MikeMolloy’s determination has created a culture of training excellence at the once-ailingEarlybird Furniture. Stephanie Sparrow talks to the managing director who seesa clear correlation between training and profitsMikeMolloy is no stranger to the sound of applause. This high-profile figure in thelogistics business figured largely in the latest Motor Transport Awards – theOscars for this sector, which are dished out at a glamorous ceremony in theRoyal Albert Hall. Here his company, Earlybird Furniture, won the IndustryTraining Award and was a runner-up in the Logistics Company of the Yearbracket.Thejudges’ praise was fulsome: “The winner has, indeed, shown strong commitment totraining, emanating from the very top. Earlybird Furniture is a tremendousexample of staff development producing tangible results.” Molloyhas collected the training award before, in 1993, for his work as IIP projectdirector at beds manufacturer Silentnight, where he was logistics anddistribution director. He has also been fêted twice in the past five years bythe Institute of Logistics, but this latest award gives him particular pridebecause it demonstrates the bottom-line benefits of training and in this casehow it can be used to bring a business back from the brink.Whenhe arrived at the company three years ago it was in a parlous state. EarlybirdFurniture is a subsidiary of the Walker & Homer Group of furnituremanufacturing companies which turns over £100m a year and has big namecustomers in both the mail order and retail markets. It is Earlybird’s role toprovide the group with a range of logistic services, including collections fromworks, retail distribution services and direct home delivery, and to do thiswith a mixture of contracting and in-house staff. This is a healthy sectoroverall, but Earlybird was making a loss which added up to £415,000 for 1998.Molloyhad come into the Midlands-based company on a trouble-shooting deal in December1997. He was appointed service director/MFI, a major customer whom the groupwas having big problems with. “My brief was to sort out those problems veryquickly, but the deal I did was that as there was no managing director here, ifI sorted out the problems I wanted to be appointed in that post.”FreehandWithinthree months he had rectified the MFI situation, and in early 1998 the managingdirector post was his which gave him the free hand he’d coveted to change theculture. He wasted no time.“Onthe day I was appointed, I briefed all the people in this business on thestrategic plan and on what we needed to do. I stated that we would commit toinvesting in the training and development of all the people within thisbusiness to turn the company around and achieve its strategic objectives,” hesays.Itwas going to be tough. “The company had no vision in place nor goals andtargets and was perceived by group companies and its major customers to be apoor service provider,” he says. Molloyis never afraid to speak his mind and talks quite candidly about the situationat that time. Morale was low and the skills level poor, both among contractorsand staff, and this was impacting directly on to the business.“In1997, the company paid out around £30,000 in dealing with customer complaints,whereas in this year to date that figure wouldn’t be anymore than around£1,000.“Atthat time, people were threatening to sue us because of problems duringdelivery, such as dirty boot marks and crushed flowerbeds. Nobody ever told thestaff that those customers pay our wages.”Atraining needs analysis was part of a three-sided approach to produce astrategy for the business. The other approaches were consultation with groupfactories and customer feedback resulting in a three-year business strategy. Three-yearstrategy“Trainingwas to play a major part in moving the company forward. Part of the three-yearstrategy was to commit to achieving the Investors in People accreditation andISO9002.”Beforethe IIP plan could start, Molloy saw through a number of training plans toimprove company morale and to develop teamworking across the operational areasof the company. These included action-centred leadership, team building, HSErisk assessment and call centre telephone techniques.Bylate October, the company was ready to commit to IIP and work towards achievingaccreditation. Now, this may not sound remarkable, but it has to be borne inmind that Molloy was starting from a very uneven playing field.“Theculture here was abysmal. There were no job descriptions, horrific turnover, noproper interviews, there was no interest in people or in training anddevelopment,” he says.Hehad also identified a need to develop multi-skilled staff. Skills matrices wereproduced for office staff, warehouse staff, delivery crews and contractors topinpoint training needs to multi-skill these groups and facilitate greateroperational flexibility throughout the business.Thetraining spend has gone from “nothing” three years ago to around £36,000. Themanagement development portion of this is subsidised by the local Chamber ofCommerce to the tune of 40 per cent, with Earlybird footing the whole bill forother training such as warehouse training, driver training and IT.“Thiscomes right out of our pockets without any subsidy at all,” he says. “And withthe time that people are out of the business, you could say that effectively itis double that. Before I came, the training spend was nothing and training wasnot referred to at all.”Todaya full gamut of programmes is in place, from induction to ongoing formalappraisals assessing work performance against the company’s operationaltargets.“Ipersonally wrote the policies for IIP, I personally wrote all the jobdescriptions, the induction programmes and personally did the appraisals-although I have now trained the managers to do their own appraisals,” he says.Sub-contractors have fallen into line and now all wear the same uniform and aremanaged and coached as if they were Earlybird’s own people.Thehard work has paid off. The company achieved a £130,000 profit for 1999.It was accredited with IIP in Decemberof that year and in a move which was designed to perpetuate the IIP momentum,ISO9002 in June 2000. “Iwanted both of those because IIP shows that you are business that thinks aboutits people and wants the best for them. The ISO is another one that is aboutquality and standards so that you can demonstrate that you are a business thathas set out to improve internally and has high standards, and it is a loteasier when you are talking with customers to get that message across.”Molloy’snext target is to aim for the MidlandsBusiness Excellence Awards in 2001, run along the European Business Excellencemodel.TurnaroundInthe meantime, he can celebrate the turnaround in business fortunes, afterwinning a contract with Laura Ashley, “because the logistics guy knows that wehave good quality standards”, seeing turnover increase by 25 per cent and“operating right on our capacity limits”. Molloyis proud that he also likes to top up his own skills base, attending CranfieldSchool of Management “on a fairly regular basis” and keeping his knowledge upto date with industry seminars.Thislively interest in training and development is refreshing in any managingdirector, but particularly in such a tough business as transport, which ratherbegs the question, where does his commitment come from?“Therewere two flashpoints in my life when I realised that training was relevant,” hesays. “The first was in the Army where the training was ongoing and absolutelysuperb. In the last three years out of my nine there, I was a traininginstructor. “Thesecond flashpoint was when I left the Army and I realised that training wouldhelp me to get on.”Molloyturned to transport-related jobs when he left the services, ending up ininternational haulage. “But then I started looking for some training that wouldget me off the road and into a management job.”Hisdetermination was admirable, funding a nine-month transport and distributionmanagement course himself from savings, selling the family car and “living on agovernment grant of £42 a week”. He walked straight from the course into a jobas deputy transport manager with Britvic Drinks and stated in the interviewthat his target was “to be a director of a nationally known business within 15years”. He did it in 12 years when he joined Silentnight in 1990 as logisticsand distribution director.Trainingwas to become important again, allowing Molloy to implement BS5750. He acted asproject director for IIP at Silentnight and picked up the Industry TrainingAward from Motor Transport for the first time.Althoughhe is not a fan of bureaucracy, he is a keen advocate of IIP. “IIPis about training, but it really does make you focus on how you are going toachieve the business strategy. You have to have the people capable ofdelivering to those objectives and that’s where identifying the training needsto meet the plan falls into place.”Thisleads Molloy neatly on to his favourite philosophy, which has seen him throughmany business challenges: “Never expect anything to be fixed if you do not givethe people the tools to fix it.”CV– Mike Molloy1997 Managing director Earlybird Furniture1995-97 Customer service director, Cornwell Parker1990-95 Logistics and distribution director, Silentnight1987-90 Regional transport and distribution manager, Wiggins Teape Paper1987-82 Operations manager, Cory Gases1981-82 Depot manager designate, Welch Transport1978-81 Deputy transport manager, Britvic Drinks1974-78 Various transport positions, heavy haulage, retail delivery,international transport1965-74 Army Royal Engineers, various positions including LGV instructor andRoyal Engineer diver1963-65 Apprentice engineer Comments are closed. 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