Neal Lafford is a perfectionist. Whether it’s his precision for sport or his precision for operational excellence, Neal is entirely focused on achieving world-class standards in everything he does. At 18 Neal was torn between a career within the sports industry or venturing into business so opted take up a place at Nottingham Trent University, studying design & technology. Neal tells us his story and how he today, leads the operational function of one of the UK’s most advanced sheet metal manufacturing businesses.
“All the way through school, in fact right up until the end of my A levels, I was pretty wedded to the idea of a career in the sports industry but at the point of needing to make a decision I opted to take the route towards a career linked to design & technology. Like most lads heading off to Uni, I was pretty unclear about what my future would actually look like. All I knew was I loved Nottingham and I took advantage of every opportunity to have fun!”
Graduating in 2004, Neal took up a short-term role working for Raleigh in Nottingham and also kept sport close to his heart by venturing to South Africa to play cricket. Returning several months later to his hometown in Staffordshire, Neal’s career really took off, as he explains: “I joined Belle Engineering (now Altrad Belle) in a production role which was the first time I had the opportunity to work with Paul Clews. Truth be told, it was Paul’s intervention in my career in those early months at Belle that steered me towards a production and operational role. At that time, I had a pretty strong desire to work in the technical design function, but with Paul’s guidance, I pursued my career in operations – which was exactly the right decision.”
Spending five years at Belle Engineering, Neal progressed his career through the production engineering and quality teams, leaving in 2010 to spend three years as a Production Manager for a personalised gift business. It was in 2012 that the opportunity to work with Paul Clews came about as Neal joined Alpha Manufacturing as Business Improvement Manager, he picks up the story here: “2012 was a huge turning point in my career. Joining as the Business Improvement Manager gave me a tremendous opportunity to influence our process improvement programme, but also the opportunity to integrate our capital investment programme which would see us expand our capability significantly. This experience, which has resulted in Alpha maintaining its position as one of the UK’s most advanced sheet metal manufacturing businesses, has enabled me to really grow my career. It’s our people-first culture that sets us apart from other firms in the same market – our commercial ambitions are brought to life by the drive and energy of every member of our team – a value that is impossible to replicate elsewhere. With almost ten years service at Alpha, no two days are the same and it’s the ever-changing opportunity to grow that keeps my career fresh. We’re going through a period of extreme growth and with the news recently of the launch of Alpha Integrated Solutions, operationally we’re going from strength to strength. The future couldn’t look brighter in Hixon!”