Established in 1972 by Huw and Eurof Owen with one van in Llanelli, South Wales, Owens Group today operates over 600 vehicles and employs over 1,000 people. Ian Owen, Operations Director and second generation of the family business joins Huw Edwards, Chief Financial Officer, to discuss how their purpose has helped them navigate the challenges of leading a rapidly growing business.
"The second and third generation of the family are now involved in the business and we all have the passion and desire to continue to develop and grow the business, optimising profitability and creating opportunities for ourselves and all of our staff to develop as individuals."
Through rapid growth, rebranding, and two recessions, Owens Group have been guided by a clear purpose: to give the highest possible customer service. As Huw explains, ‘it is ingrained in the business and underpins everything. The whole business has been built on giving the highest possible customer service, which is driven from staff, suppliers, and the quality of the equipment as well. There is significant investment on an annual basis to renew the fleet in addition to the investment required to support the growth in activity.’ It informs investment in new technology as well. Ian proudly tells us, ‘we ensure that we make full use of all of the technology available to us with every truck and trailer having a tracking device together with the latest safety devices. All our depots are manned 24/7, which is a heavy cost but it is there to deliver that customer service.’
Values only add value if they are seen in action every day. Ian believes, ‘where we will deliver better profitability is when we spend quality time and have regular interaction with people at all of our depots. It’s important that we understand the issues and challenges they face and listen to their concerns and their suggestions for improvement.’ Huw agrees, ‘the directors are hands on and have daily interaction with staff across all of the business. For example, Huw Owen, Managing Director ensures that he has regular communication with our drivers, warehouse operators and support staff in order to fully understand what’s happening across the business. This conveys the core value that everyone is important in reaching the overall objective.’
Talking also involves listening to what their people think, Ian points out, ‘we recognise that they are proud of who they work for. But if you give them the opportunity to say what they think, what’s right and wrong, good and bad, they’ll open up. Ultimately when you’ve got that running collectively, we really push the business forward, because they’ve got really good ideas. And it would be arrogant and wrong if we weren’t to listen to them.’ It’s not always easy though, Huw recognises, ‘it is part of the transition of the business as it grows. We are putting the structures in place to formalise things that happened on an informal basis when the company was smaller. Like conversations with the drivers, we’d say, ‘it’s a good idea, you go with it’. This was when directors were seeing all their key staff on a daily basis. Now, whenever you visit the depots it’s a different dynamic, which the business has to transition into.’
"I think that creates a lot of the loyalty in our business. Our people have seen us spend time and money developing the business and ensuring that we have the resources and structures in place to keep delivering the highest quality customer service."
Owens Group are looking at how they might help fund new truck drivers and also if innovation can help. Ian believes, ‘innovation at the minute is definitely built around the development of people, as well as keeping up with what new technology is available. It has changed, as we have grown, probably not in terms of the principles of it. It’s just the pace has changed.’ As Huw reminds us, ‘that brings you back to customer service. We need to keep up with all of technology, we cannot afford to be behind everyone else.’ That is why Owens Group will continue to invest in their people, Huw continues, ‘here development potential is recognised and you are allowed to develop into something perhaps you didn’t imagine yourself to be when you joined Owens.’
The other challenge for the Owens group is keeping pace with its rapid growth, Ian reveals, ‘where the business has grown, it has happened quickly with a 70% growth in our transport activities over the last three years. We’ve got key people being stretched and we need to support them.’ Huw believes, ‘there is a very healthy recognition of needing to bring the right skill sets in and to develop the right skill sets, be it developing it within the family, or bringing it in to support that whole infrastructure around the directors.’ Huw continues, ‘if you look at the growth in the last three years, Ian in his role at operations director has been delivering growth, driving and implementing it. Huw and Eurof are happy to let the younger generation develop those things, they are there as the foundation, making sure that everything is moving in the right direction.’ Ian certainly values the contribution of non-family members, ‘it’s putting different views on the table, whereas before, there were two views with Huw and Eurof. Now we’ve got three or four, you still have the understanding, this is where we have come from, this is what we are, this is what we will do.’
But there is no special treatment for family, Huw continues, ‘now you’ve got the second and third generations coming through, everyone from the family gets treated the same as any other employee, and they get their positions, their progression, and rewards on merit.’ Another example of the Owens Group keeping true to their purpose of highest customer service.
UK Family Business Leader, PwC United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)7764 958585