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“You’re not just a payroll number” – How MEPS International are putting their employees first

Article by unLTD Business – 13th May 2024

BSSA Affiliate Member, MEPS International is renowned as a leading global steel market analysis company at the pinnacle of the industry. Their impressive rate of staff retention is less well known. Once joining the MEPS family, very few people move on – a testament to their commitment of putting their workforce at the heart of everything they do.

MEPS’s ethos of prioritising employees stems from its founder, Peter Fish (who established the business in 1979) and is something his daughter, and company director, Jayne Craven, has maintained since taking the reins.

“I came into the business because he came to retirement age,” Jayne explains. “He’d been pestering to get me or my sister into the business for quite a long time, because he didn’t want to sell the company.

“He knew that if he sold MEPS, the staff in Sheffield would likely not be kept on and he didn’t want that to happen.”

Jayne Craven, Director at MEPS

Had Peter and Jayne not valued that sentiment, MEPS’ workforce would probably look somewhat different to how it does today, and there would be few stories like that of Market Analyst Bryan Hall, who has been at MEPS for over 16 years.

Bryan has had a lifelong career in the steel industry, previously working for the likes of British Steel Stainless and Outokumpu. However, the working environment at MEPS is unlike one he experienced anywhere else.

“Before, I was unofficially on call 24/7,” he says. “I’d get phone calls at three o’clock in the morning and then with travel and everything else, I was regularly working highly pressurised, 50-odd hour weeks.

“But here, it’s literally just 9-5, then, go home. But I didn’t know or expect that until I got here.”

Stuart Gray, who has been a Steel Market Analyst at MEPS for just over four years, shares Bryan’s appreciation of the company’s respect for the lives of its staff outside the office.

“In the steel industry, it’s not just an expectation to put on you from the company, but your customer base as well,” says Stuart. “If you deal with customers with an operation that’s 24/7, you are expected to be on call every second and, when I say every second, I mean that.

Stuart Gray

“But at MEPS, if you work outside of hours, because there are different time zones that different researchers will have to speak to you from, you can get that time off, should you wish, at some future stage, which is a real benefit.”

Stuart began his career as a metallurgist in South Africa, having worked at the coalface of the industry for over 30 years. “Coming over to MEPS, I didn’t know what to expect,” he explains. “I think another big difference here is that you’re left alone to meet deadlines.

“There’s no one looking over your shoulder – you can work in autonomy and plan your own day.”

This expectation of being constantly programmed to ‘work mode’ was something that Michelle Kirton, who joined the company in 2017 after having worked in the steel industry ever since graduating from University, was also frustrated with.

“I was looking for a better work-life balance,” she says when discussing why she joined MEPS. “Working in steel, particularly in sales, there’s a lot of early mornings and late nights. You’re always answering emails and always being on your phone.”

“But, we’re a family-run business and that makes a big difference. What a lot of people like about working here is, because it’s family-run, it doesn’t have the restrictions that corporate companies do.

Michelle Kirton

“I think it’s an old-fashioned industry, in the sense of that mentality that people should work over and above the ‘normal’ 9-5.”

But MEPS is breaking that mould, in more ways than one. “Even in the seven years I’ve been here, there’s been lots of changes,” adds Michelle. “There’s a lot of new people, new offices, there’s been a lot of changes process wise – changes everywhere, really.”

One such change was the introduction of Tom Sharpe as Managing Editor. Unlike the majority of the MEPS team, Tom’s background is not in steel, but in journalism, having worked for a local South Yorkshire newspaper before moving to a B2B magazine with Bauer Media.

“I think it’s very unusual, to have introduced someone with no steel knowledge,” says Tom. “But, my remit is to take some of the writing and editing burden off people whose time is better used elsewhere.

“It’s evolved the product, but mainly freed people to better share their steel knowledge.”

“When I came here, Peter was the head of every department in effect,” adds Bryan. “Now, we’ve got more people with different skills, like Tom, who are coming in and taking on those roles from a more specialised point of view.”

Despite implementing new roles to ease the pressure on staff, everyone at MEPS still has a key part to play in every aspect of the business. “The people at MEPS tend to have quite diverse job roles,” explains Michelle. “We all have our more key job role, but then we have lots of other little things that we’re involved in.”

Bryan Hall

“If you need assistance, you can speak to someone and they won’t ever say no,” adds Stuart. “They are always willing to help. Everything’s a team effort.”

“I think the contacts that people form while they’re here might be part of what keeps them here, as well,” says Tom. “All of the relationships here are really galvanised and are the bread and butter of what we do.”

“The whole team gets on,” Bryan explains. “And I suspect the recruitment process looks at whether people will fit in, as much as their skills.

“It’s always been, yes, you’re the right kind of person, come and work for us.”

The rewards of MEPS’ carefully curated workforce are clear to see in not only their commercial success, but also in the culture of the business. “People know who you are,” Michelle reiterates. “You’re not just a payroll number.”

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