Peter Rush, CEO for the Formica Group and previously Group Managing Director at Hozelock, has been a contact of Mark Goldsmith, Head of Building Products, for a number of years. They recently met to discuss the changing face of the industry and the latest news of Formica Group’s sale to a Dutch business in June of this year. They’re also both avid cricket fans (you’ve been warned). Here’s what they discussed:
Mark: Good to meet up with you Peter. It’s been a while since we last spoke and I’ve noticed Formica has recently driven a lot of business through mainland Europe. Which markets have you particularly focused on and what considerations are there to opening relationships in different countries?
Peter: From our point of view every market in Europe is different and has unique challenges. Obvious areas of language, culture, currency are all clear but the structure of markets and how you go to market also differ greatly. Firstly, we have focused very much on the markets where we have a manufacturing base and secondly where we have warehousing. So, the Nordic region, France and Iberia have been key for us but at the same time maintain our leading market position in the UK. We find that whether we are supplying direct to end users or selling through distribution the ability to deliver on time with short lead times are key criteria that still enable us to win business on a consistent basis.
Mark: A main focus of your roles have revolved around the change and development of staff. What do you look for in an inherited senior management team and what are the classic mistakes people make when developing a leadership style with a new team?
Peter: There are several things that I look for, attitude, knowledge, ability to drive change; because in most situations that I get involved with change and often significant change is required.
The classic mistakes typically centre around either making changes too quickly or making them too slowly. This sounds like a contradiction but in most situations it takes a few months to determine who needs to be kept on-board and who doesn’t. Once you have made your mind up however it is imperative that you act quickly.
The other classic mistake is making a decision about somebody based solely on input from a third party. Ultimately you are making a decision about somebody leaving the business, their livelihood and potentially career and as such you need to be absolutely certain about the action that you take.
Mark: Having risen to the top of your profession, you have an interesting blend of operational and commercial backgrounds. How has this helped when inheriting a senior team within a manufacturing environment?
Peter: It is interesting that in the UK many senior roles seem to be filled either by individuals with a commercial or financial background. It is very different in Europe where professionals from an engineering or operational background are often seen leading businesses. I firmly believe that great businesses have very strong operational foundations, so they deliver all the basics of service, product quality and value consistently to the customer base. This is where my operational background has been a real advantage, all of the businesses I have managed have performed well operationally, this gives the commercial teams the confidence to go out and win new business.
Mark: I guess this background has served you well when reviewing and researching new product innovation. The industry is currently sensitive for the need to stand out and so I am interested to hear how you have developed and rolled out NPI strategy?
Peter: NPI can start in many different areas but the big challenge for all businesses is developing that unique product that customers don’t know that they need.
We look at all the classic development streams, identifying customer needs and providing them with solutions to those needs, developing and changing products as a result of legislative changes, using unique manufacturing technology and processes in order to develop new products.
Mark: And what project within NPI have you been most proud of and why?
Peter: I have been very lucky to be involved in the development, manufacture and launch of many new highly successful products during my career. Some of these products have been very simple consisting of a single component whereas others have been far more complex. All have made me very proud, but the one that stands out really for its simplicity but at the same time it’s engineering excellence is the single piece stainless wall tie that we launched and developed whilst I was at Ancon Building Products. It was a game changer.
Mark: Finally, and most importantly, how does the English Cricket Board preserve test cricket as a brand and ensure youngsters clamber for tickets at the turnstiles?
Peter: There are two key things here, the first is having a successful England team and the second is the ability to capture the imagination of the youngsters of today and that needs two things, they need to be able to watch the sport and secondly, they need heroes.
So, we now have success, England are the world champions at 50 over cricket and managed to stumble to a draw against Australia in the Ashes series although we couldn’t manage to wrestle the Ashes from them.
Secondly, the limitation on being able to watch the world cup and test cricket on terrestrial TV is a problem, I remember spending days as a child during school summer holidays watching test cricket on the BBC. This lack of watching the sport also limits the ability to have heroes, Ian Botham, Geoff Boycott, these guys were my childhood heroes.
I would like to think that if asked today the youngsters of today would at least name Ben Stokes as a cricketing hero, his achievements in the World Cup and during the 3rd Ashes test were inspirational.