Having partnered Veka on three senior recruits over the past couple of years, Collingwood’s Head of Building Products, Mark Goldsmith, took the opportunity to sit down with longstanding MD Dave Jones. Mark was particularly interested in understanding what qualities an ex Ops Director can bring to the wider MD role and was keen to not highlight how Dave has carried him during several golf four-balls!
Mark: In my experience, there is a lower ratio of Operations Directors with manufacturing bias that move up into the broader MD role. At what stage did you realise that you aspired to develop into the MD role at VEKA?
Dave: There wasn’t really a specific moment for me to aspire to become an MD, it wasn’t an instant one day and say “let’s become an MD”. I was content being the Ops Director and felt comfortable doing that role it just felt natural to lead the total business rather than just the operational side of VEKA when the opportunity arose. It was the first time the VEKA Group had made an Operational Director into a General Manager. Today I work tirelessly to improve as a person in that role, I learn new things every day and I enjoy the variety the position offers and the responsibility for all our colleagues who work at VEKA.
Mark: What areas and strengths do you feel an Operations Director brings to an MD role that you may not always get from other areas of the business? (You mentioned hearts & minds with S&M being slightly more detached on Friday Dave).
Dave: Being in operations allowed me to understand the complete detailed supply chain internally within the business. It also allowed me to generate relationships with key individuals who influenced what goes on within VEKA. Being in the business daily helped to build the rapport with the team, understanding what they were good at and enjoying what we did in the business were so important. Listening and leading them and winning the hearts, minds and earning their respect was key for me. It’s more difficult to do this from a remote / detached external position. It’s not impossible though.
Mark: Many of your customers are large scale fabricators throughout the UK. As a result I would assume VEKA is generally attempting to set up partnerships with owners who are very technical by nature. How bigger advantage has this been given your background in manufacturing and what key issues do you see in fabricators factories?
Dave: Operational people tend to be more direct and to the point - some customers like that approach. We can be very technical and customers like this. As the market changes and the demands for new products increases we have to produce more effective and efficient products, selling the features and the benefits comes easier to technical people. Having the operational background does have some advantages when in front of customers, it allows you to speak with authority and knowledge about the business. I believe that having that experience embeds confidence that we know what we’re doing within our business and to work with us when it comes to selecting us for a working partnership.
Mark: One of your legacies will be the automated distribution and picking line you commissioned in 2002. Given the investment, it would be great to understand how you put the business case forward to parent company in Germany and what impact this has had in the UK market?
Dave: The automated picking facility was designed and bespoke by VEKA in the UK, it took a considerable amount of research and visits to similar European installations to finalise our requirements. During this period we listened to various companies running existing facilities and tried to take the real functional benefits from each and apply this to our own systems. The group in Germany does not have a facility like the UK, however they listened to the arguments, understood the requirements our customers needed and analysed the payback that was proposed. Two year pay back was the basis for the facility, it was a £10.8m investment. We operate holding 4500 articles, customer orders day one for day three anywhere in the UK with a 99% on time in full delivery performance. Recently we upgrade the facility to increase the picking rate by 80% and have a further proposal to improve the efficiency by another 20%. We are always looking to improve what we do.
Mark: Much has been written regarding the volatility of the market of late. Like many I have spoken with, this has left me slightly confused as, from what I can ascertain, there are very mixed reports coming from senior figures within the building product market. What is your viewpoint on the situation; especially given the blend of markets VEKA trade in?
Dave: The markets we operate in cover a number of areas. A number of our raw materials are imported and we export very little. We are affected by volatility of exchange rates, local authority spending and consumer spending. We have to adapt within these markets and influence what we can do as a business; we need to ensure that we provide the best service and value for money than the competition. Yes consumer spending looks like its slowing - we can turn into victims and complain about all sorts of reasons why we cannot do what we need to do. Ultimately the customer decides, we need to influence them as much as possible.
Mark: Congratulations on winning Burnley Employer of the Year last month, especially given how VEKA is such an influential local employer of some 400 people. What key steps have you taken in attracting and developing your workforce and how has your Head of HR, Gabriela Hammond, created a strategy to suit?
Dave: We are extremely proud of our achievements as a business, recognition for this is great, we have won a number of awards but we never get complacent. We need to constantly evolve as a business and the way we do this is through the people who work within it. We listen, we ask, we act, we improve. We measure how we’re doing by asking our people and our customers. Without our people we do not have a VEKA business. Gabriela, our Head of Human Resources, developed an employee engagement plan together with a plan within the local community that continues to run and is constantly being updated. For us to compete locally or nationally we must develop faster than the competition and attract the best people to our organisation.
Managing Director - VEKA