One of Britain’s best-known business figures, Lord Digby Jones was Director-General of the CBI from 2000-2006 and Minister of State for Trade and Investment from 2007-8.
He is renowned as an industry expert and speaker on business topics, as WLN readers will remember after he came to the UKWA Awards a few years ago and gave an inspiring speech.
In our exclusive interview Lord Digby explains how he keeps his finger on the commercial pulse with Non-executive Chairman roles at various companies including the subject of our conversation, OnLogistics, whose Distribution and Fulfilment division provides thirdparty, added-value logistics and packaging services to businesses at varying stages of the supply chain.
Warehouse & Logistics News – Lord Digby, when did you invest in OnLogistics and what inspired you to do it?
I invested in OnLogistics in November 2015 after meeting Nick Bennett, the Founder and MD, through a mutual acquaintance. Nick explained the company’s vision and goals, talked me through his business plan and I “got it” in a flash. I am presented with business plans and requests for advice and monitoring every week, but OnLogistics stood out to me as it had a clear sense of direction, and I took an immediate liking to Nick as an MD and on a personal level. He’s a committed guy who leads from the front. We get on and understand each other. I felt at home straight away and as if I could make a difference. Investing to become Shareholder and Chairman at OnLogistics was an easy next step.
WLN – What specific services do you offer to warehousing and logistics customers?
We provide warehousing customers with our Warehouse Management System, where we offer short to long term product storage, drop-shipping, order picking and packing. Our inhouse IT team has developed a system which can fully integrate with a customer’s e-commerce platform. In addition to this pioneering system, we’re able to provide back-end carrier integration, increasing efficiency for customers.
For our logistics customers, we provide specialised distribution solutions which include courier dedicated services, pallet and parcel services as well as air and sea freight. We are strategically placed to break bulk and forward distribution, specialising in large, awkward freight. We also provide companies with the option to completely transfer their supply chain management to us, allowing them to achieve a more streamlined operation, increasing overall customer satisfaction.
WLN – What does your role as Chairman of OnLogistics involve day to day?
OnLogistics is led by Nick Bennett, who has put in place a highly experienced senior leadership team, responsible for running the business day-to-day and delivering growth. I am not and should not be, involved in the daily running of OnLogistics, that’s not my remit as Chairman. My role is to provide advice and mentoring to the senior team, therefore getting wrapped up in the daily grind would kill my capacity to be objective and diminish my effectiveness and contribution.
Most weeks, Nick and I discuss a lot of things over the phone. Our calls tend to begin and end with a few minutes on our mutual love of Aston Villa! The job of MD can be challenging, and this is where my support comes in. Nick can discuss ideas, opportunities, potential risks and problems with me in confidence, reliant on the fact that my advice is untrammelled by subjective day-to-day office involvement.
WLN – What’s your favourite part of this job?
One of my favourite bits is our monthly board meetings, which always take place on the company premises, and involve the entire senior team. This is where Richard Chaplin our Financial Director, and Dean Bennett, our Senior Operations Director, no relation to Nick, join us.
They are both about to become shareholders in the company, which speaks volumes about the faith they have in OnLogistics, especially as they’re putting their own cash into the business to support an exciting next phase of growth!
WLN – What difference does being a high profile figure make to how other people in business see you?
When it comes to business, titles, recognition and a well-known past should be something all high-profile figures are willing to leave at the door. In my opinion, you need to be able just to work hard for the business, and leave all status aside before you do any damage to yourself or others. Colleagues can often think that they can’t do what I do, but I know that I can’t do what they do! Everyone brings their own unique experience and abilities to each role, which strengthens the overall team.
The main difference I suppose is that by virtue of the type of exposure I’ve had, it’s easier for me to tap into my previous experience and contacts, and bring value to the business.
WLN – When were you last involved in managing a business, and what was it?
The last time I managed a business was back in 2006, when I was the CEO at Confederation of British Industry. Since then, I have been Minister of State for Trade & Investment and then Non-Executive Chairman of several companies and Advisory Boards. The essentials don’t change. The main thing is putting the customer first, second and third. Hard work, a sustained investment in company equipment, training your staff and going the extra mile are still as important today as they’ve been in the past.
WLN – You currently have this job and various other Non-executive Chairman roles, with Triumph Motorcycles, Thatcher’s Cider and ProBuild 360, and you’re a member of The House of Lords. How do you find time to do it all?
For me, maximising my time is everything. To help me get the most out of each of my roles I live by the following rules. I am ruthless when prioritising. A compartmentalised mind helps. Always give the job in hand your undivided attention. On delegation, I never ever do something that I’m employing someone else to do. Instead I seek to help, train and upskill staff so they’re empowered and able to get on with it.
Those whom I delegate responsibility to know that if they come to me and ask for help, they’ll always get it. If they lie to me, either they go, or I do. I believe in the truism, he who makes things look easy works harder, prepares more and takes nothing for granted!
WLN – What are your ambitions for OnLogistics from here on?
Having successfully received a funding boost from one of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund’s fund managers – Maven Capital Partners – this year, there is a great opportunity for OnLogistics to execute its ambitious growth strategy and unlock several market opportunities.
Going forward, my ambitions for the company would be to become, and be known as, the very best aerospace components logistics operator in the UK: to be known as THE place to go to experience Best Practice in Health & Safety, Environmental & training programmes: to add value to the Balance Sheet year-on-year, rewarding our financial partners and shareholders after our workforce has received above market rates for superlative performance.
WLN – You came to speak at our industry body the United Kingdom Warehouse Association’s Awards a few years ago and gave an inspiring speech. Do you still address industry gatherings?
All the time! I love it and people are kind enough to say they enjoy listening and participating. I always hope people leave one of my sessions feeling challenged, informed and both inspired and critical.
WLN – And finally, what do you see happening to British industry as a whole after Brexit?
It is all a matter of having confidence on an individual, sectoral and national basis. Brexit was always going to be challenging but after a period of rough water, I believe the ever-globalising economy and the shift in wealth-creating opportunities around the world, Britain’s openness and belief in free trade and the Commonwealth can yield wonderful opportunities for our grandchildren.
Pull together, make the most of being outside an Institution marching valiantly towards the corporatism of the 1970’s, deregulate our business space, lower our taxes, create wealth and better-paid jobs, encourage quality, skilled immigration based on what you can do and what you can contribute, not where you come from, and Brexit will provide success for UK business for decades to come.