Mandie Skipps hasn’t always worked in forestry. With a background in media & marketing and a passion for fitness, she brings a unique skill set to Skipps Logging, the Northland contracting business she runs with husband Tommy.
Working in Senior leadership roles in media for 13 years, Mandie Skipps accumulated a heap of experience working with and managing different people.
At the same time, husband Tommy was running Skipps Logging since 2007, with 2 crews operating in Northland.
“I’ve always supported my husband, but as my job took off, I was travelling more and more so it was getting hard to stay in touch with what was happening, not only in our business but at home with the kids,” she says.
“A couple of years ago our Skipps Health and Safety Manager left, so the opportunity arose for me to jump into the business to work with Tommy and be there for our kids.”
Mandie says in her role, she supports their foreman and Tommy with Health and Safety and coordinates the admin side of the business. She also takes a lead on managing the people and HR, putting her career experience to good use.
“Having a female perspective is a bit different. You’re more like a camp mother, and you kind of pick up when someone doesn’t seem right on site,” she says.
“Now that I am working in the business, I can take the time out to listen to them and try to support whatever it is they need. Some of the staff have told me it’s really nice having a female involved more, because I’m fluffier that Tom LOL. I take that as a compliment.”
It wasn’t easy stepping away from her own career to come and work with her husband.
“The first six months were pretty rocky – we didn’t really know who was boss. We definitely butted heads with a lot of things,” she says.
“Once we worked out ‘this is what you do, and this is what I do, and this is what we’ll discuss together’, it was a lot better. Working together brings a completely different dynamic to our marriage - but in a good way. We try and keep the work and homelife separate as best as we can when we eat, sleep, work and play together.”
As part of the plan to step into the business, Mandie and Tommy agreed that Mandie could put more time into one of her passions – studying exercise.
“Exercise has always been my thing, and Tommy knows that and was keen to support me in furthering my own education in getting qualified as an exercise professional,” she says.
“I qualified in May last year and started my own company in June – Skipps Training. I have a studio at home and in Whangarei where I mainly specialise in Health & Wellbeing in the workplace.”
Mandie juggles her time between the two, and says it gives her a nice balance.
“To be able to do both, I feel pretty lucky. With logging, it’s our business and I get to support Tommy, but it’s still his arena,” she says.
“This way, I’m supporting Tommy, using my strengths in our business, but also looking after myself too.”
Mandie’s passion for exercise started to filter into Skipps almost immediately after she joined.
“In October 2018 we had our annual health checks and the results were scary in terms of our crew’s health,” she says.
“We launched the Biggest Bush Loser challenge, a programme designed to get the guys reporting a better resting heart rate, bring blood pressure down and lose weight.”
The results were pretty amazing. Of the 14 competitors that completed the 12-week challenge:
• 4 quit smoking
• 9 produced a fit resting heart rate
• 13 reduced their waist measurement
• 7 recorded a healthy blood pressure
• 3 were no longer hypertensive (high blood pressure)
Mandie says it’s grown from there, filtering into crew culture. They’ve just started their third Biggest Bush Loser Challenge, with this one running for six months.
“We do a kickstart 2-minute workout after every toolbox meeting, and I run 2 bootcamps a week for the crew and their families,” she says.
“We incentivise and support our crew to quit smoking – one of the crews is about to become smoke-free which is almost unheard of.”
The focus on staff-wellbeing has had a positive effect on the business too.
“We have better engagement, less incidents and more near-miss proactive reporting, and generally healthier guys,” she says.
“We also have far less property damage – we’re definitely being more alert, but also more respectful.”
“We are proud of our people and how far they have come to looking after their own wellbeing.”
When asked about the current downturn situation, and how it’s affecting Skipps, Mandie says the crews are down to 4 days, and finishing at 2pm everyday due to the extreme fire risk in Northland.
But all things considered, she’s grateful they’re still working.
“Considering what we’re going though, our staff are in a good place and that’s a real credit to them and shows the level of professionalism they all have,” she says.
“We’re keeping them close, making sure they’re well informed and not in the dark. The bush grapevine can be a really negative place, so we’re focused on saying ‘this is what we know, this is what we’ve been told’.”