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The Hoggett Bowers 2 Minute Interview: Tony Mannix

CEO, Clipper Logistics plc

What have been some of the key learnings for you since March last year and are now applying in your business?

Doing things safely as an essential service provider has always been a key priority but never more so than throughout the pandemic. Looking after the safety of our own team as well as the safety of client partners is core to how we operate. Our agility and ability (i.e. our deep knowledge of the sector and our fleet of foot approach) has never been more relevant than in the last 16 months. At the start of the first lockdown we reached out to all our customers – some were facing high street lockdown challenges and others were seeing massive increases in online activity – our message was simple – “as your long-term partner, we want to help you collaborate with Clipper & our other customers and work together on the challenges you are facing.”

The request to assist the UK with the setting up of the NHS PPE supply chain in March 2020 is a fantastic example of the power of Team Clipper. The knowledge and capability within our DNA allowed us to create an operational “go-live” to support the UK hospital sector in just 4 days – the collaborative solution with the NHS, the Army and a whole host of other partners, is a great example of how projects should be done. The success of the hospital “go-live” was followed by the creation of an eBay solution, fulfilled by Clipper, which has since supported 60-70k non-hospital locations, including GP surgeries and care homes with deliveries of PPE.

As we move forward from the pandemic and look to the future, what business opportunity most excites you?

Retail has gone through considerable change. Online & pure play have done well and the continued growth in these areas is exciting. We see opportunity in Europe to grow our existing capabilities in The Netherlands, Germany, Poland & Ireland, and we are also now looking at the USA, as many retailers/e-tailers are now working across the globe.

Our click & collect service (“Clicklink” – a JV with John Lewis) helps to blend offline and online and is an opportunity to further extend collaborative retailer relationships. The ability to put an order into the hands of a customer the day after the order was placed, in a brand enhancing store environment, is very powerful. It also opens the opportunity to really explore sustainable deliveries (limited or no delivery packaging), which in turn allows store/brand teams to truly interact with the customer with product and not a cardboard box.

Click & Collect also drives footfall to the High Street which is critical given the challenges surrounding the changing face of the High Street and the shared use nature of the service (we have 30 customers and growing) using the network which reduces vehicle flow in the High Street environment.

We are also working closely with Drapers (the fashion magazine) to stay at the forefront of new etail/retail – our Guide to Growth platform has been developed to support emerging/growing businesses – I have the belief that the next retail superstar brand is being created in a bedroom somewhere but needs support to grow. These are relationships we are looking to build and support for the long term using our well proven shared use/collaborative model.

Given the important part that technology has played in all sectors during the pandemic, how do you envisage technology developing in your organisation going forward?

Harnessing and analysing data gives real opportunity – whether in the analysis of returning stock or in the likely demands being placed upon the operations – AI will become a very useful tool to help predict/plan what is needed to support customer requirements.

Technology will undoubtedly play a major role going forward. Our focus at present is with modular robotics/automation – i.e. to solve problems rapidly – deploying technology to support “part of an operation” and our teams, rather than a major overhaul/redesign project – which tend to be more long-term solutions.

Robots have been deployed to support picking activity, returns management etc and make a fantastic contribution to the efficiency of our teams. Auto-bagging and auto-boxing are also vital tools as e-fulfilment activity grows.

When are you planning some form of return to the office and how is this being structured?

As an essential service provider, we have never been away from the office. Since the days of the first lockdown we have introduced effective solutions to ensure the safety of our teams – social distancing, re-design of rest areas/locker rooms etc, have all needed careful consideration. The health, safety & well-being of our teams has always been paramount.

With sustainability and ESG being more prevalent on the Board agenda, what is your business doing to meet net zero carbon emission targets by 2050, if not earlier?

The ESG agenda has come into sharp focus in recent years, and quite rightly so. We have multi-functional teams, supported by KPMG, driving the agenda across E, S & G to ensure we have clear focus and can monitor action/achievements. We now have a variety of more eco-friendly vehicles in our fleet – gas powered, electric and we are exploring technologies as they emerge.

New facilities are now being built to the latest standards but the existing portfolio of logistics building stock in the UK will need focus to develop methods to enhance the environmental standards of the older stock – efficient heating systems, improved LED lighting, solar panels, ground sourced heating, rainwater harvesting, enhanced insulation etc, are examples of initiatives that could be retro fitted and we are working closely with our landlord partners to drive the change.

From an ‘S’ perspective we have a multitude of team initiatives to support our desire to be an employer of choice in the locations in which we operate. Our Degree Apprenticeship Programme and our Fresh Start initiative, which focuses on people who may have not previously had the opportunity to be seen as available to work – as examples – ex offenders (via Tempus Novo), people with physical/mental challenges (we have been working very closely with Mencap), the tremendous positive impact for the individuals concerned and the halo effect across our business, as a result of supporting others in need, has been outstanding and has helped in a small way with the post Brexit labour challenges.

How has your business changed in its approach to employee well-being during the pandemic and what will it continue to do more of in the future?

Providing a safe working environment for our teams has always been a Clipper priority. The pandemic introduced a further dimension – how can we support our customers whilst living with the pandemic and the challenge of limiting the spread of infection.

We have worked very closely with Public Health England, the HSE and our in-house teams to ensure we are fully compliant with the guidelines and have innovated to ensure we can still be productive – it is so pleasing to see how our teams have risen to the challenges.

We are now assessing what other family friendly measures and flexible working solutions can be introduced to further enhance well-being and ensure we are an employer of choice.

Who or what has inspired you recently? (They don’t need to be famous)

Team Clipper – the team’s commitment to each other and to our customers during the past 18 months. We have received outstanding customer feedback which has been quite humbling to see and hear.

The other area of inspiration has to be the power of what we are doing with our Fresh Start initiative. On a recent visit to Hatfield Prison (Doncaster) one of the prisoners, who is currently working with Clipper as part of a day release programme, told me about a letter he had received from his daughter congratulating him on gaining a job – he was so proud of what he was achieving and how this will hopefully shape his future. This story, which is about real people with real lives, has inspired me to do more in the communities in which we work.

Lots of people took up new hobbies in 2020. Have you learnt a new skill or taken up a hobby during the pandemic and will you continue with it?

We have had a very “full on” period during the pandemic and like many of Team Clipper we have been focussed on finding innovative ways to deliver solutions – so I’ve not really had any time to fit a new hobby into my week.

Have you booked your 2021 holiday(s) yet?

We are planning to have some time off in the UK in 2021 and see parts of the UK that have been on our list for some time.

Our annual skiing holiday is an important family event. We were lucky to go early in 2020 but clearly not able to do so in 2021, so really looking forward to the trip we have already booked for early 2022.

Any words of wisdom?

General Patton said in WWII that “a good plan executed now is much better than a perfect plan executed next week” – this has always felt like “agility matched by ability.”

Recruit great people, foster a great culture, ensure there is good training and let the team get on with delivery. Micromanagement stifles innovation as well as accountability.