Julie Langford epitomises the notion of hard work and determination. Julie's willingness to succeed in both her career and personal life has overridden every adversity that came her way. If you're looking for inspiration for how to get through a difficult time, this is the perfect read for you.
What is a typical day in your career?
There is no “typical” day! I can go into the office full of a list of things to do, get dragged into something else and not achieve any of them!
The good thing is that my role is varied. I can be sorting out credit insurers one day and then arranging building repairs the next! Variety is the spice of life after all!
What made you choose this career/industry?
In truth, I fell into a career in accountancy. I really wanted to be a teacher, but I couldn’t get into a college to do a PGCE. I think the interviewers saw through me! And the “construction” industry has been with me since my early twenties when my husband’s family was involved in contracting.
How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?
I joined NMBS as FD Designate and had a rough indoctrination to the industry, joining at the height of the financial crisis. That was a real challenge trying to maintain credit lines for members. Since that time, the organisation has grown, doubling in size overnight with the amalgamation with United Merchants whilst at the same time changing back-office systems. You wouldn’t choose to do those two things at the same time, but it was absolutely necessary. And as a team, we overcame the issues to go from strength to strength.
If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?
It is a cliché but these challenges were overcome by hard work and a great team. Also being creative helped; NMBS had to find another way to credit insure its members, and it did so. The captive insurance arrangement which was put into place meant that the amalgamation with United Merchants could go ahead. Without it, it would have probably failed.
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
I’ve mentioned the captive insurance program, and I feel passionate about this. It has enabled more credit into the builder's merchant industry than any other. I’m proud of what we have achieved with this.
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
I’m an only child and as such you have to inspire yourself and find your own will to succeed. I was also determined, and so I was not going to let the fact that I came from a modest working-class background hold me back. For example, I was the first in my family to attend university. I didn’t even think about it at the time; I just did it!
“ I was also determined, and so I was not going to let the fact that I came from a modest working-class background hold me back.”
What is your biggest achievement in life?
That’s a tough one. Bringing up two small children on my own in the middle of a recession, keeping a roof over their heads and maintaining their lifestyle, often at the expense of my own.
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?
In the words of Ozzie Osbourne, “don’t f**k with people on the way up, because they will be certain to f**k with you on the way down”!
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?
There is the perception that if you are female in the construction industry, your choices are limited and you will never attain the “top job”. That perception is still prevalent but is changing. As women, we have to challenge the perceived norm.
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
In the words of Sheryl Sandberg, “lean in” – take part, don’t shrink at the back of the room.
Don’t take “no” for an answer.
Stay loyal, but above all stay loyal to yourself; know when it is time to move on.
What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?
No one looks after you but you; if you don’t look after yourself then no one else will!
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
This won’t be popular, but Margaret Thatcher; she wasn’t always right but she was fearless.
What are your key motivators?
Truthfully my key motivator used to be to earn enough to put food on the table. That has now changed. What keeps me going now is to earn enough to have a good retirement and also to encourage the next generation not to make the same mistakes as me!
Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?
Nowhere near enough. Until every board up and down the land has an equal number of men and women the fight will continue!
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?
Certain organisations have some great initiatives. Santander, for example, has a mentoring program for their female staff to encourage advancement. I think the most important thing an organisation can do to encourage their female staff is to encourage them to believe in themselves so that they can grow, progress and move up the ladder. It isn’t about gender preference, it is about encouraging the best in people.
“It isn’t about gender preference, it is about encouraging the best in people.”
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
Stay true to your beliefs and to yourself. Ask yourself “what would you do if you weren’t afraid”?
What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
From a career perspective, anything is possible. Don’t be fearful – of anything!
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