Cheryl Woodhart has been in the crane industry for some 30 years and has accomplished much during that time, both professionally and for the sector. From selling an $18 million crane to being CICA’s longest serving female director, the last three decades have been anything but dull, writes Jacqueline Ong.
Today, Woodhart is the general manager mobile cranes at SA-based RMB Service Group, the company she and her husband set up in 2009, fitting seeing it was her husband who drew her into the crane world 30 years ago.
JO: Tell me more about the early years – how did you get into the crane sector?
CW: When my husband left Brambles to work for himself, I started doing his books and began to take an interest in what the machines do. I then became involved in our local association, which was called the South Australian Crane Association back then. By the time I became an executive, we sold our business to a company here in SA. At the time, the company I was working for took over the agency for Manitowoc, with a focus on Grove products and my boss said to me: “Cheryl, you’re the only one with experience in mobile cranes.” So, I headed up the mobile crane division in that company and being female in the industry at that time was pretty extraordinary – there were no other females around doing that particular job. I still remember my first crane sale. It was meant to be one crane but I ended up selling two and I was pretty chuffed.
From there, I became more involved in the sector, visiting factories for instance, and became the president of the local crane association for about five years. I later applied for the position on the national board, becoming the first female to sit on the board of directors.
JO: What were the biggest challenges in your 30-year career?
CW: Breaking through a male-dominated sector to make a name for yourself and gain the trust of your male counterparts. I knew a bit technically but not as much as some of the guys out there so I had to work a little bit harder; I had to make sure that I was always there to answer their questions and make sure that our technicians, if there was a problem with our customers’ machines, were quick to get to the breakdown so that the cranes could get back on the road. That was the biggest challenge but once I got there, it was okay. The breakthrough came in 2004/05 when I started selling mobile cranes. Within a two-year period, I sold about 17 cranes to different organisations and people began to understand my passion. That’s my biggest thing and one that people always point out – my passion for the industry. Today, I get treated like one of the blokes.
JO: When you think back on the time before you became “one of the blokes”, are there any interesting or funny incidents that come to mind?
CW:The one big memory I have, and it’s a special memory more than a funny one, is travelling overseas with customers and the Manitowoc Group. I remember travelling to China on one occasion and I was the only female in the group. We were catching the underground train and there were so many Chinese all crowded into the train. I was with about eight customers and people I worked with in the industry and they said: “Cheryl, just get in the middle of us, just hang on to us, and we’ll get into the train. Don’t move.” I did that and it was just this happy group of people around me.
JO: That’s a lovely memory. When you think about your career, what would you say is your favourite moment?
CW: Putting the deal together for a Manitowoc 21000 that was sold to the Australian Submarine Corporation. Back then, that machine was worth $18 million! Having said that, it doesn’t matter if it’s a smaller crane. When I sell a 55t crane, I still get as excited to know that I’ve delivered and the customer’s happy. I’ll see it on the road and go yea, that’s cool, I sold that crane to that guy.
JO: What do you think have been the most significant changes in the mobile crane space?
CW: The mobile crane sector has become so much safer. My uncle used to ride the hook and obviously no one rides the hook anymore but I remember maybe 20 years ago, you had this god-like status if you could overload your crane and not tip over. Everyone thought, wow what a good operator, and nobody wanted to have data loggers in their machines because people wouldn’t be able to exceed and had been overloading their machines. Now, the owners want data loggers in their machines to make sure the operators are doing the right thing, which in itself is a massive coup for the industry.
JO: And what do you think the future looks like?
CW: Booms are going to get longer, lighter, and lift more. This means we need better operators, which is the challenge for the industry at the moment – we don’t have a lot of experienced operators and you can go from no licence to having an open ticket in six weeks with no experience.
CICA has now launched CrewSafe and we’re introducing that to the construction industry – your tier 1 and tier 2 construction guys – and we’re telling them this is where we want to get our operators trained and asking them to get on-board to make sure that’s the path that all operators go down. Everyone recognises that during the mining boom, people went out and got their licences and were accepted because they didn’t have a choice. But I think that within five years, because of our strong partnerships in construction and our work with the union with CraneSafe, you’ll start to see some very good operators come out of the system. We can’t have such a massive gap with the older, experienced operators starting to retire. Education is the key for our industry – educating operators on how to perform well and control a machine that has the potential to be extremely dangerous if used incorrectly.
JO: Speaking of CICA, you were on the board from 2010-2017, what are some of your contributions that you’re most proud of?
CW: Back then, we were all separate identities – each state had its own association. But for a very long time, we felt that we would have a bigger voice if we were one nation, so to speak. I sat on the working group for the transition to a national organisation and it was a hard job convincing people that the move was truly for the betterment of the association because it’s a bit like politics, each state didn’t want to lose their status or control, seeing that every state had their own financials. It took two years to convince the states that this was the right way to go and it was a massive achievement, which I’m proud to be a part of.
And CICA has evolved over the last seven years. CICA now has a portal for members where they can access their own information on all cranes, their operators with CrewSafe, traineeships, etc. NSW currently has traineeships and SA, WA and Queensland are currently looking at their legislation and the grants that can be offered to put up the traineeships as well. With CrewSafe, we’re saying that we can get some operators up to speed within that five-year period but we’re also hoping that the traineeships in each state will become bigger and be able to put all these trainees through the system so that they get a good understanding of rigging, dogging, operating, and maintenance of cranes.
CraneSafe is now branching out to other parts like tower cranes and vehicle loading cranes, all in a bid to make sure other sectors within the crane industry are a lot of safer. CICA is also working with the road authorities, including the NHVR and that’s a massive task in itself to make sure our members are happy and the permit system is working well. The organisation is also dealing with WorkSafe on a national and state level – another very important task. The future for CICA is looking good and more people are joining CICA because they can see the benefits.
CICA has an extremely strong future. They’ve got youth on their side, they’re passionate and the CEO, Brandon Hitch, has taken the organisation to the next level.
JO: And as the younger generation starts to enter and rise in this sector, do you have any advice for young women embarking on a career in the crane industry?
CW: Be yourself and stay true to yourself.