Andrew Baxter of Europa Worldwide Group
Andrew Baxter, managing director of leading logistics provider Europa Worldwide, gives BQ an insight into his career so far and reveals his top tips for business leaders...
What is it the company does?
Europa Worldwide Group is an independent, privately-owned business which offers air, sea, road and logistics services. We employ around 650 people across 12 sites in the UK plus Hong Kong and are represented in 100 countries. Now headquartered at our £30m 1hub in Dartford, Europa was established in 1966 above a bookmakers in the East End of London, so is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. I acquired the business in 2013 and set about a significant front-end restructuring which was incredibly difficult but has now put the business on firm foundations. During the period since the acquisition turnover has increased from £76m to £116m.
What does your role involve?
I see my role as setting the overall direction of the business. I talk to the Directors of the various divisions every day, from Operations to IT and everything in between. My role is to set the pace and to make sure the team is in line with a consistent plan and to ensure that everyone is pulling in the right direction.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I’ve got more than 20 years’ experience in the freight industry. At the age of 18 I joined the Sheffield branch of RH Freight – my family’s business which was founded by my father Neville.
Myself and my brother Ian performed a management buyout of the business in 2005, acquiring the company from other family members. Under our ownership the business was expanded and ultimately sold to Kuehne + Nagel in 2011 for £60m. In 2013 I acquired Europa Worldwide Group.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Crucial to being a successful leader, in my opinion, is having a very clear vision of what you want to achieve, followed by the courage to see your plan through. There will always be lots of different people telling you that you can’t do something or that you should do it in a different way – whilst it is hugely important to listen, in the end you can’t follow every piece of advice, as different people will give you contrary opinions. Therefore it is vital for a leader to have the courage to make their vision a reality. Some decisions are a bit scary, but if you have a well thought through plan, it is important not to get blown off course when the going gets tough.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
When I acquired Europa it was clear that the business needed to be restructured in order to thrive in the future. My Directors and I set about a very ambitious front-end restructuring process which saw us create separate divisions for each area of the business – Road, Air and Sea, Showfreight and Warehouse – a decision which massively helped us to focus our energies and to create strategic growth plans for each activity.
Restructuring was certainly a daunting prospect, particularly in the short time frame we set. It was a huge amount of change and we were faced with lots of bumps in the road; at times it was hard to see if a positive outcome was possible.
Times like those are when you need to have a lot of self belief, so that you don’t waver from the path you’ve chosen, because wavering almost always leads to regrettable compromises. Also when times are tough, if you start to wobble your team will start to question whether you believe in the plan, and if you lose the faith of your team, you are really in trouble.
To me restructuring the business was inevitable because ultimately, I couldn’t go along with a model that I did not believe in. I would much rather go down doing what I thought was right than risk getting into trouble with an operating model that I did not believe in. It was hugely challenging and actually with hindsight very risky, but now that we are out the other side we can see that it was absolutely the right decision.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I take a deep breath, tell myself to ‘man up and get on with it’!
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It’s a simple and short answer to this one, and sorry for being such a horrible stereotype! But, I wanted to be rich! In fairness, I also wanted to do things, create things and achieve things.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I really dislike it when people use lots of jargon – that really winds me up! I don’t like people who try to make themselves look clever and important by complicating matters. I also don’t like it when people don’t treat others as they’d wish to be treated themselves.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
My aspiration is for the business to hit the £200m turnover mark by the end of 2018 (we recently broke through the £100m milestone and have just reported our 2015-16 turnover to be £116m). The goal then is to double this in the following 3 years. So, in a nutshell my aim is for Europa Worldwide Group to be a £400m plus turnover business in 5 years’ time, which would make it 4 times the size it is now, through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions. That’s the goal – whether we achieve it in that time scale or not, is another story!
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
The main thing all aspiring business leaders need to focus on is having a clear and defined plan that is well thought through, realistic and achievable. If you don’t have a serious plan, it’s highly unlikely your business will succeed. Secondly, be uncompromising in implementing that plan. If it needs additional funds to do it properly, then raise them. Whatever you do, don’t fudge the plan. Fudges don’t work, so avoid them at all costs. Then throw 100% at it and make sure you make it happen. Don’t be too afraid of risk. If your plan is good enough, you will find a way through, and risk will get you and your team out of bed every morning to make it happen. Lastly, don’t put off what you can do today. Get in there and do it. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get through the early pain barriers, and that’s when the fun really begins!
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
I was given a lot of inspiration from my father, which gave me the confidence to get on, be ambitious and always strive for my goals – and that has helped me an enormous amount. Coming from a family business background I don’t feel like there was a great deficit in the advice I had. The deficit was only in experience, and you can only get that by actually doing it.
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