PD Ports is the gateway to a sustainable export strategy for thousands of companies. Chief operating officer Jerry Hopkinson told Mike Hughes that the group is looking ahead optimistically as more and more customers look for new routes to commercial success.
Jerry Hopkinson is inspired by his own company’s success. After a body blow from the closure of the SSI steelworks on Teesside, PD Ports has been the model of restructuring and recovery and emerged to become a beacon of progress, starkly illuminating the depth of its resources and skills.
With 160 years of unrivalled experience and continuous investment at Teesport, Hartlepool, Felixstowe and on the Humber, the group is an influential supporter and user of the latest technology and portcentric logistics that have helped revolutionise the sector.
Portcentric logistics is a particularly strong point, involving bringing products into the country closer to their end destination to save companies time, money and CO2 emissions.
As chief operating officer (COO) and vice-chairman, Hopkinson has helped shape this impressive organisation for more than 40 years, the last 25 from the boardroom, and is rightly proud of the influential position it holds.
“As well as being the statutory harbour authority for the Tees, we are the operator of Teesport and Hartlepool, handling around 30million tonnes of cargo through the river each year,” he says.
PD Ports has its other assets down the east coast as well as the award-winning portcentric logistics operations, employing 1,200 people and investing regularly in training to keep them all at the top of their game. The past ten years has seen £1bn invested both direct and through third parties in developing, upgrading and enhancing capacity to meet the demands of its customers and position the Teesport as the UK’s northern gateway for global shippers serving northern markets.
So the gateway for export success is well and truly wide open and Hopkinson says the feeling of teamwork and camaraderie from clients and providers gives the region a huge advantage.
“The success is clearly there and the collaboration is a key factor, but networks don’t exist by their own volition and it would be shortsighted to think we have already built our Northern Powerhouse,” he says. “We can all look to our own development - and we need to because our immediate interest is the development of the Tees Valley. But then there is the Tees Valley sat within the context of the North East and the North East in the context of the North of England. Given that background, I think what the Northern Powerhouse is all about is setting aside parochial self-interest for a minute and focusing on what we can do together to drive economic prosperity into the North as a whole and into our region.
“For me, it is about the recognition of commonly-held requirements for a collaborative benefit. That means the development of a network infrastructure in terms of transportation, particularly around road and rail development, and a leveraging of the skills base across the UK, which is absolutely critical to ensure that we continue to grow and offer real opportunities for employment and a long-term future for our own staff.
“The port is recognised as a gateway, particularly now when it is so perfectly situated at the heart of the South Tees development Corporation site where so much work is to be done. But we are also a catalyst and will work within the region to develop the most viable opportunities. Within that development, the Northern Powerhouse is essential, providing the greater infrastructure and the greater argument that says we can deliver those opportunities that mean PD Ports can be a key component of this remarkable region and of the Powerhouse.”
Hopkinson is right to emphasise the importance of striking a balance between collaboration and every North East company’s own interests because without individual success there will not be the strongest of platforms from which to develop partnerships and powerhouses. With companies that exist on the scale of PD Ports, their influence can be pivotal and act as a springboard for higher ambitions and deeper relationships.
“We want to become a fundamental part of our customers’ supply chain here as part of a partnership with firms who want to export through us, so that we are not just the guys who take the cargo from the vessel and put it in a warehouse to be collected,” he says.
“We can arrange the shipment and reception of the cargo into the port, look after the intermediary handling which may include repackaging and redistributing to enhance the product and, of course, getting it to the end point of delivery.
“With portcentric logistics PD Ports has stopped being just the port and has become much more significant and has delivered some really beneficial solutions for our customers.
“We are here to run a successful business, judged by all the conventional standards, but in my experience that success is all achieved by working in partnership and becoming a listening business that is responsive to its customers and remains agile and competitive with excellent performances and practices and a strong moral compass at its heart.”
There is much co-ordinated success across the group, and for the wider region the possibilities are endless as a powerhouse of firms want to find new markets and test themselves against the best in the world.
“In our business we are certainly seeing very material progress. It is by no means ‘mission accomplished’, but we are seeing a pipeline of opportunities that we need to work on to bring them to fruition,” says Hopkinson. “We need to keep digging in and bring all of our collaborative expertise together here in the North, and if we do that we have every one of those opportunities ahead of us. And they are growing - a few years ago a lot of those were in the IT space, but now I am hearing more and more about manufacturing and engineering and firms getting back to the core competencies in this region.”
People are a recurring theme in our conversation, from the likes of CEO Frans Calje, chairman David Robinson and Hopkinson himself who make PD Ports the formidable presence it is, to those 1,200 staff who work 24 hours a day to deliver success for their customers.
Hopkinson sums it up well: “Working together can be hugely rewarding and is all about the people and making sure we have the skills base here to service the aspirations we have. We can invest all the money we want in the very best kit and infrastructure, but we will always need the right people to be well trained to operate, develop and service it all so the region can be at its very best.”