All the right moves

Molloy’s determination has created a culture of training excellence at the once-ailing
Earlybird Furniture. Stephanie Sparrow talks to the managing director who sees
a clear correlation between training and profits

Molloy is no stranger to the sound of applause. This high-profile figure in the
logistics business figured largely in the latest Motor Transport Awards – the
Oscars for this sector, which are dished out at a glamorous ceremony in the
Royal Albert Hall. Here his company, Earlybird Furniture, won the Industry
Training Award and was a runner-up in the Logistics Company of the Year

judges’ praise was fulsome: “The winner has, indeed, shown strong commitment to
training, emanating from the very top. Earlybird Furniture is a tremendous
example of staff development producing tangible results.”

has collected the training award before, in 1993, for his work as IIP project
director at beds manufacturer Silentnight, where he was logistics and
distribution director. He has also been fêted twice in the past five years by
the Institute of Logistics, but this latest award gives him particular pride
because it demonstrates the bottom-line benefits of training and in this case
how it can be used to bring a business back from the brink.

he arrived at the company three years ago it was in a parlous state. Earlybird
Furniture is a subsidiary of the Walker & Homer Group of furniture
manufacturing companies which turns over £100m a year and has big name
customers in both the mail order and retail markets. It is Earlybird’s role to
provide the group with a range of logistic services, including collections from
works, retail distribution services and direct home delivery, and to do this
with a mixture of contracting and in-house staff. This is a healthy sector
overall, but Earlybird was making a loss which added up to £415,000 for 1998.

had come into the Midlands-based company on a trouble-shooting deal in December
1997. He was appointed service director/MFI, a major customer whom the group
was having big problems with. “My brief was to sort out those problems very
quickly, but the deal I did was that as there was no managing director here, if
I sorted out the problems I wanted to be appointed in that post.”


three months he had rectified the MFI situation, and in early 1998 the managing
director post was his which gave him the free hand he’d coveted to change the
culture. He wasted no time.

the day I was appointed, I briefed all the people in this business on the
strategic plan and on what we needed to do. I stated that we would commit to
investing in the training and development of all the people within this
business to turn the company around and achieve its strategic objectives,” he

was going to be tough. “The company had no vision in place nor goals and
targets and was perceived by group companies and its major customers to be a
poor service provider,” he says.

is never afraid to speak his mind and talks quite candidly about the situation
at that time. Morale was low and the skills level poor, both among contractors
and staff, and this was impacting directly on to the business.

1997, the company paid out around £30,000 in dealing with customer complaints,
whereas in this year to date that figure wouldn’t be anymore than around

that time, people were threatening to sue us because of problems during
delivery, such as dirty boot marks and crushed flowerbeds. Nobody ever told the
staff that those customers pay our wages.”

training needs analysis was part of a three-sided approach to produce a
strategy for the business. The other approaches were consultation with group
factories and customer feedback resulting in a three-year business strategy.


was to play a major part in moving the company forward. Part of the three-year
strategy was to commit to achieving the Investors in People accreditation and

the IIP plan could start, Molloy saw through a number of training plans to
improve company morale and to develop teamworking across the operational areas
of the company. These included action-centred leadership, team building, HSE
risk assessment and call centre telephone techniques.

late October, the company was ready to commit to IIP and work towards achieving
accreditation. Now, this may not sound remarkable, but it has to be borne in
mind that Molloy was starting from a very uneven playing field.

culture here was abysmal. There were no job descriptions, horrific turnover, no
proper interviews, there was no interest in people or in training and
development,” he says.

had also identified a need to develop multi-skilled staff. Skills matrices were
produced for office staff, warehouse staff, delivery crews and contractors to
pinpoint training needs to multi-skill these groups and facilitate greater
operational flexibility throughout the business.

training spend has gone from “nothing” three years ago to around £36,000. The
management development portion of this is subsidised by the local Chamber of
Commerce to the tune of 40 per cent, with Earlybird footing the whole bill for
other training such as warehouse training, driver training and IT.

comes right out of our pockets without any subsidy at all,” he says. “And with
the time that people are out of the business, you could say that effectively it
is double that. Before I came, the training spend was nothing and training was
not referred to at all.”

a full gamut of programmes is in place, from induction to ongoing formal
appraisals assessing work performance against the company’s operational

personally wrote the policies for IIP, I personally wrote all the job
descriptions, the induction programmes and personally did the appraisals
-although I have now trained the managers to do their own appraisals,” he says.
Sub-contractors have fallen into line and now all wear the same uniform and are
managed and coached as if they were Earlybird’s own people.

hard work has paid off. The company achieved a £130,000 profit for 1999.
It  was accredited with IIP in December
of that year and in a move which was designed to perpetuate the IIP momentum,
ISO9002 in June 2000.

wanted both of those because IIP shows that you are business that thinks about
its people and wants the best for them. The ISO is another one that is about
quality and standards so that you can demonstrate that you are a business that
has set out to improve internally and has high standards, and it is a lot
easier when you are talking with customers to get that message across.”

next target is to aim for the  Midlands
Business Excellence Awards in 2001, run along the European Business Excellence


the meantime, he can celebrate the turnaround in business fortunes, after
winning a contract with Laura Ashley, “because the logistics guy knows that we
have good quality standards”, seeing turnover increase by 25 per cent and
“operating right on our capacity limits”. 

is proud that he also likes to top up his own skills base, attending Cranfield
School of Management “on a fairly regular basis” and keeping his knowledge up
to date with industry seminars.

lively interest in training and development is refreshing in any managing
director, but particularly in such a tough business as transport, which rather
begs the question, where does his commitment come from?

were two flashpoints in my life when I realised that training was relevant,” he
says. “The first was in the Army where the training was ongoing and absolutely
superb. In the last three years out of my nine there, I was a training

second flashpoint was when I left the Army and I realised that training would
help me to get on.”

turned to transport-related jobs when he left the services, ending up in
international haulage. “But then I started looking for some training that would
get me off the road and into a management job.”

determination was admirable, funding a nine-month transport and distribution
management course himself from savings, selling the family car and “living on a
government grant of £42 a week”. He walked straight from the course into a job
as deputy transport manager with Britvic Drinks and stated in the interview
that his target was “to be a director of a nationally known business within 15
years”. He did it in 12 years when he joined Silentnight in 1990 as logistics
and distribution director.

was to become important again, allowing Molloy to implement BS5750. He acted as
project director for IIP at Silentnight and picked up the Industry Training
Award from Motor Transport for the first time.

he is not a fan of bureaucracy, he is a keen advocate of IIP.

is about training, but it really does make you focus on how you are going to
achieve the business strategy. You have to have the people capable of
delivering to those objectives and that’s where identifying the training needs
to meet the plan falls into place.”

leads Molloy neatly on to his favourite philosophy, which has seen him through
many business challenges: “Never expect anything to be fixed if you do not give
the people the tools to fix it.”

– Mike Molloy
1997 Managing director Earlybird Furniture
1995-97 Customer service director, Cornwell Parker
1990-95 Logistics and distribution director, Silentnight
1987-90 Regional transport and distribution manager, Wiggins Teape Paper
1987-82 Operations manager, Cory Gases
1981-82 Depot manager designate, Welch Transport
1978-81 Deputy transport manager, Britvic Drinks
1974-78 Various transport positions, heavy haulage, retail delivery,
international transport
1965-74 Army Royal Engineers, various positions including LGV instructor and
Royal Engineer diver
1963-65 Apprentice engineer

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