From the Royal Air Force to a life in the Automotive Aftermarket - Hayley Pells

Date: Wednesday May 29, 2019 at 11:41am

The transition from service life to a career in the automotive aftermarket, for me, wasn’t too strange a change. In fact, there are plenty of areas where the skills I had developed within the military were incredibly useful in my new role.

After joining the Royal Air Force in the late ‘90’s I was warned to never expect to be deployed, or even posted to another unit. Strange as it sounds, Air Cartography was such an obscure trade. It was sort of mashed into trade group 14, along with the photographers, the closest I came to an understanding of this relationship between the two trades was that they both had “ography” in them. I am sure there was much more to it than that. The Labour administration had made a few adjustments to the military, after all, we were all capable of a front-line role anyway and so when the NATO demand for more hands to the pumps came, I was quite excited to be deployed to Kosovo. Shortly after 9/11 happened it wasn’t a great surprise that the fantastic opportunity to work in Iraq was presented. I told my mother I was working in the mail room, organising the post and making the officer’s tea and with her mind settled I got stuck in to close protection duties for the main fuel supply in and out of Basra. The job alternated between top cover and driving and it was a bit of a surprise given that there was no opportunity for any type of training before starting.  I am not sure who was more nervous about this, me (having not handled an iron sight rifle since basic training) or the convoy I was protecting. Needless to say, I was very happy that my mum had no idea.


Unfortunately, I had an accident in Iraq, right at the end of my tour. Nothing remarkable really, but enough for me to get to know Headley Court very well and earn me a medical discharge. I felt quite unemployable, who on earth wanted an employee who could strip and rebuild a rifle in under 11 seconds blind folded? I was fantastically skilled at “eye spy” (guard duty is boring) and spent a lot of time explaining what Air Cartography was to baffled civilians who sort of regarded me as a total weirdo. I felt broken and unable to fit in.

Starting another career was daunting. I still had medical care that needed addressing and unknown to me at that point I had a further two years under Velindre Hospital to get me back to some sort of independent operating level.

I took a bit of time to assess what I knew. I knew how to organise myself, I was reasonably bright and I was definitely adaptable. I needed a skill set that I didn’t have to explain, and I wanted to work at my own pace. Learning new skills and passing exams are not a problem to me, had I not completed basic and trade training? Those things were considered very hard by the people I now wanted to work for. I had to prove myself in something they could understand.

The decision to work in business was therefore an easy one. My father had a business that he wasn’t doing a lot with. He originally hand built single seater racing cars and also maintained and repaired them. Part of my skill set I developed in military life was understanding frameworks, particularly government ones. I swiftly gained the necessary permissions for a MOT lane, three service ramps and a tyre bay followed. We now needed staff, they needed managing and training. This was something I understood and my teaching style works well with the established apprenticeship provision in the area, earning the company national recognition by gaining multiple awards for our business practices.


I am now the sole director of the company, I feel a lot of responsibility for my staff and encourage them to view their role here as a tour of duty, a step on the road to something better. This has developed a team that is a genuine joy to work with and I have cherry picked the best parts of military life and integrated them into our environment.

As an Air Cartographer, I was meant to create charts. I had joined the Royal Air Force for that purpose, I made very few charts but learnt an ability to adapt, an ability to enjoy challenges and was exposed to a dizzyingly variety of leadership styles. Without this experience, I wouldn’t have the award-winning business I have built today. 


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