Sue Farrell, export director at Edmondson Shipping & Forwarding, is a relatively new member of the IOE&IT but has had plenty of experience working in the sector.
Part of her extensive experience has been overcoming some of the challenges that women face in a traditionally male-dominated sector.
And for her, the celebration of International Women’s Day is about showcasing female participation in the exporting and importing sectors, as well as highlighting those all important female-to-female business relationships.
Edmondson Shipping & Forwarding is an independent freight forwarder based in the town of Formby, near Liverpool. The firm has always been a family affair, having been set up by her parents Ian and Edna originally in North John Street, Liverpool.
Ian had worked for a global shipping company in Liverpool port and set up the company over 45 years ago after being made redundant form his previous role. What started in a small office with a handful of clients, it grew and grew over the next few decades, and when it came time, his daughter Sue stepped in to take over the firm’s leadership, keeping things in the family.
She says the firm continues to be committed to its customers. She explains:
“We pride ourselves on going the extra mile. Last year I was working on Christmas Day and Boxing Day because our customers needed things doing urgently.
We can move anything. We move chemicals, resins, liquids, huge out of gauge machines, Ferraris to Australia, you name it, we’ve moved it over the years by road sea and air. Each shipment is bespoke due to the varying types of goods we move”.
“As an independent freight forwarder, we are not tied to one shipping line, we can offer you different solutions and price options for your shipments”.
Part of life
Her mother Edna was an important positive influence on her professionally and an early female role model.
“She was part of the business when it first started, running the family, helping us adapt and having another job on the side to make sure enough money was coming in in those early days.
“As children, my sister and I were always in the office helping, filing things. It’s a part of my life, basically, and I love it. I do thoroughly enjoy my job.”
Working as a smaller freight forwarder brings a variety of challenges. For Sue, one such incident involved a canning product, trucks and a lengthy journey from the UK across Europe and the Middle East.
“One of our customers shipped out the lacquer for the canning industry, selling the goods into Amman in Jordan. There was a problem with a load and the entire shipment was contaminated. The canning line was probably going to stop production if they didn’t get new product in time.”
Lacquer is a liquid substance that is coated on the inside of cans of food and drinks to prevent contamination.
“Moving the goods by sea would have taken 26 days, which was too long. So, I was sat in the office and I'm looking at the map on my desk and I thought, ‘I think this can go by road.’ People were initially quite sceptical but I powered through.
“We ended up sending a trailer from the UK across Europe, Turkey and through Syria all the way to our customer. We saved our client hundreds of thousands in charges.”
She cited this as one of the examples of how thinking differently can help.
“That's just one of the examples where nobody believed we could do something and there were people who thought I was being a bit daft and a bit naive.
People laughed and asked whether I was really serious. But I did it. I proved them wrong.”
It’s this attitude of challenging expectations and proving people wrong that helped her enormously in her early days of navigating freight and trade as a woman.
When she first started, trade was a very male-dominated industry. Even though she now runs her own firm, people treated her differently to how they would have treated a male director:
“I've actually had it recently where somebody rang up and the way they spoke to me was absolutely shocking.
He was rude to me and one of the other women that works in the business, until he realised that he still actually needed my help. And then, all of a sudden, he was really nice again.
But I don't think he would have spoken to a male like that.”
She says the best thing to do in that situation is to “kill them with kindness,” but adds that resilience is also needed.
“Sometimes you just have to have broad shoulders, and try not let it upset you. Because we're a family company, I don't want to call my customers rude because I don’t want to lose that business.
If it was too much, I would have to say ‘listen, I don’t appreciate that you’ve spoken to me like that’ but then I might risk alienating the customer.”
Even though there’s room for improvement, Sue doesn’t see it as just being about the old boys’ club anymore, with men out for drinks and leaving the women in the office.
“There is definitely more support there now, whereas in the past you've just had to smile and get on with it.”
She argues that female mentors are key for the industry to help tackle the gender imbalance, citing her mum as an early positive influence on her professionally.
However, it’s still not perfect. Although she says that things have improved, there’s still areas that need dealing with.
“I was chatting with some other women in the office, and we asked how many female representatives do we actually see from the shipping lines come into the office.”
We’ve all been working there a long period of time and we could only name one woman representative.”
International Women’s Day is important for her and Edmondson’s female staff because it highlights women in business and female workers supporting each other.
In the end, her advice for women working in international trade?
“Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries.”