5 Minutes With John Blackburn & Steve Huntly - Coram

Having worked within the KBB industry for many years, Collingwood’s Head of Building Products, Mark Goldsmith, was very keen to hear from the two Coram senior leaders who have been central to the businesses restructuring over the past couple of years.  Hot off the press, it has just been announced that Sales Director, Steve Huntly, will be taking over from current Managing Director, John Blackburn. 

Here’s what they discussed:

Mark: It has been all change at Coram over the past two years.  From what I understand you have led the “Transformation 2019” programme, John.  What has this involved, as a business how have you coped with the transition, and what emphasis have you both placed on the cultural development of staff to enable this change?

John: The goal of the transition was to create a platform for growth. We wanted to create a business that was more agile, efficient and increase decision making speed. In 2018 we had effectively transformed the business to create ‘one face to the customer’. This gave us clear objectives for the sector specific sales teams and defined product offerings for each sector. The structural changes of the business in 2019 meant that we closed the office in Bridgnorth to have one central head office in Somerset. The warehousing operations in Somerset and Bridgnorth were moved to an outsourced partner. The manufacturing operations in Somerset were moved to Bridgnorth and our Shower enclosure category was outsourced leading to a reduction in production capacity at Bridgnorth.

The business did an amazing job at delivering the transformation. It was a difficult time for most people as many of their friends and colleagues were impacted by the changes. We hired some really great people throughout this period and created a brand new management team. The transformation started in February and the main structural changes were complete by October.

The main cultural development that allowed this transformation to be successful was ‘trust’. It was critical for a transformation with so many moving parts that we trusted in our teams to deliver on their goals and objectives. I believe that if you truly trust in your team and display this in your dialogue and actions they feel empowered to do whatever it takes to succeed. We have always demonstrated a supportive culture with open dialogue so everyone feels that we are in this together, no matter what obstacles we face. I believe the team at Coram are stronger than ever having worked so hard delivering the transformation in 2019. This is evident in the way we have successfully navigated the recent Covid crisis.

Steve: I have been involved with management of change in many different business’ and industries over the years, and from my experience most business’ take on no more than a few major changes at once.  Due to our ambitious strategy we decided to make several major changes in one year to really “transform” the business,  because they were all foundational for a 5 year strategy.  This meant that our management of change and people focus had to be highly planned but also intuitive.

What we essentially achieved was a culture change from a multi-site & business unit, manufacturing mentality, to a single entity sales lead, design and marketing business.

This has meant approaching all aspects of the business from a customer perspective and empowering our people to be entrepreneurial and service orientated, internally and externally.

The lesson learnt was that the people you thought would have less needs, actually were the people who needed the most coaching and support.  Furthermore, it’s the people that make the difference, but they also need leadership throughout the organisation, because our experience was that it rises and falls from the senior leadership team.

Mark: And so now you are a far more inclusive, one site operation.  Moving forward, what will this mean to group interaction with the wider European group and what benefits do you see this providing to your customer base?

John: With our new organisational and physical structure the business has started to integrate further with the European group. Rob Peters (CEO) set out his vision for ‘One Coram’ in 2018 to drive the business to enhance synergies. With strong brands and product categories in local markets, plans have been developed to launch these brands in other business units in Europe. Coram has expertise that can be shared across the group to enhance the One Coram vision

Steve: We now have a tremendous opportunity to strategically deploy benefits from the International group’s experience, capabilities and expertise.  With European leading innovation, product development and brands, the UK as part of a Group strategy can progress along a path for growth because we are more agile, cost effectively structured, and set up with customer at the heart of our strategy.

Rather than being independent brand lead business units we are an integrated European bathroom manufacturer with shared experience, expertise, innovation and design.  Which means as well as synergies in Marketing and design, we have access to well established products and brands that have never been launched n the UK, but that fit strategically well in Coram UKs market portfolio.

Mark: John, since joining the business in 2014 a lot of your focus with the team has focused around developing a more “one team” environment, where the sharing of ideas and open communication channels have thrived.  How have you achieved this, and, from your perspective Steve, what have you learnt from John’s style of leadership?

John: We have harnessed a key factor that was there from the beginning when I first joined the company – people really care about what they do and how they can make their company successful.

Our teams at Coram and Impey want to create great products and give their customers a first class service. By involving them more in future plans and solution creation we have achieved high levels of engagement with the teams. Asking for input, support and ideas always increases the level of involvement and ownership.

We have always spent time clearly communicating our vision and goals. It is important that everyone understands the part they play in delivering this.

Steve: John has lead with heart, head and authenticity which has allowed true collaboration, teamwork and leadership at all levels.  It has been exciting to see the senior team work well together and develop, but one of the key game changers has been developing people throughout the organisation and actively delegating and encouraging ownership, initiative and succession at all levels. I have been a successful senior operator in many industries, but I  have continued to learn from John’s style of leadership how to combine soft and hard competencies at a strategic level, as well as my past successes operationally.

Mark:  Irrespective of the industries Collingwood has recruited in of late, a key area leaders have been looking to improve their teams in revolves around solution selling.  Of late we have recruited several senior sales positions for businesses looking to shift from a regionalised, commoditised style to driving value through their offerings.  Speaking with John previously, I understand that you are a big advocate of this style of selling Steve.  What does solution selling mean to you, how have you educated sales teams in this area and what benefits do you see coming from it?

Steve: Solution selling is all about the diagnosis.  The art of selling is matching customer needs with your own value proposition, but too often companies sell a product, or market a product and allow people to do the buying.   The secret is not to propose too early before professional diagnosis.  By truly understanding your customer well, as an individual and as a customer type, taking time to diagnose what people want and need, as opposed to what they ask you for, you can truly propose solutions for a customer which cements loyalty and trust.

To use a relevant and pertinent example, if everyone with a temperature assumed it was Covid, the measures you take would be overkill for the common flu or fever.

Coram UK have exceptional products and market leading brands, but over the last 3 years we have shifted from positive “will” of our sales people to sell great products, to “skill” of our sales people to diagnose need and propose solutions, because we have innovation and design capabilities,  and the ability to meet any need for any showering space requirement.  So therefore we become a supplier of choice.  Customer expectations rise and continually are exceeded as they have access to value propositions and a product portfolio for specific needs, as well as allowing  options for individual style and choice.