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Running a business or a marathon demands determination and sacrifice

Published: 3 September 2018 - Sarah Mead

Helen Anderson and Annette Doyle first crossed paths when their respective companies, Paranoid Engineering and TRUMPF worked together on a manufacturing solution but the two MDs soon realised they had much more in common than a passion for engineering excellence. Their shared love of running has forged a friendship that saw them complete the Stuttgart Half Marathon together at the end of June.

The women met when Helen was seeking sheet metalworking production equipment for Paranoid Engineering that would be instrumental in the next phase of the company’s growth. Based in Bidford-on-Avon, Paranoid Engineering specialises in overland vehicles and accessories that are engineered for the most demanding of tasks. It designs and builds or modifies existing vehicles to enable them to do a specific job which is often in extremely hostile and remote environments.

Paranoid Engineering is a family business that has grown through the design engineering skills of the company’s Director of Research & Development – and Helen’s husband – Will Anderson. His innovations include the Atlas, multi-role utility vehicle for emergency services, public order work, mining and recreation Helen is the commercial and financial driver behind both ventures which have seen significant short-term growth thanks to a high level of investment in automated production.

“Given the purpose of our products, mechanical failure is not an option,” Helen explained. “Everything we do has to be precise and well-engineered. We work with tiny tolerances of less than 0.5mm.  If we are not 99.9% confident it’s right, it doesn’t leave the factory. And this is why TRUMPF is such a good fit for us.”

Helen continued: “Naturally we looked at other suppliers but chose TRUMPF because it doesn’t compromise on quality, an attribute that we have found applies equally to its products and the support it provides. Annette recognised from the start that we wanted that complete package and went the extra mile, not just to prove the TRUMPF machines could do the job but also to ensure we had the increased production capacity when we needed it. The service TRUMPF continues to provide is second to none.”

Paranoid’s first TRUMPF order in October 2017 was for a TruBend 3000 Series press brake. However, high demand for Paranoid Engineering products resulted in the need to bridge the gap in production capacity before the press brake was installed so TRUMPF loaned the company one of its showroom models. Paranoid’s own machine was delivered in February 2018 and this was soon followed by an order for a TruLaser 3030 fiber.

Both machines are now responsible for fabricating metalwork for all Paranoid Engineering products, including Atlas vehicles, from the ground up; from chassis to roof racks and trailers and all metal parts in between. Most parts are either one-offs or produced in small batches, so the production flexibility and easy set-up provided by the TRUMPF machines are critical features. The machines have become fundamental to what Paranoid Engineering does and what it wants to achieve.  Indeed, without them Helen admits, they could not have taken on many of the projects in which the company is now involved.

Common goals

The high level of interaction between the companies, especially during the initial stages of production expansion, naturally prompted a lot of contact between Helen and Annette. It was during that time that they discovered they had a great deal in common; both are at the helm of successful businesses, both with young families.

“We have to do a lot of juggling to be the best we can in both our business and private lives so we wanted to do something purely for ourselves and Annette invited me to join her for the Stuttgart Half Marathon,” Helen explained. “We’ve had limited time to train together but the aim was just to enjoy the experience.”

The statement that Helen is running the Stuttgart event just for herself isn’t strictly true, however.  Her efforts will also benefit a charity that is close the hearts of several people at Paranoid Engineering, including Helen. Helen has Inflammatory Bowel Disease and not only does she want to raise money to support the charity, Crohn’s & Colitis Research UK, but also to demonstrate that the condition need not rule out physically demanding activities such as marathon running.

For Helen, running is about mental as well as physical fitness.  She knows if she has a complex problem to solve the best move is to get her trainers on.  It gives her the time and space to think things through.  She is also acutely aware that allocating ‘me’ time is something which many business women find a challenge when trying to balance work and home life.

“Women bring unique qualities to business management but have to be prepared to make sacrifices at home,” Helen continued.  “From my point of view, one of the most important things I can give my daughter is a good work ethic and the sense that you can get to the top if you work hard. I’d love to employ more women at Paranoid Engineering.  They bring a different outlook and dimension which can be extremely valuable and I’m hoping that our involvement with the Santander Corporate Mentoring Scheme will encourage more female applicants.”

So, what’s in Helen’s sights now that she has completed the Stuttgart Half Marathon?  Naturally leading Paranoid Engineering to even greater success is at the top of the list and, in particular, she wants to develop the global market for the Atlas multi-role utility vehicle.   And having made her international debut on the running stage other events could certainly follow and even a full marathon.

Helen added: “My husband said he will do the next one with me – now that will certainly spark some competition!”

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