“While it has improved somewhat, we need to get more women working in STEM” – CEO Q&A with Leslie Brett of Lennox

By Business & Finance
04 August 2021
Leslie Brett, CEO Lennox
Pictured: Leslie Brett, CEO Lennox

Leslie Brett is CEO of Lennox, an Irish scientific and laboratory supplies company. Founded in Dublin in 1923, Lennox supply scientific and lab solutions, as well as PPE. In March 2020, they quickly pivoted from supplying mainly pharmas and labs nationwide with PPE products to cope with the increased demand from sectors that would never have needed PPE before – schools, law firms, accountants, tech companies etc.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

As CEO, I am responsible for the strategic direction and performance of Lennox and since being appointed five years ago, have led the modernisation and expansion of Lennox through strategic investment and customer-led solutions. 

We are an almost 100-year-old company and, while we have a strong legacy and reputation, some may only know us a laboratory supplies company – we are so much more. From preventative maintenance to remote calibration, single use systems to PPE, we work closely with our customers to create bespoke scientific, manufacturing, production, and laboratory solutions. My job is to balance each of our business streams, from chemicals and consumables to equipment and technical services, and develop our services to sectors including pharma, bioprocessing, food and beverage, medical devices, higher education and more.  

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

When I joined Lennox, the company was at a critical juncture, moving onto the next phase of its development. While we had a strong customer base and reputation, we needed to modernise our systems and infrastructure, increase our digital presence, and shift our mindset to put the customer at the forefront. 

This has been an ongoing process, but we have made great strides, from a new website with an updated ecommerce functionality to making in-roads into new sectors. We also invested heavily in our logistics fleet. Having our own delivery team and vehicles has been revolutionary in terms of service levels and security of supply for our customers – we would never have gotten through the last 12 months without that. 

Covid-19 brought swift and immense challenges to our customers. In March 2020, demand for PPE soared. Almost overnight, there was a worldwide scramble to source PPE. There was initially a shortage of products, but the Lennox team shortened our existing global supply chains. We also updated our operations model, sourcing and vetting PPE products from around the world that met the strict Irish and European quality standards. 

The last year has been eventful and challenging, but the work put in by the team in this and the preceding years has futureproofed our company and ensured we are in a strong position to navigate both Brexit and the post-pandemic business landscape. 

How do you keep your team/ staff motivated?

I am a big proponent of spending the time getting to know people. I like to understand where people are coming from, what challenges they are facing and what drives them.  I also try to lead by example and get stuck in with my team at all levels. 

I’ve found that a powerful way to connect with the people you work with is regularly walk around the company and have chats and conversations. Obviously, while we are working remotely, this must be done virtually so we’ve been using video calls, Whatsapp, texts or picking up the phone. I have an open-door policy and am available to all the team, if they want to talk with me at any time. 

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Supply chain issues remain an ongoing issue and this will continue post-pandemic. This is something we are acutely aware of maintaining open lines of communication with all our suppliers to mitigate any delays. 

Down the line, changes to regulatory compliance will potentially impact our industry, from chemical storage to employment legislation. It’s important that we take a proactive approach and have the necessary preparation put in ahead of time to ensure we remain compliant. 

The environment we are working in is becoming more competitive because it has the potential to be a lucrative growth sector. I would also expect further market consolidation, which could also be an opportunity for many.  

 What new trends are emerging in your industry?

We are lucky that we work in a fast-moving sector, that means our team must keep up to date with trends across pharma, life sciences, bioprocessing and more. 

We work with organisations in the healthcare, medical and third-level sectors, and biobanks are becoming an increasingly exciting field. We ensure biobanks have the right equipment in place to maintain the ultra-low temperatures needed to preserve these biological samples. Our partner brand Stirling Ultracold has been at the forefront of ultra-low temperature freezers, that have also been used to store and transport the vaccines in the US. 

We are also seeing increased demand for custom laboratory solutions. Our teamwork with customers to create a custom-built lab, from tailored consultations and planning to final installation and training.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

While it has improved somewhat, we need to get more women working in STEM. According to 2018 stats from the Central Statistics Office, women comprise only 25% of Irish citizens working in STEM. 

A career in science can be as varied as you like. I have been able to take my love of science from the lab into my current role of CEO of Lennox. There are so many different roles available – we need to be actively showing young women from school-age up the rewarding options available and highlighting what is possible.

In the last few months, there has also been a real desire to support Irish indigenous companies, which makes me excited and hopeful for the future. 

 As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

We are lucky in that we do see a steady stream of good quality candidates coming through. A core part of our strategy is to hire peer-to-peer experts in their field, from scientists to engineers to project managers. We need to have that technical expertise in-house so they can talk to our customers on their level, using their language. This ensures that we understand the challenges they are facing, what solutions will work and how to deliver the required results.

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

Like most companies, during the economic crisis, Lennox streamlined down where we could focus on what was business critical. Being lean and agile were essential to ensuring we were able to continue operations. We worked incredibly closely with our customers and suppliers – it was important to be honest and transparent. We were fortunate that we came out the other side in relatively good stead and were able to capitalise on the growth that followed in the years after. 

How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

With a global supply chain, we knew we needed to prepare for Brexit, so we started work 12 months in advance. We put together a dedicated team and drew up our Brexit contingency plan, concentrating on in-house training, increased stock holding for key accounts and keeping communication open with both customers and suppliers. Our suppliers have been fantastic, and they have really worked with us to ensure that we could get what we needed for our customers. That’s the benefit of having those long-standing relationships with trusted partners. 

While we have seen some long lead times, the work put in upfront means we have avoided many of the predicted pitfalls. 

How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

I do have a huge drive to succeed. For me, a key metric of success is satisfied customers who keep coming back. It’s important to me that we have those long-term relationships with our customers and that they trust us to deliver. 

As a team, we are really passionate about always finding solutions to the problems and challenges faced by our customers. Standing back, assessing each situation, giving clarity and using our skills and expertise to tailor a product or service that truly meets our customers’ needs. Finding new and better ways of working – that is what keeps driving me forward every day. 

What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Hire experts in their field that are committed to delivering customer success – at Lennox, we have made a concerted effort to build a diverse team that understand our customers and their work, and it makes a tangible difference. 

I would also say that responsiveness can be a sometimes-undervalued trait, but it is crucial to maintaining trust and credibility. Get back to people and let them know what is happening, especially if there are any issues. Not knowing is often worse than keeping everyone informed.

What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

It’s always fantastic to see the team get external recognition for their continued hard work and excellent service to our customers. In January of 2021, we were certified as a Great Place to Work, which was a special moment. We were also thrilled to be named a finalist at the Irish Laboratory Awards as Irish Laboratory Supplier of the Year. 

I know the whole team is also proud of our work throughout the pandemic, keeping frontline workers supplied with essential PPE products. Everyone worked incredibly hard to ensure essential high-quality products such as masks and gloves kept coming into Ireland so those on the frontline had what they needed to keep working safely.

What’s next for your company?

By identifying and leveraging what we do best, we will be expanding into different sectors, and we will have some exciting projects coming up in the next six months.

We have also just won an important tender to supply Dublin Fire Brigade, so we are looking forward to partnering with them, supporting their vital work.  

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

In addition to our strategic goals for the business, next year we will be in the planning stages for our 100th year anniversary, which will be an exciting time to reflect and plan. 

We will also have further cemented our reputation as an end-to end scientific, manufacturing, production and laboratory solutions company.