Steve's Journey

Decisions, decisions, decisions, how many times have we heard that phrase over the years?

Apparently, the average adult will make somewhere in the region of 35,000 decisions every day. We all know that most of those decisions will just come naturally, without even thinking about them, but there will be some which require a lot more thought, educated risks and even gambles.

For me personally, the year 1992 was one full of deliberations and decisions that would ultimately shape my future, although I didn’t know it at the time. The year started and ended with difficult decisions and in between there was a wedding to plan for; mine.

I was working for a company called PHH International, an American company that had its headquarters in my hometown of Swindon. I had been there for 9 years, starting as a van driver / warehouse person but letting the purchasing manager know that I would love the chance to join his department should the opportunity arise. Fortunately for me, the opportunity did arise, and I grabbed it with both hands. I had a couple of years of day release at college and ended up in the position of senior buyer a few years later. Everything in the garden looked rosy until the start of 1992 when my working world took a blow. Due to the economic downturn, my role, the role I loved and had worked so hard at, along with many other roles, was to be made redundant. There was, however, a saving grace for me. The warehouse manager was due to retire and I was in the very fortunate position of being offered the role or accepting the redundancy package and leaving the company. I know I changed my mind several times, I was leaving, I was staying, I was leaving but with a mortgage to pay and a forthcoming wedding, I knew it made sense to stay. What I didn’t know was that later that year there would be tougher decisions to make, heart wrenching decisions.

For the first 28 years of my life, one of my closest friends was my dad. He was my rock to lean on. He encouraged and helped me in everything that I did. He was just always there for me and my younger brother. My dad had helped with the preparation for my wedding and was really looking forward to the day. On the Thursday night, prior to my wedding, my dad, brother, and I went to our local and had a couple of beers; my dad on shandy as he wanted to drive me home and be in the good books with my mum, which he duly did.

In the early hours of the Friday morning there were some very loud knocks on my front door. It was my brother and a friend who were trying to tell me that my dad had had a heart attack and had been rushed to the cardiac unit at the hospital. My wife to be and I quickly got dressed and jumped in the car with my brother. I can’t remember the journey or what, if anything, was said. I just remember running into the hospital and my brother pointing to a door telling me that dad was in there. My mum was sat in the relative’s room and my brother went to comfort her. What I saw as I entered the room has stayed with me ever since. My dad laid out on a bed with electric paddles on his chest, the force of the current causing his body to jump and arch. I remember just staring helplessly. A nurse spotted me and quickly ushered me out of the room into the neighbouring relatives room where we all sat in silence for what seemed an eternity. Then devastation, a tearful lady surgeon told us the news that we didn’t want to hear, my dad had died. Within a matter of a few hours, my life was never going to be the same. The man that I had always looked up to, that I had been out with just hours before, had gone. The surgeon looked at me and said, ‘you are getting married tomorrow, aren’t you?’ ‘When your dad came in, he was talking and told me that he had to be there.’

Sam, my wife to be, was just brilliant as she always is. She suggested that we delay the wedding, but I knew that I had to make the final decision. I had to tell family members that they had lost a brother, uncle and, hardest of all, tell a 9-year-old that his grampy had died while at the same time telling them if there was still a wedding to go to the following day. This was the biggest decision of my life. My dad helped me one last time to make it. I could hear him saying be strong, do it son, carry on and get married and that is exactly what I did. I remember very little about the day other than being worried about my immediate family, but I didn’t need to be, my wider family and friends would show an outpouring of strength, compassion, protection and love that would carry us through.

These were emotions that I would remember and draw upon many times throughout my life. When I think of the career decisions that I have had to make and subconsciously found myself asking ‘what do you reckon dad?’

Fast forward a few months to mid-December and out of the blue came a phone call from David Carrol, the MD at Accord Office Supplies in Swindon; would I be interested in having a chat about taking over the running of the Accord purchasing dept? You bet I would. I had known David for several years as I was a customer of Accord. Again, there was a decision to make; I had plenty of experience buying as an end user but not goods for resale. The Accord purchasing dept would be just me, so it would be a steep learning curve with all of it on the job. I took a calculated risk to go with it and am eternally grateful that I did.

Any initial concerns that I had around having to set up lots of deals with suppliers I had no knowledge of went almost immediately. Accord had recently become a member of the Consortium of Stationery Trade Suppliers, COSTS for short. COSTS would, in time change its name to Advantia, which I shall refer to it as from here on. I must admit I was extremely relieved to know that Advantia had done all of the legwork in setting up deals with all of the manufacturers and wholesalers and, at that stage, even had their own warehouse which stocked many of the commodity lines. The Advantia head office team were also just a phone call away, should I need help or advice with anything. All I had to do was grow my relationship with the various manufacturers and suppliers. I can’t begin to tell you what a relief that was.

Over the years Accord grew and grew and so did my role. I was able to utilise my previous logistics experience to good effect and became the Purchasing and Operations Manager, a position which came with a seat at the Accord senior management table. Those earlier decisions were paying off for me now and I was involved in all manner of things including several acquisitions, working on ISO projects, setting up appraisal processes, helping to set up print and furniture divisions. I also took up an offer to become part of the Advantia catalogue selection team which would lead to many visits to the Advantia head offices in Nuneaton where I would really get to know the people who had been such a great help to me throughout my Accord journey.

It was around 2008 when Accord was acquired by office2office and whilst many of my work colleagues saw this as a negative, I certainly didn’t. This was an opportunity, another step forward, another learning experience. Truline was the logistics company that sat under the o2o umbrella and I was lucky enough to be offered an opportunity to join the Truline senior management team, led at the time by Steve McKeever, who would later become Advantia CEO.

Once again, I was able to broaden my experience and gain a really good understanding of the logistical element of the business. After a short period of time, Truline and Advantia started to explore the possibility of working in collaboration, whereby Truline would fulfil the warehousing and delivery requirements of the Advantia members. The possibility became reality and a new, ground-breaking, partnership was born. As I had experience of being an Advantia member, as well as a sound knowledge of logistics, I had yet another decision to make. Would I like to take on the role of Senior Account Manager for the Advantia Group? I probably took all of about 5 seconds to make that decision which was a resounding yes please.

As with any new venture of the magnitude that Advantia and Truline were embarking on, there will always be teething issues, and this was to be no different. As with all challenges it is how you go about finding the solutions that will benefit all. The really good thing with Advantia is that they are a group of people who will always try and help as opposed to pointing fingers and so we set up a steering team made up of Truline, Advantia head office and dealer team members and it worked a treat.

One thing that I didn’t see coming was a call from Steve McKeever to ask if I would be interested in taking on the responsibility for the Advantia customer service team who were based in Manchester. There were a couple of blindingly obvious reasons why this might not work, which I did attempt to explain. The first was, and I quote, ‘what I know about customer service can be written on the back of a postage stamp with a paintbrush.’ The other was that it could be a geographical challenge given that there was a distance of 170 miles between myself and said team. Steve assured me that it would be fine, he had full faith in me, and anyway it was only for 6 weeks until a different solution could be found. That 6-week period at the beginning of 2012 actually lasted until May 2020 and I am so glad that it did. We made some changes to the team and the way in which it operated. We appointed a young lady to manage the team on a day-to-day basis which gave me the opportunity to coach and pass on some of the experiences that I had picked up over the years. You can only coach somebody who is willing to listen and learn and I was extremely lucky in that I had that very person. My proudest moment with that team was watching that very same young lady win a team award at the BOSS 2019 awards dinner.

Over time there were more changes and more decisions to be made. office2office was acquired by EVO and that meant a move into the world of Vow and a physical move to new offices in the Manchester area. Again, there were teething issues to overcome and again the suggestion from Advantia that we bring back the steering team, which we duly did. Although many of the challenges were resolved it was unfortunate that some were not and Advantia decided to move its business over to Spicers and cue a big decision to be made by yours truly, as a TUPE transfer was looming. I have to say that I was extremely humbled to learn that Truline wanted me to stay, Spicers had a position for me as a result of TUPE and that there was also another opportunity thrown into the mix: Advantia had a role for me as part of their head office team. I will be eternally grateful for all 3 offers but the lure of Advantia came out on top. It was as if I was coming home.

At the end of January 2018, I said an emotional goodbye to my Truline colleagues, many of which had become friends, and moved across to Advantia. In a strange turn of fate, I didn’t say goodbye to the Advantia customer service team. They had moved to Spicers and it was agreed that I could continue to manage them, even though we now worked for different companies. Spicers gave me free range to come and go as I needed, and it worked.

I must have done something right at Advantia as, after a couple of changes at the top, I was asked to consider taking on the role of Managing Director in March 2020. Pandemics, the demise of your main supply partner, I couldn’t have picked a better time to start the role but having such a brilliant team of people around me and such a supportive group of members: I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I consider myself to be very lucky as I have been an Advantia member, a supplier to Advantia, and now part of the Advantia head office team. I am fortunate that I can wear all 3 hats and change them over as and when I need to. It is great to know that I can lead a team with a view from every angle in order to create opportunities for everyone involved in the supply chain and buying journey.

I love it.