From Midlands ‘employment train wreck’ to Fletchers CE position

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Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Staffordshire, England, in an area called the Black Country — a blue collar industrial zone, historically famous for chain and nail making in the industrial revolution.

It was named the “Black Country” because of all the soot that emitted from the factory chimneys and covered the houses. I can happily say it is much cleaner and greener today. But sadly most of those great manufacturing sites are long gone.

What schools and tertiary institutes did you attend, and what relevant qualifications did you obtain?

Too many to specifically list, but my most relevant qualifications are hopefully common sense and customer-centric. I have a plethora of English O levels, some A levels, studied for an MBA at Stirling University and attended IMD business school in Lausanne, Switzerland. I also have an IOSH qualification in Health and Safety.

I like to learn something new every day, so I always read and often study for pleasure and fun. In the past couple of years I completed a dozen or so product training courses in England on piping systems, HVAC, refrigeration, electrical etc. It all helps. Especially in pub quizzes.

What are your family/other interests/hobbies away from the workplace?

I played rugby for 30 years (badly) and boxed in various forms — Thai, Kick and ABA boxing for a decade. I am a regular at my gym. And as much as I love the great New Zealand outdoors I will not be bungee jumping!

I permanently emigrated here in November, so it’s early days, but I am slowly getting around the great locations and sites that the North and South Islands have to offer.

My son has just signed for Drury Rugby Club, and has hopes of emulating Martin Johnson (ex-England captain and all-time great). Coming to New Zealand to play rugby didn’t do Martin any harm, did it?

I am a season ticket holder at the Auckland Blues — yes, I can hear the boos from here. My son is a Crusaders fan.

What were your previous career positions held, going right back to your first job after completing your education/studies through to any senior management/chief executive roles before moving on to PlaceMakers?

I left education at the height of the late 1980s UK recession. There were four million people out of work and the deputy prime minister came on TV and said “get on your bike and get a job”. The Midlands was an employment train wreck so I moved to Oxford where my brother was studying for a degree.

I had two first-time jobs, all at the same time, so I could afford to rent a room in expensive Oxford. I worked on the shop floor for the English equivalent of New World and worked at a dairy on weekends. 84 hours per week! I was a tired boy, but I learned a lot about customer service and management

I moved to branch operator/management in food retailing, then DIY, regional management, project management, and procurement. Finally I became Head of Trade for B&Q, an $8 billion DIY/trade business in the UK.

After seven years at B&Q I was headhunted by Wolseley Group, one of the world’s largest distributors. I became the managing director of a division for them after a few years as a trading director and commercial director for their commercial and industrial division.

Finally, I was just about to emigrate to Wolseley, USA, to take up a strategic role when Fletcher Building came calling.

How long have you been at Fletcher Building, and what was it that most attracted you to your current position at the company?

I joined Fletcher Building as chief executive of New Zealand Distribution (NZD) about six months ago. Fletcher Building is a well-respected global company. Being vertically integrated they have a different model which is exciting to work in. The company has a great history in New Zealand, and I am proud to say that I work for them. After all, I moved 18,000km to join them!

How would you describe your management/communication style? How do you manage conflict, how do you reward excellent work performance and how do you manage poor performance?

I would like to think that I am down to earth and very customer-centric. My father was a bricklayer and so was my granddad. In fact, my line are all tradesmen going back to 1799!
I believe in creating simple and clear strategies that are built around the customer.

I actually like conflict, provided it is positive and focuses on serving the customer better. I believe in delegation and the sharing of best practice.

Every two weeks we get the branch operators on a conference call to give us feedback. Our branch operators have been around a while and they have valuable insights — they are the closest people in the organisation to our customers, so engagement and communication is vital.

I am also getting around the branch network and getting a real grass roots feel for things.

What do you think is your most important trait/commodity? What do you attribute your success to?

I am absolutely focused on customer service. A customer will never leave you for being too professional or too good at service. I accept that price will always be a common denominator but best-in-class service drives customer loyalty.

I know how hard our customers work, and we must be excellent every day in helping them succeed.

I think it is too early to talk of success — but I am intolerant of mediocrity. The All Blacks do not accept being average, and I like the Kiwi culture in that sense — to be dynamic and competitive. I think back to those early years, and I have never lost my will to be better, to grow and build better teams, businesses and better customer service. To make a real difference to an industry.

NZD employs 2500 people, and we have a duty of care to be an employer of choice. We have 70,000 core customers and we are only successful if they are.

What is your personal work ethic, and how do you think this affects the company culture?

Similar to the above — FB is “can do”, NZD is “can do”. Our customers are “can do”. I like to work at pace and focus on what needs doing.

What is your priority for PlaceMakers and Mico in the context of the current state of the New Zealand construction industry. What is the biggest challenge you feel your company faces, and how do you inspire your employees to meet it head on?

PlaceMakers and Mico operate in a very competitive market. We recognise that the customer has a choice of where to buy from. So operationally and tactically we need to consistently be excellent at customer service — DIFOTIS (Delivery In Full On Time In Spec), frame and truss solutions, product availability and technical knowledge.

There is a recession on average every 8.5 years so we must innovate and create solutions in our market, with our teams and customers.

Going up and down with a cyclical market is not an option. We all need to find the right balance to outperform the market and deliver a sustainable business model that is robust for our customers, our teams and the shareholder.

I think New Zealand is seeing real globalisation for the first time, and global players are seeing New Zealand as an attractive market, product and people-wise. Being “a long way” from the rest of the world may not be the natural defence that it used to be. So we must innovate to survive and grow.

I also think the digital trend will enter our markets as customers want to choose how they buy from us. In the USA, 30% of plumbing sales are online. It is just a matter of time before we see a similar trend here, if our customers want it.

If you could instantly change any aspect of doing business in the New Zealand construction industry, what would it be?

I sincerely believe we have some of the best customers in the world, so I would not change a thing there. I like having competition as it makes us better and stronger. So I will cheekily say “does every house built really have to be so customised and bespoke?”

Only kidding — it’s too early to wish for changes. Don’t forget I have just moved out of a triple recession in the UK.