A FORMER apprentice at one of Sunderland’s largest employers has just completed his first year in charge of the company.

Mark Lister, 36, is general manager at pump maker Grundfos, having joined the company straight from school.

“At that stage in my life, I was very keen to enter the world of work”, he said.

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“I started as a general business apprentice in the production and logistics department; buying materials and scheduling production programmes.

“It was a great way to get to know the company very quickly.”

Less than a year later, he was given the opportunity by Grundfos to study for a degree at the University of Sunderland.

“I took a business degree, studying for two nights a week for four years”, said Mr Lister.

“It was a tough time, really long hours, but I was combining furthering my education while at the same time working full-time.

“I always thought I’d take a degree, but wanted to work first, and the company gave me the chance to do both.

“I still remember much of what I studied and it was interesting back then learning something for the degree course and then seeing it action at work.”

Mr Lister has always been interested in IT and computing and studied an IT module as part of his degree course.

He said: “I moved into our IT department just as I was finishing my degree and again, that was a great way to learn more about the company.

“I was implementing new systems and giving support to all of our departments on site.

“The role also quite literally broadened my horizons as it gave me the opportunity to travel to other Grundfos sites around the globe, helping to install new systems.”

The company prides itself on giving its employees the opportunity to develop, with Mr Lister a perfect example.

He is a graduate of the firm’s Global Talent Scheme, which identifies and then develops its next generation of leaders through a two-year training programme.

Mr Lister was asked to join the scheme after he’d stepped into his first managerial role, as operations manager, looking after the supply chain.

He said: “I was delighted to gain my first managerial role and to be asked to join the scheme.

“It started with a five-day assessment period, which involved very long days and being under the constant watch of eight senior company managers.”

Two years after taking his first step on the management ladder, he moved up another rung.

“I was asked to take on the extra role of production planning manager, which was fine by me as it’s where I started with the company,” he revealed.

Then a year ago, the previous general manager left to head up a large Grundfos operation in South Africa.

Mr Lister was asked to replace him.

He said: “I had to fly over to Denmark and meet the chairman of the Grundfos board, but our discussions went well and I was offered the position.

“In many ways, the fact I started as an apprentice has helped me - people here know me, have worked alongside me and trust me to do what’s right for the company and for them.

“They know my door is always open, and that I’ll be as honest and as clear as I can be with them.”

Mark, an avid Sunderland AFC fan, lives with his partner, Jennifer, and eight-year-old son, Evan, in the city.

So what of the future of the successful plant?

“We’re working to develop our customer orientated solutions market – what used to be known as engineered to order”, he added.

“Increasingly, customers want us to develop a complete solution ready to be plumbed in, and we can do that.

“It's a saturated market so we need to really understand what our customers want and how we can deliver added value.

“The market is moving towards off-site building, so the customer doesn’t have to worry about electricians or plumbers – they want things simplifying and we’re working hard to enhance our customers’ experience and do just that.”

Grundfos works in Euros, so the Brexit question had to be asked.

“The exchange rates are certainly not in our favour at the moment, which is making things more difficult in the short-term”, he added.

“I think, however, that in the medium-term this will balance out and we’ll have to see what trade arrangements are put in place to fully understand the impact in the longer term.”

Grundfos, a Danish company, is the world's leading pump maker and employs more than 18,000 people globally and 160 in Sunderland.

It opened a Wearside plant in 1973.

Five minutes with….. Mark Lister

Favourite North-East building and why? The Stadium of Light. Great atmosphere and sometimes good football.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid? A summer job at Edward Thompson’s paper mill before starting college. I think it was about £60 per week.

What is the worst job you've had? The above.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? Fillet steak and chips, my speciality.

What would your superpower be? To fly.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Ricky Gervais and Pele.

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much? I have a few Swiss watches that were not cheap.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why? I don’t use Twitter.

Favourite book? I don’t really read, more of a film person.

When did you last cry? When I heard of a family illness.

What is your greatest achievement? My son Evan.

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given? Be open and honest with people, and always deal in facts. Treat people how you want to be treated yourself.

Favourite animal and why? A dolphin for the freedom, and they are also supposed to be intelligent.

Most famous person on your mobile phone? I don’t know anyone famous.

What was the last band you saw live? The Maccabees.

Describe your perfect night in: Nice meal, wine and a good movie.

In another life I would be... Born exactly the same, but with the foreknowledge I have now.

Who would play you in a film of your life? Adrien Brody, for the facial features.

What irritates you? Lack of attention to detail.

What's your secret talent? I’m not sure my family would agree, but my DIY skills are excellent.