In the latest monthly instalment on the Powered by People movement, aimed at showcasing County Durham to inward investors, PETER BARRON meets a woman thriving as a managing director in the construction industry

HAVING been born in Durham, Julie Raistrick takes justifiable pride in leading a family-owned company that’s putting the steel into landmark developments in her home city.

Julie is a rarity – a female managing director in the male-dominated world of construction – and the company she runs is helping to make an impact that will last for generations.

Finley Structures, based on Aycliffe Business Park, heads into its 20th anniversary year in better shape than ever, with Julie in the hotseat.

On one side of the River Wear, Finley Structures is supplying 1,000 tonnes of steel for Kier Construction to build Durham County Council’s new headquarters. Across the river, 3,200 tonnes of Finley steel will enable Tolent to construct the Milburngate development, featuring offices, apartments, bars, restaurants, cinema and hotel.

It follows Finley working on the 1,100-tonne Riverwalk retail and entertainment complex, and it all adds up to the company playing a pivotal role in what county council chief executive Terry Collins has described as a “game-changing” period in Durham’s history.

“We’re a business with roots firmly embedded in Durham, so it’s a source of enormous pride to be part of such generational developments,” says Julie.

Born in Dryburn Hospital, in 1975, Julie has lived and worked in Durham throughout her life and remains passionate about what the county has to offer.

“It’s where I’m from and where I want to be. It’s a beautiful part of the world and the people are so friendly,” she says. Her mother, Valerie, grew up in Gilsgate and her father, John, in Esh Winning. Julie initially lived in Belmont but moved to Spennymoor when she was two.

After John was made redundant, he took his future into his own hands by buying a van and working as a steel erector.

His reputation and business interests grew from those humble beginnings and led to Finley Structures being launched with 20 staff on the former NCB site at Tursdale, near Bowburn. Two years later, John happened to be driving along Whinbank Road, in Aycliffe, when he saw an 87,000 sq ft site – once home to British Steel – being emptied by its tenants, Alexander-le-Skerne.

With Finley outgrowing its original site at Tursdale, John seized the opportunity. Finley moved to Aycliffe and has grown ever since.

Julie’s journey to the MD’s chair began as a YTS trainee with Black and Decker, at Spennymoor, and she went on to work for printing company, Moor Paragon, at Sunderland, ending up in business development.

After five years, she joined the Finley family business, working her way back up from the bottom.

“It was a baptism of fire because it was a male dominated world, and I was not only female but the boss’s daughter,” she says. “I did everything I could, becoming the main port of call for the lads, and I had to earn their respect.”

She laughs at the memory of following through a request to place an order for a “sky hook”, only to discover she’d fallen victim to one of the oldest pranks in the book.

But with steely determination, combined with a sense of humour, Julie built a solid foundation, gaining experience in all aspects of the business, including health and safety, training, payroll and working alongside her mum in accounts.

“I can’t plate or weld but, apart from that, I know how it all works,” she smiles.

She was made a director in 2006 and succeeded her father as managing director five years ago. “They were big shoes to fill,” she acknowledges. “He’s not involved day to day but he’s still in the background and his advice is always valued.”

Julie believes one of the keys to Finley’s success is retaining skilled staff. “I’m passionate about making employees feel valued,” she says. “I have an open-door policy and they know I’m here to listen to any issues. Sometimes, it’s like Piccadilly Station but the result is positive employee relations and good staff retention.”

Julie’s appreciation of the value of staff is why she’s one of the many business leaders in County Durham who are supporting the “Powered by People” movement, which recognises that hard-working, adaptable, passionate people are the county’s greatest asset.

“People make the difference in every organisation so it’s right to put them at the front of any initiative to promote Durham as a great place to do business,” she says.

Fabricator Wayne Clarke has worked for the company throughout its existence and he says: “I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years, but it’s always been a great place to work. I enjoy working with the people here, it’s always had a family feel to it and I think that’s why the business has done so well.”

In those 20 years, Finleys has compiled an impressive project list that includes: the Hitachi production facility at Aycliffe; Nissan’s Leaf battery plant; Nifco’s new factory at Eaglescliffe; Teesside University’s Curve building; the Unipres factory at Washington; and the Victoria Gate shopping centre.

And Julie now has responsibility not just for Finley but other family businesses: ROF 59 leisure centre; a property investment company; and SCH Site Services, where her brother Gary is managing director. She’s also a director and company secretary of another Aycliffe-based steel fabrication company, Raisco Ltd, founded by her husband, Gary, in 2007.

It’s a busy schedule but Finley’s financial performance speaks for itself. The company ended the last financial year with record turnover of £17.6m and, with 64 employees, it is a glowing example of how major developments in County Durham are supporting local jobs and strengthening the supply chain. The order book for 2020 has never been healthier, with contracts already in place for 8,000 tonnes of steel.

And yet, Julie isn’t the type to rest on her laurels. “I feel like I’m only just getting started and there’s more to come,” she says before ending with a note of caution: “But we must never be complacent.”

Two decades after being founded by her father, Finley Structures is clearly in safe hands.

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