his industry is full of fantastic people who understand their customers’ and their suppliers’ businesses and are

empowered to act accordingly. SIG used to be like that, but we lost some of it. That’s what we’re bringing back.”

Phillip Johns, SIG UK’s new managing director, has returned to the specialist distribution business after a sojourn in the merchanting world. He says he always retained a love for the business, even after leaving, so the opportunity to come back and right some wrongs was too good to pass up. It’s fair to say that SIG has had a rather bumpy ride in the past five years or so with plans and investments not reflected in either the share price or the bottom line. However, earlier this year a new CEO joined, Steve Francis, followed shortly afterwards by Johns, who says: “Steve Francis has a very strong track record in transformational change and recovering business. Almost immediately, the strategy was to bring back SIG into the organisation that it used to be, a very customer- centric business, with very strong relationships with suppliers, very personal relationships with customers and a market leading service.” Five years ago, the organisation was moving towards a much more centralised business, John says, where logistics, supply chain management, pricing and procurement were all being managed centrally taking away the trading aspect of those in branches to do business with customers. “In essence, it was moving away from the fundamentals of what made it successful. Those fundamentals were of a specialist business with specialist people selling specialist goods to specialist customers. It was a local business where people were empowered to provide a service and deal with local customers that met the local market needs. The more it standardised roles in the organisation, the more transactional it became in the way it did business,” he says. Johns firmly believes that one of the most important aspects of doing business is commerciality, which is about more than


After years of restructuring that moved it away from a branch-based culture to a centralised operating model, SIG is changing, as Fiona Russell-Horne found out.

simple money-making. If you focus more on the money and less on the people who make that money you start to affect the relationships with customers and with suppliers. He says that the relationship with the supplier is equally as important as the relationship with the customers, arguably more so in a specialist industry.

“The business was looking internally, at being more efficient, at taking costs out instead of putting the customer at the centre of everything. If you can become more efficient in what you do that’s great but at the end of the day customers are what we need to focus on. Then you work your efficiencies around that.”

Logistics investment The investments in the logistics platforms Descartes, SIG Delivery Tracking System (DTS) and Warehouse Management System (WMS) and the new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system were certainly not out of place in a business the size of SIG, however Johns says that technology needs to be balanced with the right structure, processes and focus.

“Looking in from the outside, it seemed as though the company had lost its localised relationships with customers and suppliers, particularly at a local level, which meant that individuals were losing the power to make decisions to provide customers with the service that they needed. That’s one of the fundamental things that we are changing, bringing in more local autonomy. As soon as people that are in front of customers can’t make a decision, you put the business at risk. When you have the power to make decisions, that’s when you get the respect of customers and the same thing goes for suppliers, too.” Supplier relations too.

As well as a new CEO and managing director, the refocussed business has a more localised infrastructure, which includes new regional managing directors, David Hope and Richard Burnley and a commercial director for the UK business, Andy Williamson. It is, by design, a very flat structure. “I believe in empowering people rather than trying to create a central control, but doing so within a framework. The divisional managing directors are running half the country each and they have a number of branches that August 2020

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