Leadership: Inspiring Ann


A nn Maitland is executive vice president of global operations at BSN Medical. In that position she manages 13 factories in 11 countries, 2400 people and runs a budget of approx. euro 500M. Cost leadership is in her blood. Or rather sustainability, in its broad sense, incorporating what is good for the business, the environment and the social community, all at once.



So what is so special about Ann? You have to meet her to understand. When you do, you will learn a story about a person whose perspective and approach is well worth sharing:

Born and raised with eight siblings outside Manchester five decades ago, Ann started working at the local textile factory at the age of 16. A few months in to her job she was told by her manager that they would do a time study (!) on her. Her output from one day’s work was too good to be true. When the study confirmed her exceptional results she was asked to train the other seamstresses to work like her. So she did. 

She was then questioned on her effective use of the fabric and ability to minimize waste. Proving again that she did what she said she did, Ann was asked to work with waste management. She organized waste baskets and painted stop lights on them to show how much waste was created. One evening she stayed later than normal and weighed it all.

I was not so good with numbers then”, she will tell you, “

but I asked one of the guys at the office to calculate the weight of the left over fabric and translate it into money…It was a lot of money. I then asked how much a BMW costs and realized the figures matched. So I went out and bought a magazine with a BMW ad in it and posted it on the waste bins.

I said to the others: “look what we are throwing away everyday”. At the time, Ann walked to and from work every day, 6 miles each way, and was given 10 pence a week from her sister to enjoy a coffee at the bar. The story continues and on an occasional day off, she was called by the secretary of the CEO, the big boss. “Mr Foster wants to see you Ann, I will send a chauffeur to pick you up”. In that time that could only mean one thing, Ann was going to be sacked. She wasn’t. She was asked to take over and run one of the two mills.

The company that today is BSN Medical has shifted names and owners many times but she has remained faithful for 40 years this June. She has built, restructured, reorganized operations and executed efficiency programs and cost saving actions more times than I have been able to count. She has spent a large part of her life in airplanes whilst also bringing up two sons and being the sole provider for many of her family members; “My salary still has to go along way, that’s why I don’t buy all that fancy stuff”

She has built factories in countries like Mexico relying only on local competence, living in shacks improved by the boxes left over from the installed machinery. She has enabled communities to develop by providing medical care, education and more while all the time not knowing a word of Spanish. “The only think I said to them was: don’t steal from us, rather ask me for what you need and I will help you.” She invented a communication language with drawings.

Whoever you talk to, who has worked with Ann, or been managed by Ann, will have a story to tell. In a recent restructuring of BSN Medical she had to save Euro 7 million in 24 months which was then revised to 12 months. She not only delivered, having to shut down one operation site which was not easy, but managed to add another 2 million Euro by selling the property of the old factory in an area which was doomed by divestment. She will tell you; it was all about her fantastic colleagues. They will tell you that it is all about her compassion and drive!

In her view there is not an area that cannot be more efficient more lean and yet more productive, creative and sustainable. The authenticity by which she drives herself and her employees is nothing but deeply inspirational. She will do what it takes to get herself and everyone around her to a better place. It goes without saying that she has no acceptance for employees who don’t pull their weight or live up to expectations. However, when they don’t and she has to sack them they agree with her and often remain friends. Ann is clear on what she expects from the very start. There is no second guessing her.

Right now she is probably on an airplane somewhere on her way to Germany or Colombia ready to meet with her factory manager and go through everything from milestones to practical challenges and opportunities to improve. Be sure that she will also have remembered to order flowers for someone’s birthday or left her house in England to some colleague who needs a temporary  office. All while barking at her colleagues in the management team to remember that flying economy class instead of business class may save a worker in Columbia from having to become redundant.

Giving cost leadership and sustainability a name, Ann is likely to have found inspiration from the challenges  and attitude formed in her own early years. I can only hope that she will continue to serve an inspiration for others, in BSN Medical and beyond.

July 2015