Invaluable lessons from a CEO who moves mountains (and yachts)

Invaluable lessons from a CEO who moves mountains (and yachts)

By Caroline Holmes
Wed May 2 2018

Meet Dave Holley, Group CEO of global logistics company Peters & May; the man who’s heading up a business set to turnover £45million this year. Peters & May moves everything from pallets and cars, to helicopters, boats and superyachts.

From plain sailing to navigating stormy waters, there’s a positive business lesson to learn from every set back. That’s the impression we got from talking to Dave. And we’d say it’s worth taking notice of what he has to say. After all, he and his team of 90 have ambitious plans to double turnover, open offices in the Far and Middle East, and expand Mediterranean operations over the next five years.

Never heard of Peters & May ? That’s ok, they operate in a pretty specialist industry. And it’s probably normal to judge that of course they’d be making money, they’re in a luxury market. But tell that to Dave – a performance-driven individual who does not like coming second – and you’d soon realise the awesome amount of work and dedication it takes to keep your bow in front. That and the fact that with luxury comes fierce competition.

Dave, what were the biggest barriers to growth from small to medium-sized enterprise?

We’ve been in business since 1973 so we’ve built up a trusted brand since then. We started in freight forwarding, before diversifying into the marine market because of the previous owner’s interest in yacht racing. After that we saw opportunities in helicopter, car and goods transportation, an industry we’ve been serving clients in ever since.

Mindset

Mindset is one of the biggest things we’ve had to look at to allow the company to grow. If you don’t have the right business mindset you won’t get anywhere. And every new recruit changes our mindset slightly, which is a really positive thing.

But bigger than that is the realisation that you have to know what your customer’s mindset is too. In our case, that’s yacht owners, manufacturers, dealers and brokers. We make it our job to know what they’re thinking so we can be one step ahead and give them what they want.

Once we know what they want, we reach our customers by being highly visible at boat shows and events, and we’re increasingly focusing on digital marketing. In fact, a big chunk of that £45million we talked about earlier will be invested here. And it’s an area where we’ve decided we need to bolster internal knowledge with external expertise.

Initiative

The other biggest difference between us and a lot of other companies is the focus we have on allowing people to use their initiative and do their own trade. It’s good that not everybody has the same ideas and we celebrate that. Apart from wanting to, we also logistically have to – we’re spread all over the world and there are only 90 of us!

So it sounds like you must sometimes rely on external expertise to keep things afloat?

Absolutely, although I’m a firm believer in promoting from within, too. We’ve got such incredible aptitude in the team already and we’re always trying to uncover hidden talents. But when we think it’ll help the business, we invest in external specialists. For example, we’ve brought in a great finance director to streamline our back office.

Strong management

We have a real focus on recruiting strong, talented managers. While that’s important in every business, it’s particularly critical in ours because there are so many factors in every job. In what is an ever-evolving industry, it’s crucial for our managers to have a solid network of external experts. That’s across customs, law, vessel owners, government, commercial partners and more. It’s only with these partnerships that we can ensure every job is cost effective, legal, efficient etc.

Foundations

You need to put the right pillars in place before the business grows or you might find yourself with a fragile structure. And we need strength right now, in the face of much-publicised cyber-crime threats, and Brexit. Surprise surprise, these are the things in the back of our minds right now.

Brexit

Businesswise, there’s some uncertainty about Brexit. With the pound weakening we saw an increase in export sales from the UK. And being a global business, we felt the effect in the USA. There’s a lot of uncertainty around that at the moment - hopefully there will be less uncertainty in the future.

Cyber crime

We were targeted by cyber criminals a few years ago so we’ve invested a lot in our IT since and everything is cloud-based now. Protecting data is absolutely critical and my advice would be to set to work changing attitudes and behaviours towards cyber security within your organisation as soon as possible.

Partnerships

Having the right partners really helps to allay those types of business fears. With further expansion on the horizon, the importance of working with global partners and the simplicity of reporting across global teams become really apparent.

When it comes to expertise, it’s important to have the right people in the right places. It’s particularly important to have the right expertise in a new market. Our customers and the authorities we’re working with in these markets may be less experienced than us, so we may need to guide them.

To make sure everything is where it should be, when it should be, we rely heavily on our loadmasters. They’re absolutely critical to the success of Peters & May because they’re the ones who oversee all loadings and discharges globally. So if our loadmasters can’t get round the world, book hotels, pay for food and get about while they’re abroad, our business would come to a grinding halt. That’s why partnerships like our one with Barclaycard are so important. Our business credit cards work everywhere in the world, just like us.

This point is crucial because it’s our job to travel a lot, so it’s really important that we have a simple way for staff to book and expense travel and entertainment costs. And because plans can change at the last minute, we use our business credit cards to draw out cash, which allows us to work very flexibly all over the world.

What would your tips be for fellow business owners?

My two main tips are:

Always try and find a balance. It’s easy to say but incredibly difficult to achieve and as a business owner you absolutely have to make sacrifices. I have a wife and two children and we’ve moved countries five times in six years. With that comes exciting opportunities and big challenges. As long as the opportunities outweigh the challenges, I think we’re doing well.

Invest to grow. It’s not new advice, but it remains as true today as it did whenever the first person said it. For this model to work, you need to plan, structure the business in the right way and partner with the right people. We invested in people first. Then invested in equipment, and finally in positioning equipment. That was the right way round for us.

Dave’s quick career history

I started off with Peters & May in the Middle East, setting up an office in Dubai, then moved to the UK office, and then to Spain. After that I went back to Dubai. I was then asked to run a company we acquired and rebrand them as part of the Peters & May group in the USA. Then I became group CEO.

Over that time I’ve developed a lot of strong relationships in the business, by always attending key events and boats shows. Our industry is driven by people’s passion, no matter if they’re part of a racing team, a superyacht captain or an owner of a classic car. So, being away from my desk and in front of these people is an important part of my role.

I tend to focus on the strategy side now, for example our investment in IT. But I do travel a lot. Next week I’m going to Fort Lauderdale, and then to Abu Dhabi.

I grew up in the Middle East, so I always like going there, but I like the USA too. We have an office in Dania Beach, but my favourite place in the States is San Diego.

I travel to each of our offices over the year, so I’ll be in France, Germany and the UK throughout the year.

Item I couldn’t live without?

My smartphone, I’m always on it. Email is an invaluable thing in our business. I know a lot of people who turn their phone off at the weekend. I couldn’t do that.

To relax…

I go fly fishing, and I like motorsports. I have more time to relax now that we have more people to take on responsibilities.

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