Justine Heeley, Dometic UK Blind Systems
As a horse-riding enthusiast growing up in Sheffield, a career in the marine industry was not the predictable choice for Justine Heeley.
Even an early introduction to boating with her father, fishing in Scotland, was more memorable for the midges than as a potential trigger for her decades of success in the sector.
Yet water did in fact prove to be an early theme in Justine’s working life that started at Biwater Industries.
Gifted with a range of talents and attributes, from multilingualism, sales acumen and people management to an insatiable appetite to learn and mentor, Justine now has a range of awards and achievements to her name. Her current job is Dometic UK Blind Systems MD, yet Justine still manages to encompass and encourage charity and ambassadorial roles while supporting company employees, the UK marine industry and women in business.
Rise to the top
Justine obtained her degree in business studies with Spanish and French. After a spell working for Epel SA in Madrid, she returned to the UK, joining Biwater, where she was involved in negotiations to win contracts to manage the water supply for the Canary Islands and the water supply infra-structure at Hong Kong Airport.
She started at Chemring in November 1998 as European sales manager, working on marine electronics including McMurdo distress beacons, Pains Wessex distress flares and McMurdo lights. As the company grew, the electronics and lights were sold off, with Justine going with the Pains Wessex brand to form Chemring Marine which then acquired by the German company Comet in 2005. As sales director, Justine ran the Pains Wessex and Comet brands with a team of four salespeople. Then in 2009, Robert Hill moved to the chairman position and Justine was appointed the first female Chemring MD and the only woman MD out of the 22 operating companies.
Justine carved Chemring Marine out of Chemring plc and sold it to US PE (JF Lehman) backed Drew Marine in 2012. Then, in 2013, Drew Marine was sold to Jordan Company, with Justine selected to return as MD, before her step up to CEO of Orolia UK.
“I definitely grew the most when I was at Chemring. It was a really good grounding in the marine business and Robert was very encouraging and supportive of developing a diverse leadership team. I gained a great corporate understanding and had good mentors.”
In June 2018, Justine joined marine blinds, screens and soft furnishings manufacturer Oceanair after its acquisition by Dometic.
“I had always admired the Oceanair brand and thought it was a company at the top of the maritime industry. In February this year we became Dometic UK Blinds. We had to train people, develop a five-year strategic plan and implement strong growth targets. We have 200 people working for the company with more than ten different nationalities and we also have a factory in Vermont, US, with 30 people.
“It’s important to get people to work to the values of the company, make sure that everyone understands their roles and that we are now share-holder responsible.
“I told everyone at Oceanair to be proud that a small company had attracted the attention of a huge Swedish corporate - Dometic. We are doing well, ahead of the previous year on turnover and profit.”
Passion to learn and mentor
Driven by her background in sales, Justine is motivated to succeed in business by a continued interest to learn, but she also has a passion to inspire, teach and help others. She also finds time to continue her membership at Emsworth Slipper Sailing Club.
“I have always been interested in companies that make things and have a purpose – such as saving people lives.
“At Orolia, I was responsible for the corporate social responsibility programme, something which I have carried on here at Dometic UK Blinds. I have worked with the BMF on the membership and marketing committee and with SMI and also as an ambassador to The Sailors Society, a great charity that supports the welfare of seafarers across the globe.
“As part of our CSR program, we also support Chestnut Tree House, a hospice for very ill children that gives parents some respite.
“Women in business is another important topic for me. We have seven women managers in senior positions. My aim is to promote more women in engineering and to mentor my team. Sometimes women lack belief in their abilities, so I want to help women have more confidence in business.”
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