Interview | Laura Gage

In Conversation With...

Issue 58

-What were your career ambitions growing up?

Growing up I wanted to be either a lawyer or an interior designer – two extremes, I guess. I remember spending an enjoyable week in industry in my final year at school at a local interior design company, visiting some wonderful houses with their team. Clearly, I didn’t end up going down either of these career paths, but I still very much enjoy adding my interior design flare to my own home.

-Tell us about your role at the NEAA

I am responsible for the marketing and promotion of the alliance itself, raising the profile of the region and its associated supply chain, as well as supporting our members with their own marketing and route to market strategies. My job can be very different from day-to-day. One day I am planning for the various networking and flagship events we run, the next I can be writing features for our NEtwork magazine and interviewing members for various case studies. Over recent weeks we have had to adapt our membership offering to ensure we support members during this challenging period. A lot of my work has centred around the delivery of topical webinars which support members current needs, as well as profiling some of the excellent work which has taken place throughout the supply chain. We have had some great feedback from this virtual meeting approach, showcasing the strength and depth of our cluster.

-What services does the company provide?

The NEAA was set up to support the sustainable economic growth and competitiveness of the North East of England automotive sector. Today, the NEAA is the largest industry-led automotive cluster in the UK and is widely recognised as the exemplar. The NEAA provides an unparalleled collaborative network where companies find benefit from leadership and co-ordination of activities of mutual benefit. Our membership benefits include strategic direction, route to market, capability improvement, knowledge transfer and sector engagement. Perhaps the single biggest impact has been simply bringing the sector together, to allow members and stakeholders to network, share ideas, information and best practice and to do business with one another.

-What’s your proudest business achievement?

It’s hard to single out one achievement as I feel there have been several highlights which have been born out of some of the great teams I have been a part of. A few that come to mind include winning several industry and North East Business Awards during my subsea oil and gas days, as well as taking on the global rebrand for a previous employer. More recently, I am proud to have delivered year on year growth and success of several flagship automotive events in the region including the NEAA Expo and Annual Awards. I guess you could also combine some of these achievements alongside raising a young family, which is an achievement in itself!

-What challenges have you encountered?

Having spent part of my career in the oil and gas sector, we faced several downturn periods which were difficult to manage and came with redundancies and reduced budgets. Working in a subsea cable installation and trenching business, the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that followed had a negative impact on the oil and gas sector, leading to a decline in oil and gas prices and as a result many of our projects were affected or put on hold. Working in a sector during a challenging period requires a strong team and I am grateful for having worked with many talented people who helped me navigate through this. I am sure the automotive sector, as well as many other industries, will face a challenging period post COVID-19, but as a region we have strong OEMs and supply chains which I am sure can weather the storm. Having also spent my career in male dominated industries I also feel this comes with its challenges. In my experience, woman can be overlooked no matter what cogs they are turning in the background and you often need to make a greater impact to be recognised.

-How has the industry changed since you arrived at the company?

Over the past five years the automotive sector has changed dramatically as we have gone through Brexit, changes in emissions legislation and now COVID-19. These have all impacted on the automotive sector together with the rapid changes in technology and how the automotive sector is adapting to this both in product and process. The North East continues to be a leading location for automotive manufacturing and the future of automotive, following this difficult period, remains exciting because of the adoption of technology and the move to electrification.

-Who are your heroes in and out of business?

Without a shadow of a doubt I hold so much admiration for my eldest daughter Felicity who came into the world six years ago weighing only 1lb 5oz. She is a hero in my eyes as she battled to survive in the first few months of her life and her shear strength and determination is something that I carry with me always. Those that cared for her and those who are now risking their own lives to help people battling coronavirus are also heroes and are only now being recognised for the amazing work they have always done.

-Is there a mantra you always aspire to do business by?

Nothing will work unless you do. This mantra keeps me motivated and it’s something I’ve always carried with me through my career to date. People don’t earn my respect if they don’t put in the work.

-How do you like to unwind?

Since January I have been running regularly and although I’m not a born runner this has been a great way to unwind and clear my head, especially during lockdown. I have also developed a fondness of gardening and I enjoy spending quality time with my two young daughters and husband.

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