- Shift in perceptions
- Making roles more attractive
Faced with so many choices, most teenagers these days have difficulty in deciding want they want for their tea, let alone what career path they want to take. But for 15-year-old Steve Granite, the choice was clear.
“One of the owners at Abbey Logistics came to my school in 1995, claiming he wanted to recruit two potential young managers for the future,” Granite reminisces.
“I was never keen on going to university – I just wanted to get into the world of work. So, another guy and I, who is now our head of liquids, were recruited into the company.”
More than two decades on, Granite is now chief executive of the £65m turnover firm, which specialises in transporting bulk liquid and powdered foodstuffs and ingredients across the UK and Europe. What’s more, he’s drawing on his own experience to open the door for tomorrow’s business leaders.
Operating from six main depots and a further 34 operational depots throughout the UK, Abbey boasts a 600-strong workforce and a fleet of 280 liquid tankers and 220 powder tankers. It has 10,200m2 of warehousing space at its site in Wirral, Merseyside.
It’s a far cry from when Granite joined. A small family-run employer at the time, Abbey had just 30 staff. Its size, however, meant that Granite was able to gain an understanding of every aspect of the business, from the day-to-day running of delivery trucks to dealing with customers.
And it was this experience that inspired Granite to continue recruiting young people from schools and colleges into the company.
“Because of the opportunity I was given in 1995, we repeated the same exercise in 2013. We even recruited two more people from my old school,” explains Granite.
“We also used our experience to set up Think Logistics – a group of employers from the logistics sector, ranging from small businesses to the likes of DHL, Eddie Stobart and also some manufacturers, that goes into schools and colleges to deliver educational sessions on supply chain and logistics to young people.”
With around 2,000 young people going through Think Logistics each year, Granite’s enthusiasm for the programme is indicative of how he feels about the logistics sector as a whole. “Every week is different. You’d think it’s just transport, moving stuff from A to B, but the challenges or the opportunities you get weekly are just so different,” he says.
“It has constantly evolved, grown and changed over the past 20 or so years, so I don’t feel like I’ve been at the same business for 23 years. I feel like I’ve been with five companies – it’s changed that much.”
Evolution in logistics is something Granite is keen to emphasise, particularly when adopting new technologies and automation into his business.
“In our business, in particular, we’ve moved dramatically in the past two years to become very much data-driven, analytical and IT-focused,” Granite explains.
“If we pitch to a customer, we won’t take them to one of our transport operations to show them our trucks and tanks; we take them to our head office [in St Helens] to share our systems and data analysis reporting.”
Shift in perceptions
Granite attributes this change in the industry to a shift in consumer perceptions on the delivery of products.
“If I ordered a parcel, I now have the ability, on an app, to track that parcel at the push of a button. That type of consumer expectation is now being seen in the bulk supply chain,” he says.
“People are so used to having it on demand, being able to order products up to midnight and get it the next morning, as well as having full visibility of that process, so our customers now expect the same.”
The move towards more integrated IT systems is going to be a huge challenge for many in the sector “because they’re just not wired that way”, he says.
“From a food manufacturing point of view, when you’re looking for potential logistics firms for the future, that’s going to be a huge consideration,” he explains. “Their approach to IT is going to be crucial.”
Technology isn’t the only challenge, however. With the net migration of EU workers to the UK falling in the wake of the Brexit vote, a chief concern for firms like Abbey is a shortage of drivers.
“A business like ours is more specialist, so we can’t just call an agency and ask for an HGV driver, we need a tanker-trained driver,” notes Granite. “When we deal with foodstuffs, we need someone who understands the importance of traceability and food hygiene.”
Making roles more attractive
To counter this, Abbey has examined ways of making driver roles more attractive while offering robust training programmes. “We have to look at different shifts. An older generation driver likes to be away from home three or five nights a week, but the younger generation likes to start at 6am, end at 6pm and go home every night,” Granite says.
“We’re having to analyse our data again to see how we can create shifts that give more certainty and attract a better quality of driver.”
Looking forward, Granite hopes to grow the company into a £100m turnover business, with plans to set up a base in northern Europe to help with its operations on the continent by 2021.
Abbey has also hired analysts to help its clients better understand their supply chains and help with their plans.
“We ask them if they have any new contracts for the next four to five months, whether they are aware of any contracts they’re losing, and if have they considered what would happen if we have a really hot or a really poor summer,” Granite adds.
“Also, for example, what would it do for the sale of alcohol if, by some miracle, England made it to the World Cup final? And how would that affect their product volumes?”
“We’re really starting to work with the customers to understand their supply chain and marketplace. Customers really appreciate that, because we’re asking questions their teams haven’t thought about.”
Job title: Chief executive, Abbey Logistics
Domestics: Engaged, with one child.
CV: Having joined Abbey in 1995, Granite became finance director in 2004, and chief executive in 2009. A qualified management accountant, he has grown Abbey’s sales from £18m to £65m in his nine years in charge.
Away from work: A fan of sports, Granite is a keen fan of Liverpool FC. He also likes to spend his time playing golf – although badly, he claims. Friends and family hold a special place in Granite’s life, and he goes out of his way to spend as much time with them as possible. The rest of the time, he says, is spent keeping fit and in shape.