Sandra Cottam-Shea: A driving force

By Ged Henderson

27 Sep 2022

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Sandra Cottam-Shea’s route into the world of haulage and logistics was anything but straightforward.

Looking at her CV it doesn’t immediately strike you that she was heading towards founding a transport company that 11 years on operates across Europe and has a turnover in the region of £3.5m.

Sandra was raised in Preesall from farming stock, trained as a nurse at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, went on to spend 19 years as a senior member of British Airways’ long haul cabin crew and had a stint in an emergency services joint control room. She also has a degree in public health.

Today she owns and runs SCS Logistics, which has its headquarters in a yard a stone’s throw from the Port of Heysham.

SCS began with three vehicles and five members of staff. It now has 37 trucks and 35 staff and has moved into logistics with a new state-of-the-art fully automated warehouse on the White Lund Industrial estate in Morecambe.

Looking back on her journey she reveals she only applied for the British Airways job “as a joke”. At the time she was nursing at London’s internationally renowned Hammersmith Hospital. She ended up as purser on long haul flights across the globe, with a hectic schedule for a mum of two daughters.

SCS is the result of Sandra looking for new challenges. She says: “I saw the opportunity but at the start I really was clueless.

“I knew next to nothing about the industry and I had to learn very, very quickly. I didn’t even know what a P&L was. Some guys from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency paid us a visit and I was, ‘just who are you people?’”

She is full of praise for those who supported her, including current director Sarah Metcalfe who has been with the business since day one. “I couldn’t have managed without her,” she says.

Sandra is quite a rare breed as a woman owner of a specialist haulage company but says gender is irrelevant in the world of work she occupies.

She says: “My dad Ron always had a can-do attitude, that comes from farming. He was always, ‘You can do this’.”

She adds: “There are now more women at senior management level than 10 years ago which is great to see. Logistics has become more sophisticated and there is more acceptance of women. We have women drivers.

“Operations used to be half a dozen wagons run on the back of a cigarette packet. Now there are technical systems, management systems, planning systems.”

There are also many challenges that have had to be faced. “The last two years, you couldn’t have made it up, could you?” she says.

“Brexit, Covid, alleged fuel shortages, reports of driver shortages. Now we can’t buy wagons.”

Sandra, who describes lorry driving as a “craft” says the business doesn’t struggle with its recruitment. “We have people asking to come and work for us.”

Part of that may be the approach she takes to the wellbeing of her workers and the company culture. She says: “It is hard graft and I’m conscious of the pressures.”

To that end she is currently working with Julie Smith of Burnley based Purpose Wellbeing on the development of a wellbeing app for drivers.

Sandra says: “I got involved because I was concerned that my team were not looking after themselves, they were just driving, eating and sleeping.

“So, we’re developing a wellbeing course that you can do in your cab when you’re down the road. There’s yoga involved and mindfulness.”

Sandra is also a big believer in community support. For every pallet that is delivered by SCS one penny is donated to the Cancer Care charity.

SCS also supports a disabled driving charity on the Isle of Man and the One Woman at a Time organisation that works to end female genital mutilation and domestic abuse in Africa, India and the UK. They are all causes she is passionate about.

Sandra relaxes through a host of activities including rock climbing and wild water swimming. Her business career may have got off to an uneasy start but today she says: “I love every minute of what I do.”

Her plan for the business is to continue to look for new opportunities. “You have to be agile and ready for them,” she says.

“When you look at the state of the economy things are going to get tough for the industry, but every challenge gives you a prize. It is about learning to be more efficient, questioning everything we do to make sure we’re not just doing things for the sake of it.”

SCS is viewed by The Pallet Network (TPN) as one of the top independent hauliers in the UK and membership of that network is the bedrock of the operation. It enables the company to deliver throughout the UK, Isle of Man, Ireland and Europe.

The company has a small general haulage team and the new warehouse adds another dimension to its offer. Sandra says: “We can be our customers’ one-stop shop.

“We move anything from one pallet to full loads and we have clients that range from cottage industries in the Lake District to big manufacturers and blue-chip companies and anything in between.”

She says: “We move stuff from A to B but it’s more than that. I get a lot of compliments from clients about how pro-active our drivers are and how happy they are to help.

“I really do recognise that it is a combined effort from all of us and I’ve a great deal of affection for my team.

“We care that our customers’ freight gets to where it should be, on time and intact. Business is about relationships and people and actually caring about what they do.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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