An Unexpected Role
How does a woman step off the stage and into the directorship of a polymer manufacturing business supplying the mining industry? “With a healthy dose of terror and a sense of humour,” according to Judy Elsworthy, who, following the death of her husband Trevor, found herself with some very big boots to fill.
“I knew nothing about dirt” says Judy, “And dirt is effectively the foundation of our business. I had to learn everything about the business from the ground up. But I do believe that a little bit of terror does you the world of good.”
Judy and Trevor’s love story began when they met in a Chinese restaurant in Perth in 2001. But shortly after they were married, they received the devastating news Trevor had liver cancer. Having started her working life as a nurse, Judy cared for him for nine years until he passed away.
Weeks before his death, Trevor handed Judy the reigns of his business Australian Engineered Polymers (AEPOL) – a specialist manufacturer and supply company focusing on the development of smarter materials for agriculture, construction and mining industries.
I found myself at mine sites in my pink hard hat and steel-capped boots, ready to do business and the men would be looking over my shoulder for my boss.”
It was at this point that Judy put a lifetime of skills and achievements to the test. Having previously been at the helm of a successful communications and training business and a former recipient of the Telstra AusIndustry Business Woman of the Year and Canberra Business Woman of the Year awards along with a professional modeling and acting career, Judy pulled her considerable resources together, giving her the confidence to step up to meet this new challenge.
“I was terrified,” says Judy earnestly. “I had a broad idea of the business but when it came to actually running the whole show, it took six months before I felt it was under control. I could see straight away that the company needed modernising in terms of marketing and it needed a strong online presence. So in a sense, I had to move backwards before I could move forwards.”
Having put these things in place, AEPOL did extremely well during the next 12 months and continues to perform strongly, something Judy is extremely proud of.
“It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight,” she says. “I found myself at mine sites in my pink hard hat and steel-capped boots, ready to do business and the men would be looking over my shoulder for my boss. I felt like they were going to ask me to make them a cup of tea,” says Judy.
“When I encountered this the first time, Trevor was still alive and I asked him ‘what am I going to do?’ and he said ‘well, you better do your thing’. So I did. I played to my strengths, stood up tall and told them ‘I’m doing this and you need to deal with me now’, and they were always apologetic, they don’t see many women on site and just had no idea.”
Judy’s previous career, training diplomats overseas and enthralling audiences on stage, seems a far cry from selling and manufacturing spray polymers for dust suppression to the mining industry.
So what motivates her?
“I needed to find something about polymers that interested me, something positive and exciting,” Judy explains. “And I did - I discovered what these products do from an environmental point of view and I became very focused on that.
“By using polymer-based products on mining roads, the need to spray the roads with water four or five times a day disappears and the maintenance on these roads is also greatly reduced. Our other product is a dust suppressant that is enormously important for coal mining regions. Wherever you are digging holes and blowing things up, dust becomes an environment and health issue.
“Another very exciting potential application for our polymers is in the management of asbestos. A polymer spray can act as an encapsulating coating and an entire house can be sprayed. We are only now beginning to discover all the uses for this smart material and its benefits to industry and the environment.”