Ean Parsons of Parsons Containers Group
Ean Parsons decided to set up Parsons Shipping containers in 2000 after spending years working for a container transport business. He talked to BQ about his career so far and why spending time at sea can teach you a lot about business.
What is it the company does?
Parsons Containers Group supply shipping containers for a wide range of applications throughout the UK; we modify shipping containers and build bespoke projects. We also have a large container self-storage business called U Hold The Key Self Storage.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
It varies year to year to meet the business needs. Currently I’m very strategy focused, looking at organisation and systems as the business is growing quickly and we need to develop. In the past year, I’ve developed and implemented strategies for governance, organisation, systems, and marketing. I look after the land leases for the self-storage business. We’ve bought and sold some land and buildings recently. Generally, I look out for opportunities and I steer the course for the business.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I was heading for pilot training in the RAF before I failed my A levels, so I joined the Merchant Navy as a deck officer cadet and trained to be a deck officer and navigator, gaining my deckhand ticket and doing a bit of engine room time along the way. When I passed my second mates ticket I left to get on a degree course at Sunderland Polytechnic in nautical sciences (including early satnav). Going to sea was a great grounding for hard work and problem solving; you can’t mess about at sea, the job’s got to get done. Along the way, between 17 and when I graduated, I worked as a postman, barman and lifeguard. When I graduated I joined Freightliner, a container transport business, as a management trainee. As well as completing lots of management courses I trained in shunting and forming trains at Darlington Upsidings and the Freightliner depot at Follingsby, Gateshead. I then went on to be an operations manager and terminal manager at a number of Freightliner operations including Felixstowe docks and Wilton on Teesside. Freightliner’s job was to move large amounts of shipping containers to and from ports for export and import. I also worked on Channel Tunnel developments and I finished with Freightliner as terminal manager at their Leeds depot in 2000 where my role had primarily been industrial relations in a militant unionised environment. I attempted an MBO of part of the Freightliner operation and I gained an MBA from Newcastle University Business School in 1995. Backed by my business partner Ian Philipson, I started Parsons Containers in 2000.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Wisdom, vision, leading by example, self-belief, understanding people, and taking others along on the journey. Also, multi-tasking, doing the right things and making lots of good small decisions every day.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Getting started, navigating the recession, recognising that the business needed a strategy and reorganisation and being responsive and resourceful in responding to growth.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
By staying fit, playing the guitar and hill walking. I also enjoy a beer while cooking! Definitely not watching TV.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A gunslinger – I used to go to Saturday morning westerns at the Colosseum in Whitley Bay – or a sailor, which I managed to fulfil.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Negativity and pessimism. I just work around anyone who moans and groans – fortunately we don’t have anyone like that at Parsons.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Long-term stable and well led, two to three times the current turnover, bigger national presence and possibly dealing in Europe. Well established and well known in the industry nationally.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Take your opportunities; listen; don’t have an ego as it gets in the way of learning; believe in yourself; persevere and be consistent and keep saying and doing the right things
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Don’t sign up for yellow pages. Seriously, when you start up you get bombarded with all sorts of people selling you all sorts of things and you don’t need most of them but it’s hard to fend them off and they suck up your valuable time – you have to learn to say no firmly. The bureaucracy of the first couple of years is annoying and distracting. It will take you two years before you can get the banks to sign up to anything – I think maybe I was told that but I still tried anyway – it was like knocking my head against a brick wall.