Wholesale Manager recently caught up with one of Britain’s best-known business figures, Lord Digby Jones. Lord Digby was Director- General of the CBI from 2000-2006 and Minister of State for Trade and Investment from 2007-8, and is renowned as an industry expert. These days he keeps his finger on the business pulse with Non-executive Chairman roles at various companies including the subject of our exclusive interview, OnLogistics, whose Distribution and Fulfilment division provides wholesalers and their suppliers with warehousing, distribution, fully managed fulfilment services, e-commerce services and value added services.
Lord Digby invested in Midlandsbased OnLogistics in November 2015 after meeting Nick Bennett, Founder and MD through a mutual acquaintance:
“Nick explained the company’s vision and goals and talked me through his business, plan and I “got it” in a flash. I’m presented with business plans and requests for advice and monitoring every week, but OnLogistics stood out with its clear sense of direction, and I took an immediate liking to Nick both as a Managing Director and on a personal level. Investing to become Shareholder and Chairman at OnLogistics was an easy next step.”
OnLogistics offers third-party, addedvalue logistics and packaging services to businesses at varying stages of the supply chain, including suppliers, wholesalers and retailers. Lord Digby explains:
“Wholesalers can benefit from our Warehouse Management System, where we offer short to long term product storage, drop-shipping, order picking and packing. Our unique offering is the specialist structure our warehousing solution provides. We are strategically placed to break bulk and forward distribution, specialising in large, awkward freight.”
UK wholesaling is going through a period of major consolidation. Lord Digby Jones’ advice to anxious wholesalers is to carve out a niche:
“You need to become known as being the very best at one thing, this is what makes the difference in today’s world and helps companies to stay competitive. This will help you to position your business strategically, so when it comes to consolidation, the bigger firms will want your expertise, and the value of your acquisition price will reflect it. Without this niche, the bigger competitors are more likely to drive small companies out of business.”
Lord Digby Jones is down to earth about being a high profile figure in business:
“When it comes to business, titles, recognition and a well-known past should be something high-profile figures are willing to leave at the door. In my opinion, you need to be able to just work hard for the business, and leave all status aside before you do any damage to yourself or others.
Colleagues often think they can’t do what I do, but I know that I can’t do what they do! Everyone brings their own unique experience and abilities to each role, which strengthens the overall team. The main difference I suppose is that by virtue of the type of exposure I’ve had, it’s easier for me to tap into my previous experience and contacts, and bring value to the business.”
As well as OnLogistics Lord Digby has Non-executive Chairman roles with Triumph Motorcycles, Thatcher’s Cider and ProBuild 360. He’s also a member of The House of Lords. It sounds hectic but he’s matter of fact about his schedule:
“For me, maximising my time is everything. To help me get the most out of each of my roles, I am ruthless when prioritising. A compartmentalised mind helps. Always give the job in hand your undivided attention. Then there’s delegation. I never ever do something that I’m employing someone else to do.
Instead I seek to help, train and upskill staff so they’re empowered and able to get on with it. Those I delegate responsibility to, know that if they come to me and ask for help, they’ll always get it. If they lie to me, either they go or I do. There’s the truism, he who makes things look easy works harder, prepares more and takes nothing for granted!”
As a leading business expert, Lord Digby Jones gets asked questions about Brexit day in day out, but he’s happy to end our interview by giving his perspective on how to make a success of it:
“It‘s all a matter of confidence on an individual, sectoral and national basis. Brexit was always going to be challenging, but after a period of rough water, the ever-globalising economy and the shift in wealth-creating opportunities around the world, Britain’s openness and belief in Free Trade and the Commonwealth can yield wonderful opportunities for our grandchildren.
“Pull together, make the most of being outside an institution marching valiantly towards the corporatism of the nineteen seventies, deregulate our business space, lower our taxes, create wealth and better-paid jobs, encourage quality, skilled immigration based on what you can do and what you can contribute, not where you come from, and Brexit will provide success for UK business for decades to come.”