Engineering its way to success – how mentoring helped shape M5tec

Carl Jones is an engineer and one of the founders and Directors of M5tec; a leading provider of engineering technical services to high assurance industries, such as marine mining, subsea and offshore, nuclear, oil and gas. In 2016, Carl was paired up with a mentor, Gary Newton, a Bank Manager for Lloyds Banking Group, through the IOEE’s Meet a Mentor programme. One year later we caught up with Carl and Gary to discuss how M5tec has evolved through combining practical skills and expert knowledge with selling yourself confidently in a competitive market.

Carl’s Story

Carl, pictured left, founded M5tec in 2014 with his business partner Craig Chalder, but it wasn’t until 18 months later that they fully threw themselves into launching the business. Carl says:

“There were only two of us involved at the very beginning, and for that first year and a half we pursued it as more of a hobby, an interest, a passion. We were working in full-time jobs and were doing this in our spare time, so it was a case of slowly forming the company and laying the foundations before we decided the time was right.”

“After taking everything into consideration we decided that ‘if we don’t do it now, we never will’ – so we packed in our jobs and went for it. It wasn’t easy, putting everything into this and not making any money at first, and we spent a few months going ‘what have we done?!’

“Fortunately, everything picked up and then it just snowballed from there – perhaps there was a bit of luck thrown in there too, but I like to think that it was pretty much down to our hard work and determination. Taking that risk was finally starting to pay off.”

Through the IOEE’s mentoring programme, M5tec was matched with Gary Newton, and they have spent the last year meeting up every few weeks, working together to look at ways to help M5tec in those early stages of setting up a business. Carl says:

“It’s been so useful having a mentor, having someone to run ideas past and get another point of view. Gary was also fantastic with helping us with the financial side of things. Being a new company meant that cashflow was really tight, but he gave us several different ways we could approach the finances and guided us through everything, such as accurately calculating overheads and margins, and making sure that we were charging the right prices for the market.”

Another element of running a business that was challenging for Carl was the prospect of having to ‘sell’ yourself, but he says that Gary encouraged him and Craig to really push out the message that they were a professional and successful business:

“Gary really helped us to learn how to portray ourselves, which isn’t something we were naturally very comfortable with, and this was everything from networking to getting across the right message on our website. Basically, he’s taught us how to not only be engineers, but how to be salesmen as well. In the early days, we were unsure about having anything about ourselves on the website, in case it gave a negative impression – that people could see that there were only two people in the company. Gary got us to go away and write a couple of little biographies, which we then put online – and it’s had completely the opposite effect; people respect the fact that this in an engineering company that’s actually run by engineers.”

Only one year later, M5tec has 11 full-time employees and an apprentice – such a significant growth in staff that they have had to move their office premises:

“It’s been a hard slog, but totally worth it. Looking forward to the year ahead, we’re just going to let everything settle for a while, properly take stock of this whirlwind, and reassess in the New Year. That said, we’ve got an exciting event coming up in November – the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Supply Chain Event – where we’ll be exhibiting at EventCity in Manchester. We’ve been to loads of these events as guests, but this is the first time that we’ll actually be presenting our company, so that’s a massive achievement and a huge step for M5tec.”    

Gary’s Story

Gary has worked in his role as a Regional Manager for Retail Business Banking with Lloyds for eight years now, and registered to become a Mentor in 2015, going through the induction training with Paul Harper, the IOEE’s Mentoring Manager. He was paired up with his first mentee, M5tec’s Carl Jones, in 2016, but was initially dubious about what different industries they both worked in. Gary says:

“Paul gave me a brochure about M5tec that said something like, ‘engineering design resource and consultancy within the nuclear and marine energy sector’, and I thought, ‘what the heck do I know about that?! I’m right out of my depth here!’

“But actually, what it really brought home to me, was that to be a good mentor doesn’t mean knowing all of the ins and outs of your mentee’s industry. It’s not my job to say, ‘you should do this’ – they know their industry better than I do. It’s my job to challenge their thinking, ask questions, talk through ideas and options, and offer a different perspective. It’s about getting your head into a mentoring capacity, rather than a business advising capacity.”

This mentoring mindset came into play when Carl and Craig were in the early stages of deciding which direction they should be driving M5tec in, and Gary helped them to look at the benefits and drawbacks of different options:

“They were in a dilemma – do they go into an area where they can really specialise, or do they become more generic engineering consultants? Really focus on one area of expertise, or become a jack of all trades? The general consultancy would bring money in straight away, and being more focused would take longer for them to see any financial results – I know that at this time there were a lot of sleepless nights.

“What we did together was to weight up the pros and cons of each – literally listing things in columns; guiding them to make sure they’ve thought of every possible outcome so that they were able to make a confident decision.”

Being confident in their decisions and themselves as businessmen is another area that Gary helped Carl and Craig to progress in, looking at areas such as networking, marketing and pitching. Gary says:

“The guys were very hesitant about networking and ‘selling themselves’, so I got them to go away and write it all down first, so they were clear on what they wanted to say. And when they came back, it was brilliant! They rattled it off for me and it was absolutely spot on – and now they can network and open conversations with confidence, with a little pitch that just rolls off the tongue. And this is fantastic to see – you can bring seemingly little things to the table as a mentor, that you then realise later on are actually golden nuggets for them.”

It is this satisfaction that has driven Gary throughout his mentoring experience; an experience that he says has been both personally and professionally fulfilling:

“I’m at a point in my life where my career is really settled. I’m happy in my job, I really like all the people I work with, I know what I’m good at – so it’s been nice to do something that’s new and challenging and stimulating. Being a mentor has given me a feeling of added value. I’m far from taking any credit for M5tec, but it’s great to see that a little piece of my experience or guidance has made a difference to them on their road to success.”

“These guys had all these amazing ideas, but didn’t know how to take it forward; so much expertise, energy and enthusiasm, but lacking a bit of direction. They weren’t sure how to run a business effectively, and they openly admitted that. Fast-forward a year and they have outgrown their premises, have a new place with over 11 staff, and are building a great reputation in the industry for the quality of what they do. The fact that we’ve talked through problems and they’ve put our ideas into practice and it’s worked – it’s made the whole experience really personally rewarding.”