Interview with Nick Hay, MD of Fowler Welch

Emma Green met Nick Hay, MD of Fowler Welch to talk to him about his experiences. Nick joined Fowler Welch in 2010, an exciting time in the growth of the business.
Fowler Welch employs over 1300 people across 12 locations and has a vehicle fleet of over 400 trucks. With the acquisition of RF Fielding, the Stockport based haulier in 2006, they have moved into the ambient distribution market to complement their existing fresh and chilled operation. Fowler Welch offers full transport, warehousing and distribution solutions across the UK.

What are the current plans/projects for Fowler Welch?

Our current plans are to remain at the top of our game in those areas where the business excels, fresh and chilled distribution, whilst growing the newer ambient division of the business. We are doing this by ensuring our clients receive the same attention to detail and quality of service that we have delivered consistently for the past twenty years. We are also growing the business geographically; concentrating on improving our operational activities across our distribution centres not just focussing on the strategic direction at head office.

What have you focused on since joining the business?

It was important for me to take the time to understand what makes this business great and improve on it without breaking it!

How do you do this?

You have to listen to customers and colleagues; often it's not tangible, but with Fowler Welch there was a clear ingrained focus on sweating assets. That's a simple thing to say, but a difficult thing to do.

What are the biggest business challenges?

The biggest challenge for us and most businesses in the industry is pressure on margins. All customers want prices to come down but conversely operating cost are increasing, this makes it a highly competitive market and incredibly tough commercially.
One of the other challenges is to stay focused on non-commercial targets such as environmental responsibilities.

What are you changing to counter this pressure on margins?

Two things; continually pushing our efficiency measures and never letting service be anything other than a positive conversation with our customers.

What is the business doing to reduce environmental impact?

Environmental policy is something we take very seriously particularly with the Euro VI regulations covering pollutant emissions. The food and drink federation has a target for all distributors to reduce their carbon emissions by 20% by 2020, we are on target to achieve this by 2015. We are constantly working to improve our truck performance taking part in extensive vehicle testing at Millbrook, and with one of the newest vehicle fleets of any 3pl in the market we are pleased to be at the forefront of vehicle technology.

How do you measure the success of your team?

I believe the biggest success for any team is their ability to gel and work together effectively; of course this is difficult to measure. I truly believe the team I have now at Fowler Welch is the best team I have ever had. Am I able to put metrics on this to measure it, no, but feel it every day when working with them.

What are the signs that a team is not gelling well?

Politics and back biting, having to chase down actions as opposed to knowing they will be done.

You started your career as a graduate trainee at Exel, what attracted you to the logistics industry?

It was by chance really. When I finished university I applied to a lot of graduate schemes and this was the first one I was offered. The graduate scheme gave me an excellent foundation in the industry and I got to see how each area of the business worked.

What advice would you give to someone starting a career in logistics?

This industry is all about people and it's the people that really matter, everyone, from shop floor to back office, no business would operate without them. Also remember whatever you do it must contribute to bottom line!

What has been your biggest learning/challenge to date?

That it's critical to take the time to ensure you look after your people, especially in a crisis or when business pressures are high. Just spend a few minutes every day talking to people to make sure they are okay. This isn't always easy when you have a diverse, geographically spread workforce, but it's crucial.

So how do you do it?

There are lots of ways nowadays, but a phone call or hand written letter are simple and powerful ways to demonstrate your appreciation.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I really believe my biggest achievement has been seeing people around me progress. It's a great feeling when you know you have a team you can trust. A lot of people over manage but I know my team are good at what they do and will give everything they can to deliver results.

Who are your industry role models?

My two biggest industry role models are Graham Inglis of DHL, who I believe is a really inspirational leader. I witnessed his leadership first hand during my time at Exel; I never once heard him criticise an individual. Secondly Bob Almay who I also worked with at Exel, he taught me early on not to take things personally in business.
Emma Green is an associate director with Michael Page Executive Interim, handling interim assignments in the logistics industry. For a discussion about the market or our services, please contact Emma.
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