Meet Kathleen and Alexandra, an Auntie and Niece Working at the British Engines Group

At the British Engines Group, we are proud of our reputation as a family-run and family-oriented business. With many of our sites based across the North East, we are honoured to employ several generations of families from across the region.

Throughout the year we will be recognising the huge part that generations of local people have played in helping British Engines reach 100 years by speaking to employees who have family members working across the group.

This week we spoke to Kathleen and Alexandra Kearns who work at group company, CMP Products. Alexandra and her sister, Dominique, have both lived with their auntie, Kathleen, her partner Vince Patterson and Vince’s son, Jamie for the last ten years. Vince and Jamie also work at CMP, Vince as the CEO and Jamie as a Design Engineer.

Can you start by telling us about your current roles and how long you’ve worked for the company?

Kathleen: I’m European Sales Manager, so I have a team of sales people working across Europe. I often travel around Europe promoting CMP’s various products to customers. I’ve worked at CMP for almost 35 years!

Alexandra: I’m an Export Shipping Administrator, so I work in the logistics department at CMP managing the administration of delivering goods to customers across the world. I’ve been with the business for just over one year now.

meet kathleen and alexandra

Kathleen and Alexandra at CMP Products

Can you tell us about your journey through the business Kathleen?

Kathleen: I started working as an Office Manager at CMP Mining, a division we had a long time ago that manufactured couplers, plugs and sockets for underground mining. Our main customer at the time was British Coal.

When British Coal was dissolved in the late 1990s, CMP Mining slowed down, although we did supply all of the couplers for the construction of the Channel Tunnel, which was our last big contract. We then sold that business to Victor Products, who were a competitor at the time. After that, I moved into the glands division where I took on a secretarial role.

After a year or so, I wanted a change so I asked if I could move into another department. I got the opportunity to move into external sales working with David O’Brien. Later on, David got promoted into a different role and I got promoted into my current role as European Sales Manager.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Kathleen: I like that it is more of a technical role rather than a traditional sales role. I really enjoy being able to talk with customers about the technicalities of our products and advise on suitable solutions. There was quite a lot for me to learn when I first started working in sales. At the time, it was quite unusual for a woman to be in that kind of role!

Meeting customers was always interesting because you were never sure what reaction you would get. They never forgot me though, probably because I was a woman in what felt like a man’s world!

So what about you Alexandra, how did you come to work at CMP?

Alexandra: I’ve known about CMP for a long time through Kath and Vince, and I also did work experience here whilst I was at school. I’ve been lucky enough to experience working on the shop floor, in the marketing department and in stock control.

During the pandemic, I got the opportunity to work at CMP for six months before I went to university. Now there’s a chance I may be able to complete a chartered management apprenticeship through the business, so I have ended up staying at CMP in a permanent role.

Kathleen:  It’s been complicated for Alexandra because she took her A Levels during Covid, meaning her results were based on predicted grades, rather than exam results. As we all know there was a lot of controversy around that, so Alexandra took a year out so she could re-sit her exams.

What changes have you seen during your time working at CMP Kathleen?

Kathleen: I worked in the mining division for 15 years and I’ve been doing this role for about 20 years now, so I’ve seen a lot of changes. There’s been big growth in terms of sales, yearly targets and new product development. There’s also been changes in terms of people, as is normal for a business of this size, although there are lot of people who have worked at CMP for many years which is great!

Moving from our original site at St. Peter’s to a purpose built facility in Cramlington was a huge change, as well as a big achievement. Seeing the business expand from one unit to three over more recent years has also been exciting and is testament to the growth of the business.

Another recent change is that we have been moving towards supplying products for renewable energy sources as the demand for sustainability increases. I think this is particularly important for longevity and the climate in general.

I think generally the industry has changed a lot since I started working, in that there are a lot more women working within engineering. It’s certainly not as unusual as it was when I first started.

What do you think will happen at the British Engines Group over the next 100 years?

Kathleen: Oil and gas still has a place, but it is important for the future of the business that we move even more into renewables. At CMP, I think the cleat business will increase because we can supply into data centres and onshore/offshore wind farms. I think in general there will be a massive shift into new markets going forward.

The group as a whole has recently survived some very tough times, as has everyone, what with Brexit, the pandemic and now the war in Russia. So I think if we can survive all of those, we will definitely be able to survive for another 100 years!

 What’s it been like working together?

Alexandra: It’s been really nice, we often go out for a coffee together at lunch. We don’t really work that closely in our roles, but I’ve got to know many of Kath’s customers by looking after their shipments. It’s been great to be able to join in on conversations about work at home with Kath and Vince!

meet kathleen and alexandra

Alexandra and Kathleen at Dominique’s birthday dinner

What do you like to do together in your spare time?

Kathleen: We’re going to see The Script together on Saturday night!

When Dominque was eight and Alexandra was nearly ten, the girls sadly lost their mum and had to move from Bahrain, where they were living at the time, to live with Vince and I in the North East. Our jobs meant that we had to travel a lot with work, but we always made time to do fun things together like going ice skating or to the cinema.

Alexandra: I still love ice skating! It’s been harder to spend time together recently with not being able to go out during Covid and my sister went to university. We often have movie nights at home which are great; I really like Marvel but Kath prefers thrillers!

Kathleen: We always go on holiday with the girls as well. In August we’re going to Ibiza which we’re all looking forward to. We also like to go out for food and drinks together. Alexandra and I like to share a bottle of prosecco, while Vince usually sticks to the pints!

What do you admire most about each other?

Alexandra: Her dedication is something that I admire a lot. Kath’s been in this role for a long time and she’s worked her way up to where she is now. Not long after my sister and I moved to the UK, Kath celebrated her 25 year anniversary with CMP at the British Engines Long Service Awards and we got to see her receive her award which was amazing. Now, 10 years later, she’s still making an impact on the business.

Kathleen: The girls are just amazing. They’ve been through so much and they’ve been so strong. I just have so much admiration for them both.

meet kathleen and alexandra

Dominique, Kathleen and Alexandra at the British Engines Long Service Awards ten years ago

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had from each other?

Alexandra: I’m not sure it’s advice specifically, but the example I get from Kath is definitely something that’s inspired me. When Dom and I moved, she went from having no children to having two children over night. I think the demands of both Kath and Vince’s jobs made it difficult at times, but they always managed to make sure that we had everything we ever needed. I know that if I follow her example, I can’t go wrong.

Kathleen: I don’t know if Alexandra has ever particularly given me advice but what I would say is that the girls have kept us quite young by making sure we keep up with the times! We’ve also had Vince’s son, Jamie, living with us which has been great. I’m sure they’ll all be giving me plenty of advice in the future!

Thank you for speaking to us Kathleen and Alexandra, we wish you both the best of luck as you continue in your roles within the business!

Find out more about the history of the British Engines Group and how we’re celebrating our 100 year anniversary.

Enjoyed this? Read Ron and Richard’s story, a father and son who together have worked at British Engines for 100 years!