5minutes with Mark Lavender
Collingwood’s Head of Sector – Building Products, Mark Goldsmith, had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Lavender, Promat’s Middle East and Asia Regional Director.
Having worked with the parent organisation, Etex Group historically, Mark Goldsmith was keen to understand how Mark Lavender’s role evolved over there and how he built several high performing teams.
Here’s what they discussed:
Mark Goldsmith: You’ve gained promotion throughout your time at Promat, Mark. From Commercial Director within the UK business, to first moving over to the Middle East to integrate an acquisition in 2008, you then took over as Managing Director in 2012 and since 2018 have been the Regional Director for both the Middle East and Asia. Given the multicultural team that you inherited, then built upon and developed, how did you have to adapt your leadership style?
Mark Lavender: Indeed, from managing predominantly a UK based team to moving across to the Middle East was a challenge at first. In those early days it was about communicating, especially listening and understanding the people, their culture and how business can differ from what I knew. Keeping an open mind, being impartial, empathising with their challenges and supporting them, including time on the ground with customers and both the operational/factory and commercial teams. Discussing our shared vision, the business opportunities and the strategy and more importantly the role the entire team had to play was instrumental in the success and my impact with the team.
Moving on from the Middle East to India and then Asia including Japan, during my time in the region also continued my learning and true appreciation of the benefits of a diverse, multi-cultural and multi-national team to deliver our regional goals.
I would suggest a great book by Erin Meyer – The Culture Map if you’re in business and about to take on your first international role, or you want to polish up your skills and understanding of the potential invisible boundaries of global business, it’s a good read!
Mark Goldsmith: And you also managed a couple of manufacturing plants including factories in Dubai and Japan. This must have been challenging, given the need to closely monitor key performance indicators like OTIF and fluctuations in demand. How did you manage the setting of expectations with these remote managers?
Mark Lavender: Firstly, ensuring we hire the right person for the role is imperative. We strive to promote within and provide our teams career opportunities to the best of our ability. A really good example was an Assistant Factory Manager in Dubai that was promoted to Factory Manager and then in time was promoted again and relocated to manage the factory in Japan. This also created numerous opportunities for internal promotion and provided great examples of reinforcing our message regarding career opportunities and advancement. As you have mentioned we have numerous and challenging KPI’s especially in relation to safety, quality, cost and service. These are measured, communicated, and improved upon, our factory teams are very proud of their performance and benchmarking within the Etex Group. Each Factory Manager are members of my Management Team, and we meet monthly formally to discuss financial performance, KPI’s, factory performance and review our people and teams. Trust, empowerment, integrity, and accountability are what I like to build my teams upon, in addition to continuous improvement and consistency in our approach, this works to meet all our business expectations.
Mark Goldsmith: You come from primarily a commercial background. I’ve recruited several sales orientated leadership roles throughout Europe and further afield. One thing that’s particularly struck me is how very different supply chains operate away from the UK within building materials. What’s your take on how they differ in the Middle East, and how did you adapt your strategies to maximise profitable selling?
Mark Lavender: In the past the Middle East has never been a significant manufacturing location for building products, these would normally be imported from Europe, Asia and the US. However, a number of initiatives especially in the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been introduced to promote local made manufacturing of building products. Companies that have taken advantage of this have been very successful, including increased profitability due to local raw materials, labour costs, cost effective land or rental options and great volume potential to supply the region.
Another more recent challenge is the cost and lead times for transportation whereby cost and lead times were almost standard have become a major challenge and at times impossible to meet the project deadlines. Apart from clear communications on cost and lead times at the earliest stage of negotiations, we have re-evaluated the use of our local Licensees and Toll Manufacturers, these partners can be scaled up locally very quickly and ensure we meet quality, safety and volume commitments these are a great opportunity to provide local project with local made or part made end product.
At the core of our decision making is indeed profitable growth and in all aspects of business you have to decide what to do but importantly what not to do. Tough business decisions need to be made irrespective of the geographical location and once all opportunities have been explored and the business remains unprofitable then we have to consider disinvestment.
Mark Goldsmith: And what key learnings from your time in the Middle East will you bring back to the UK, to incorporate into your next leadership role?
Mark Lavender: There are many learnings from my time in the Middle East and Asia that I have used and will continue to use when I return back to the UK. Diversity and working with multi-cultural, multi-national with differing values, cultures and business practices requires good communication skills and as previously mentioned good listening skills. The need to understand both internal and external stakeholders underlying motivation and what drives and inspires them supports a mutual beneficial relationship, which we know is the key to successful profitable business. An entrepreneurial spirit, resilience and the willingness to “get things done” have been excellent to contribute towards and witness throughout the region. Collaboration and teamwork with a growth and learning mind set have been additionally developed and I look forward to sharing my skills, experience and abilities from the region with the next business I get the privilege to serve and lead.
About Etex: Etex are a Belgian based organisation which focus on lightweight solutions to the built environment. Sales turnover of €3.7BN operating in 45 countries with 160 sites with 13,500 employees. The keys brands of Etex include Siniat, Promat, Ursa and Eternit.
About Promat: Promat are the market leader in passive fire protection and high-performance insulation solutions to the construction, industrial and tunnel markets. Promat solutions cover several Etex Divisions including Etex Building Performance and Etex Industry. Promat’s customer and technical approach, brand reputation, knowledge and experience in fire and specialist insulation are world renowned.