willingness to take on roles and training that weren’t part of her dream job was part of her path to success. For example, she took a role on a sales team despite being sure sales wasn’t where she saw her career going. Through this role she was able to learn vital skills, such as negotiation, not taking rejection personally and a better commercial perspective. Over the course of her career, Liz has taken on projects in areas as diverse as online services, media buying and even in a timber yard, each of which brought depth to her business understanding.

She explains: “No one has this fabulous linear career. You have to take on some projects or job roles that you don’t necessarily want to do. But these often give you the edge so you’re in the right position for taking the next step.”

The chance to take that next step in her career came when Liz was asked to manage a small part of Kohler’s business as a “baby GM”. Here she was able to dive deeper into the skills that are required for a senior position, such as operations and accounting.

Another skill she has developed over time is how to work in a work environment that consists mostly of men. Often her job requires her to meet “uncomfortable moments with bravery and not be constrained.”

Women entering the manufacturing field can often get their start through apprenticeships, a programme Liz’s company offers in addition to an expanding graduate programme.

While some young women may not think of manufacturing as a fit with their interests, Liz would recommend they should think again. She says: “The further up you go, it becomes more about emotional intelligence and less about an engineering degree. Think about your unique set of skills and attributes that could be a fit with a position rather than just thinking ‘this industry’s not for me’."

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