Ele Ioannou happened upon the hire (equipment rental) industry as an 18 year-old who needed employment. Since then, she has stayed and developed her career for more than two decades. Despite always having been in a male-dominated field, she has never felt the need to have the gender conversation, though she has welcomed the increasing presence of women. Her time at Mr Plant Hire has been the high point of her career, where she has spent seven years and is currently Company Operations Manager.
Mr Plant Hire PLC in a few words? What are you specialized in? When was the company founded?
Mr Plant Hire was founded 40 years ago in North London. We provide just about any equipment that our customers need for their construction sites which includes small tools, towers, diggers, dumpers, and low-level access machines, which is more of our expertise, but we do have some larger boom lifts and scissor lifts for powered access as well. We cover the whole of London as well as the surrounding Home Counties.
Mr Plant Hire PLC is part of Access Alliance, what are the benefits to such an union?
The Access Alliance is brilliant for us because it allows us to provide a nationwide service to our customers. Our fellow group members throughout the country can support us and allow us to cover areas beyond our reach. For example, if our customers are based in London, but they’re also working on a construction site in Scotland, we can still have that one point of contact for them, so it works really well for us and our customers.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your current position at Mr Plant Hire PLC?
I’ve been with Mr Plant Hire for almost seven years and I’m currently Company Operations Manager. I oversee all the operations for the business, which are divided into four divisions : Mechanical & Electrical, which covers towers, cutting equipment, site security boxes, and more; Construction, which involves diggers, dumpers, telehandlers, and other groundwork equipment; Powered Access, which involves boom lifts, scissor lifts, and mast lifts; and Training, where we offer IPAF, PASMA, and other training courses to educate users on how to safely operate various types of equipment.
You seem to have always been involved in the construction field? Why so? And what is your particular take on it as a woman?
I’ve been in the industry for 22 years and I knew quite early on that I was likely going to develop my career in it because there were so many different areas you could branch into. It’s not just about renting out the equipment, for example, I’m in the operational side so I see everything that goes right and wrong on-site. I also recently branched into health and safety and gained my NEBOSH qualifications. Constantly going through training in different areas within the industry keeps me engaged and I quite enjoy seeing and being part of new developments in and around London.
Even during challenging times, like being on call for building hospitals during COVID and ensuring that equipment was ready for that, it’s truly gratifying to know I played a part in that process. As a woman in the industry, there are occasions where you might need to prove yourself a bit more, but I believe this is a shared experience for the minority in any business. At Mr Plant Hire, we’re very open and diverse, and being a woman has certainly not stopped me.
Have you witnessed any drastic changes over the years?
When I first started in this industry, I was working for a national company that had 10 depots and there were about four women in our entire region. You mainly saw women at the head office in roles like accounts, whereas now, it’s hugely more diverse. The representation of women has massively improved, and I think that’s down to diversity being pushed, especially by organizations like IPAF. There’s still a long way to go, but we’re a lot further forward than we ever were.
What are the main / greatest challenges your company will face in the future?
There’s definitely been a massive increase in hire over the last few years, but the problem we’ve got is the increasing cost of equipment compared to the slow rise in rental rates. We’re spending much more on equipment than we ever did before, yet we’re struggling to get that rental rate up because everybody’s suffering from inflation.
Rather than putting up our prices for a huge profit basis, we’ll focus more on understanding and supporting other businesses where we can, while keeping on top of good quality equipment, which is the key for us.
Is it a preconceived idea that women are better business managers than men? Do you have to work harder to prove your leadership skills?
I think so. I hate working with gender-specific ideas, but it does seem like people give much more credibility to guys when it comes to technical stuff than they do women. I think we do need to push ourselves a little bit more just to prove that we are capable of doing a certain role, that we know more than you may think we know, but nobody has ever made me feel that I wasn’t able to achieve something just because I’m a woman.
It is often said that women managers have a more participative management style than men, in your opinion, "myth or reality"?
From my experience, I think women manage very differently to men in certain ways. I can’t speak for all women, but certainly, the way I manage compared to my male colleagues is very different. There’s more organization and structure from females, and I think we look at the wider picture more.
What are your expectations from your suppliers and in particular, Haulotte?
For us, the key expectation is quite simple: keep up with our rental demand. This includes having readily available spare parts that can be delivered to us quickly as customers do damage machines from time to time, and, where possible, keeping end-user costs or purchase prices low, so we can buy great products at a reasonable cost.
It’s also about maintaining high health and safety standards and ensuring that equipment meets all manufacturing requirements. While optional add-ons can be great, our priority is receiving machines and equipment at a consistently high standard upon ordering.
A strong relationship with the manufacturer is an important aspect as well. Instead of us always having to approach the supplier, it would be nice to have regular communication, updates on upcoming products, and supplier days maybe twice a year for them to share more about their product pipeline and intentions and get feedback on their equipment.
On a daily basis, what do you find most difficult to manage and most rewarding?
The most difficult thing to manage in any business is the people. I have quite a large quantity of people that report directly to me, and having to take into account and adapt to each individual’s skill level and personality when talking to them is really challenging. I have to be readily available to help them with problems as well, and when you’re in between meetings and other jobs, it can be really hard.
The most rewarding thing part of my job is also people. Helping people when they’re struggling and seeing them take the next step and being promoted within, I absolutely love that. It’s the hugest reward for me to see somebody come in at one level and go on to do other things that improves them as a person, improves us as a business, and improves the customer experience.
Would you say "preconceived notions" if I told you that it is difficult to balance work and personal life?
No, it’s really hard. It’s a very demanding industry, machines that go out on rent don’t necessarily stop at five o’clock. You have night works, London works, Christmas tree lights going up at midnight, and if something goes wrong, there is a chance your phone could ring. This job is for those who are prepared to take the call, and I’m certainly one that would. Despite that, I don’t think this is an industry that overtakes you, none of this is being forced upon me, it’s just more about me wanting to progress the business and being available for staff members. Still, we all need to switch off sometimes
How would you describe the characteristics of the English market? Was it affected by Brexit?
We have really high standards of health and safety, and that works hugely down to manufacturers providing that high level of equipment and us maintaining it. We also have environmentally friendly equipment coming through the markets now as well. I don’t think Brexit played a big part in what affected the UK market over the last few years, it was mainly COVID that had an impact on us. We provided service throughout, but it was a really challenging situation to go through. Fortunately, things are getting more buoyant, especially in London, so we’re looking forward to better times.
How do you think the rental and elevation market will evolve?
I think safety and standard of equipment is going to be the biggest part of the future. We have continuously growing safety standards for equipment, for example, we’re not just clipping on harnesses now, we clip them to a device that tells us how the harness is adapted. I also think we’ll lose diesel [equipment] completely, we’ve still got a while to go but I think it’s coming pretty quickly.
How do you see the future at Mr Plant Hire PLC?
We’ll continue to grow our business from a very good foundation as supported by the wider group AER Rents that owns Mr Plant Hire, which is also growing massively. We’re doing some phenomenal work within the group to get on top of emissions and we’re doing our best to get the right equipment for the future.
We aim to expand our footprint and continue to specialize in low-level access and high-returning products. It’s going to be an exciting time for Mr Plant Hire because it’s one of the only companies within the group operating in London, so we’re kind of a guinea pig since London always get hit first with new trends and new machines.
Any advice for young women who want to start a business or join a very male-dominated industry? And a mantra?
Don’t let your gender make the decision for you. If you want to go out there and do a job, and you want to try engineering, driving, admin, whatever it is, do it. It’s worth it, it’s exciting, and it opens up so many different doors for you.
Extremely dedicated to her role at Mr Plant Hire, Ele is constantly undergoing training in different areas of the hire industry even after two decades of experience. Her commitment extends beyond personal development; by making herself readily available for her team and for any on-site machine-related issues, she not only propels her own growth, but also that of her team and the company