Our first story features Premier Farnell, the high-service distributor of technology products and solutions for electronic system design, maintenance and repair. Under its European trading name, Farnell element14, they won the 2014 Golden Bridge Award for UK companies in Belgium.
We took the chance to speak with Jerry Vaughan, Global Operations Director, about their journey since winning the award.
Jerry, It’s been just over half a year since you won the Golden Bridge Award. What has happened since then for Farnell element14?
About a year ago, the group changed to a global organisation, which is driving the changes towards what we call a target operating model. Very simply put, we are moving from three regional organisations (North America, Europea and Asia) to a single organisation worldwide, supported by currently 10 Distribution Centres around the globe. From an operational perspective we now have a global supply chain under the leadership of the new Global Supply Chain Officer.
We are currently in the process of announcing the various levels of managements and direction. As head of Global Operations, the Liege Distribution Centre reports to me, as do all other ones scattered around the world. We ship around 85,000 to 90,000 products a day worldwide, so if something goes wrong it’s apparently now my fault!
What role does Belgium and the Liege Distribution Centre play in Farnell’s continued international growth?
The Liege Distribution Centre has a very big opportunity at the moment. Currently, it only serves European demand, but we are looking to expand that to meet global demand in some cases. From a geographic and logistical perspective, Liege is extremely well positioned and close to the distribution hubs of all the global freight companies that we use. As we define the future network design, the future role for the Liege facility will become clearer, so obvious opportunities exist for us to explore.
What did the Golden Bridge win do for Farnell in terms of reflecting on and celebrating the success of your Belgian operations?
It validated that in Liege we have extremely good contributors in the form of our workforce there, business process intelligence and professional management that has allowed the distribution centre to become one of our key bases.
We shared the award with not only all the employees, but their extended families as well. We believe that if you come to work and you feel good about it, you tend to do a better job, and that is definitely influenced more by what your husband or wife feels, not just your boss. When we have something to celebrate, we always like to get the families involved too, that’s just something we do all around the world.
How has the Golden Bridge Award win helped you in your external relations?
It has given the Liege Distribution Centre and team a lot more visibility to a number of stakeholders. Since the awards, we have been invited to many events and hosted some others too. We managed to meet Alison Rose, British Ambassador to Belgium, a couple of times and Paul Magnette, Minister-President of Wallonia, which has definitely given us sight to some key support that can be more helpful than mere financial grants.
We now know how we have to behave to get the best out of Belgium, we want to have good industrial relations and are better able to manage and cope with the unionised culture. These are solid foundations on which we are building our goal of expanding the Liege Distribution centre in both size and staff.
What have been the main challenges you faced about doing business in Belgium and Europe? Any ‘top tips’ to share on how to approach the Belgian market?
Belgium has the benefit of being globally well located. I wouldn’t go so far as saying it’s ideal for business, but if you create the right framework then a lot of the local issues go away.
If you are working in Belgium, you need to behave according to Belgian rules and culture. Belgian people are obviously different to people in Britain, and that’s why it’s key to find what the trigger points are and why they happen, if you want to get the best out of any country you are based in.
Because of this, we have been able to reach out to stakeholders that we wouldn’t normally be involved with, namely the Wallonia government and the British Council. Not only have we ensured that we are providing sound investment in the region, but it has increased our reputation greatly. I think that the Golden Bridge Award has helped highlight that fact. What people see now is a company where people really want to come and work because it is regarded as one of the best employers in the region.
Getting that equation right guarantees that the quality of work is constantly improving and that we are attracting the right skills and ambitions from people to sustain the future. Good companies attract good people.
What was your secret to winning the Golden Bridge award, and what tips would you give any prospective candidate?
Something that improves the world in which we live in is essential. So be excited about what you are doing – that feeds off naturally and helps you enormously when pitching.
The Golden Bridge Awards recognise the trade and export success of UK companies doing business in Belgium, and Belgian & Luxembourg companies doing business in the UK. Companies of any size and in any industry can apply. Applications close in early September, and the winners will be announced at a high-level black-tie gala dinner in London on 26 November. Winning companies receive further recognition and profiling throughout the following year through the organising chambers. For more information on the awards and how to enter as a candidate, please contact James Pearson at email@example.com.