In the first of a new series of articles entitled ‘Look at me now’ we talk to business leaders who started their working life as an apprentice. 

Shaun Gray, 43, is European Managing Director of international automotive component manufacturer Ginho Group’s European headquarters in Burton-upon-Trent. 

Shaun attended John Taylor High School in Barton-under-Needwood and by his own admission wasn’t particularly interested in carrying on in education. 

He was however interested in engineering and the idea of an apprenticeship. 

Careers advice at school led him to an NVQ level 2 in Mechanical Engineering at what was then Burton Technical College, and from there an apprenticeship at Burton engineering company, William Cook. 

“As an apprentice I was working in the estimating department whilst studying for and ONC and then a HNC in mechanical engineering.” said Shaun. “In the late 1990s the company announced a round of redundancies. However, as I started work early and stayed late to see jobs through, they saw something in me which made them keep me on. 

“Within a year I was managing customer accounts in a technical sales role and within seven years had risen to management in the sales department with a company car. At the same time, friends were leaving university with no job and debt. 

“I also started to travel and work on some exciting projects including Heathrow Terminal 5, the Natural History Museum and London’s Millenium Bridge. At 23 I had purchased my first house and my daughter had arrived. 

“Friends would ask why I worked for such a low hourly rate. I knew the company was spending around £5000 a year on my training and I would benefit later. My earnings are now way above many of those same friends. 

“I ended up as group sales manager at William Cook, handling a multimillion budgets across several key UK projects. There I had great mentors in Ken Bond my commercial director and Andrew Cook CEO who was both visionary and practical and taught me a lot. 

“At 26 I moved to Sheffield Foragemasters becoming their youngest ever senior manager. I also got my first taste of global travel, visiting the US, South America, Russia, China and Europe. 

“I was involved in large nuclear power generation and got to see a nuclear submarine under construction. This was the stuff of my boyhood dreams!  

“My next two roles were directorships at Goodwin international and MetalTek then ten years ago I was presented with an amazing opportunity at Chinese niche automotive component manufacturer, Ginho Group who were looking to establish their first overseas division in the UK.  

“I knew I had all the skills to take on the challenge and their UK and European sales grew from £1 million to £25 million in ten years. I now oversee the UK, Germany, EU, and have additional insight into USA and Mexico markets with a group combined turnover of £150 million.  

“Ginho Group is a big advocate of apprenticeships. It’s about succession and making sure there is always someone to step up to the plate.  

“Work life balance is very important to me, and I like to spend quality time with the family and enjoy walking, the gym, watching rugby and motorsports and being from Burton, I am partial to a decent pint. 

“Because I work in the middle of Chinese and US time zones, Ginho Group is open around the clock. However, I never get stressed, being confident in my ability and experience, as well as that of my team. 

“I started my working life in Burton and now I have helped to establish a global brand in the town which has brought jobs in the company and via our supply chain. 

“I am president of the Burton Chamber of Commerce, a council member of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce and a patron of Burton & South Derbyshire College (formerly Burton Technical College), where my learning journey began! It is fantastic to be able to put back into the community and especially to the college where I started studying engineering. 

“At 16 if you would have told me I would be able to buy a house in my mid-twenties, travel the globe and work on the most amazing engineering projects, I probably would have thought it was pie in the sky.  

“I will always support, and advocate apprenticeships matched with hard work and education. The sky really is the limit!”