The Long Game: Vikki Jackson-Smith

October 3, 2018

At 13, Vikki Jackson-Smith began working on the weighbridge in her father Alan’s solid fuels business, Jackson’s Fuel Company, on a weekend and during school holidays. Four years later, having taken a keen interest in the logistics side of the business, Vikki became the company’s transport manager, and when her father semi-retired, she took on the position of managing director. Aged 27, Vikki established a new business with the aim of diversifying away from the solid fuels industry and became the managing director of independent waste management company, J&B Recycling Ltd, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year

From a young age, I had been involved in the family business and when I took the role from my father as managing director, it was evident that the business did not have much future in the solid fuel industry.

The privatisation of the British power stations saw Jackson’s Fuel Company fall from being one of the largest importers and exporters of solid fuel in the UK to scaling the business down into domestic supply of coal. The new gas infrastructure in the North East in the 90s reduced the need for coal fires and the company’s sales were rapidly dwindling. In 1998, J&B Recycling was established as a means of saving a business that needed to change to survive.

We had the infrastructure and skills in place, such as processing, handling and logistics of material, to start again with something different but I needed to find a niche. It took a couple of years to research the market and the perfect opportunity presented itself when the landfill tax escalator was introduced and companies were starting to be charged depending on how heavy their bins were.

The era of alcopops sparked an idea and I started a trial collecting glass bottles from a pub my in-laws owned to gather information on how viable an option would be for the hospitality trade to segregate their bottles from their waste, as bins were heavier with the glass and increasing the cost of disposal for the landlords. The trial gave me enough information to offer a service that that offered a financial benefit to the pubs and clubs and was the start of J&B’s journey into the recycling and waste management industry. The service took off, and expanded across the North East, giving J&B the experience we needed to approach local authorities to handle and process the kerbside recycling contracts.

We won our first local authority kerbside contract in 2003 and from there we experienced a rapid growth in contracts of all types, from trade waste collections to the management of bring sites across the North East.

The main change in the sector in the past two decades has been the awareness and shift in people’s attitude towards recycling. People are more socially aware than ever of the impact their waste is having on the environment, and recycling has become the accepted thing to do.

Advancements in technology have also had a huge impact on the sector, with automation helping to increase productivity as well as capacity. As the make-up of the materials that we receive has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, the continual development of our plant has been imperative to meeting a wide range of customer needs.

In an industry that is tightly governed, J&B has a great reputation working to the strict guidelines set. With the controls we have in place throughout our business focusing on quality service and products, we have a good understanding of our customers’ requirements.

Due to the quality products we produce, we are one of the few European recycling companies that continue to meet the high specifications to supply into the Chinese market.

Within the waste management industry, there are many women in high positions – with lots of female CEOs. My senior management team is a 50/50 split of men and women who all bring something unique to the team. Recruitment or promotion in our business has always been based on an individual’s abilities and skills. It is about brains, not gender.

Looking forward, the sector is going to become more quality driven and it is going to become more important for companies to produce the highest grades of material.

Quality has always been J&B Recycling’s focus and thanks to the numerous upgrades we have made to the plant, as well as the continual improvement programme we have in place, the future looks incredibly bright. For FY 2018/19, we are already seeing a 100 per cent growth on the same period against the previous year and we are on track for growth going forward.

As for keeping up with developments in technology, again J&B is in a strong position thanks to the support of BGF which invested in our company in 2014. As advancements in the industry and technology become available, we have the funding available to help us embrace it and move forward, assisting in further growth.

To celebrate the business’ 20th anniversary this year has been an incredible experience, but for me it is important to ensure the company’s legacy is maintained.  We have supported The Business in the Community programme run by the Prince’s Trust, a Responsible Business Network, and regularly attend careers fairs and open days in local schools to shout about the opportunities available to young people, of both genders within the business, working to promote J&B to the workforce of the future.

J&B Recycling

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Cutting edge technology, lower costs and a happy CFO – sounds good, doesn’t it?