5 minutes with Ian Dean

Collingwood’s Head of Sector – Building Products, Mark Goldsmith, had the opportunity to sit down with Ian Dean, most recently Managing Director of Landscape & Building Products at Marshalls plc.

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Having worked with them several years ago, Collingwood’s Head of Sector – Building Products, Mark Goldsmith, was keen to sit down with Ian Dean (most recently Managing Director of Landscape & Building Products at Marshalls plc) to catch up on what he has been up to recently and to discuss the building products market.



Here’s what they talked about:

Mark: Last time we spoke, you were working as MD for Knauf UK & Ireland where you had been for twenty years. We’ve not spoken since your move to Marshalls - How did you manage the transition to a different firm and to running a number of businesses?

Ian: Yes, I joined to run a number of acquisition businesses. I’d love to say it went perfectly to plan, but the move ended up happening during Covid so came with added complexity, particularly for someone that thrives on being with people.

Essentially, after a basic induction, it was about spending time - face to face where possible - in the business units that I looked after. Here I started to learn about the maturity of the businesses in terms of people, enablers, levers and critically the overall leadership.


Mark: It sounds like there was some structure to what you did despite the Covid chaos. Is that right? What were you looking for?

Ian: It’s not possible to be completely digital, there are always near-term issues that need attention, and it should never be forgotten that it is all about the people, the talent in the team… but yes there was a structure and a process. I was using a Commercial Excellence framework to guide me - and in time to guide the business unit leaders. The framework is a fairly simple scorecard that captures maturity in all areas of a business (talent and performance management; culture, processes, and systems; markets, products, and customers; leadership; change management; continuous improvement etc.) and enables prioritisation of improvement activity.


Mark: Sounds interesting. Where did the framework come from, and did it deliver a change in performance?

Ian: The [ComEx] framework has evolved over time… its origins are in FMCG, in food and drink,  and with a couple of others, I developed it for use in Building Products - in fact with only minor tweaks I think it could be deployed effectively in any business.  

In terms of performance… then yes… there were quick wins and longer-term improvement plans in all of the businesses. With only a couple of exceptions, the changes were local to each business unit and included leadership changes, process changes and product/pricing changes. In all instances brands were refreshed and customer journeys were better understood to drive longer term improvements in opportunity generation and conversion as well as operational efficiency.


Mark: We’ve both experienced dramatic changes in the performance, and volatility, of building materials over the past 20 years.  Manufacturers strip out peripheral product ranges and use ailing market conditions as an opportunity to reduce commercial teams.  What’s your take on where manufacturers can win when market conditions change?

Ian: Yes, I find myself able to talk with some confidence about “the last down-turn” which reminds me that I’ve been around the industry for a while!

Operationally, businesses of course must balance demand with capacity but that’s Sales and Operations Planning not necessarily winning. Manufacturers win and in fact get ahead of the underlying market with the right commercial mindset. This very often means a shift from farmer to hunter… from handling enquiries to hunting out opportunities.

At Marshalls, we talked about “Sales Velocity” - a number that is generated from a simple equation – number of opportunities multiplied by value of opportunities multiplied by win rate divided by the length of the sale cycle.

Businesses that really focus their sales, marketing, and service teams on this number and its drivers will win in this and in fact any market. Sounds simple, but for many this is a real stretch.


Mark: You’ve held several high-profile roles within the industry.  From a strategic and / or leadership perspective, what books and authors have you considered to be of the greatest influence in your development?

Ian: For me it’s more about the context, than the book in isolation – “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. I’ve had the benefit of working with wonderful people over the years – including a boss and a couple of HR directors who had a canny knack of sticking a book in my hand at just the right time!

For me, a pair of very simple, enjoyable and well-known reads kicked off my understanding of organisational change (“Who Moved My Cheese” by Dr. Spencer Johnson and “Our Iceberg Is Melting” by John Kotter).

“Great By Choice” by Jim Collins helped with communication to the business around change, with a particular view to getting ahead of the underlying market – winning mindset.

“Norwegian Wood” by Lars Mytting (a gift from one of my team) was a reminder that I probably talked to much about my weekends of splitting and stacking logs… but better than that reminds me of the need for fresh air and exercise to maintain my mental and physical wellbeing.


About the author
Mark Goldsmith
8 min read

With 23 years of recruitment experience under his belt, Mark has spent the last 19 focused on Building Products & Construction

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