Ever wanted to know what inspires the inspiring? What makes our industry leaders get out of bed in the morning? From “Carex” to Car transporters; from an innovative green operating centre to identifying trends before they happen; from technical advancement to Top Gun; Brit European client eStar Truck and Van Limited had the opportunity to sit down and “lift the lid” with just such a person.
Read the full interview with Brit European CEO Graham Lackey – a fascinating insight into his past, the present and our potential future – from someone with a proven track record in bucking the trend to create new ones. In his own words “I’m just as likely to run in completely the opposite direction than follow”.
Each issue, we interview someone inspiring and interesting within our industry, to give us insight and help build our knowledge. This month, we speak to Graham Lackey. Graham has spent the past 15 years in the transport sector, and is now the Group MD at Brit European, but he is far from a ‘lifer’; from launching Carex soaps to selling Jordans Cereal, Graham’s varied experience means he has a unique perspective on our industry.
Can you start by giving us a background of your career?
I didn’t start in transport – I worked for PZ Cussons, that you’ll know for Imperial Leather soap and I actually launched the Carex brand for
them many years ago as a young brand manager. I worked all over the world with them, then I worked for Jordans Cereals and helped them
grow the business outside of the UK, and then I had a spell with Mitsubishi on their foods division for Princes Foods.
I eventually got into this industry with a company in Warrington, which is where I met my ex-business partner and he invited me to come and run his business for him, which was 15 years ago this month that I joined Brit European.
So I’m not transport through and through, but I’ve been in it a long time. Having that wider experience is probably the difference between myself and a lot of people – I look at the broader world and pick out the trends and directions before everybody else does; once you’ve worked in so many different markets all around the world, its easier to its easier to do that – you have a broader focus and tehn you can narrow it down. For example, back in 2010 I was very much focused on large vans because I said to my team that home delivery was going to be a big thing and that was how long ago that was! We evolved away from car and focused more on van and big van as a market for the future. Ultimately, if you’re too in it, you can’t see it.
How are you currently, Graham?
I’m really good, my family keeps me on my toes as well as the business. The original business was the Carmen family – when I joined, I worked with the third generation of that family. I consider the business to be our family plus the very many other hundreds of people we employ and their families.
What keeps you motivated?
I think finding the next thing and doing it better and before everyone else – Brit European and myself have never been good at following the crowd. I’m just as likely to run in completely the opposite direction than follow. That’s why we’re different. Whenever a market becomes commodity, I get bored and move forward and go and find something a bit more exciting and interesting, like the type of equipment, the type of skills, the type of service that we offer – that’s what gets me out of bed – finding the new thing before everyone else does.
Some of it starts with past history – I have a history in economics degree so I’m very good at looking at the past and finding out the lessons – and then it’s just having that vision to see what is going to happen next based on everything I know, all the mistakes that have been made, and just taking a broader understanding of the world around us. If we’re just worred about making a truck or how a truck needs to be made, I wouldn’t think about how it’s going to be used in the future. I’ve always had that forward vision, but with learnings from the past.
What do you know now that you wish you had known 20 years ago?
I don’t tend to reflect backward or worry about what has happened. Twenty years ago, a mentor of my mine said to me ‘it’s about the future’ – you can’t change the past, but you can influence the future, so that will be my takeout. We all grow and develop.
What are your industry predictions for the new five years?
I think the maintenance and repair of the vehicles is going to be the biggest challenge. The driver market has largely corrected itself, but the workshop environment with mechanics and technicians faces two challenges – we have a massive shortage and they take a long time to train to a standard, and then on top of that, we’ve got technology change coming at us, which is going to hit smaller vehicles first then it will eventually hit truck. I couldn’t tell you whether we’ll need electrical engineers or chemical engineers to do that business, and then we still need somebody to do the nuts and bolts. It’s not what we’re doing on the road with the vehicles, it’s can we keep them on the road.
Home delivery still has some way to run – Covid kicked it up, and while it’s probably settling down a bit, it still has some way to go yet. The consolidation in the industry will gather pace, especially in general haulage because critical mass and efficiencies of those traffic matrix will continue. In our sectors, the challenge is what the trucks and vans of the future will look like – how heavy they are, how big they are – as that will influence the type of equipment that we’ve got to build. Do I see a day when they’re all delivering themselves? Probably not in my working lifetime, but perhaps in my childrens’ it will be.
Transport companies will have a real cashflow challenge because the new technology is going to cost a lot more certainly in the short term, so owning a vehicle and paying HP maybe isn’t the way forward. A lot of companies will have to pay significantly more for the kit, but they’re not generating funds to be able to do that, so I think there needs to be a new finance operating model for new equipment, new trucks, new technologies etc, whether it’s battery, hydrogen, direct burn or hydrogen fuel-cell – there will be a big shift.
There will be more change in transport in the next 10 years than there has been in the last 100 years. To survive you have to be good at change. There won’t be a clear trodden path because we won’t have time to sit and wait and see. We have built a new operating centre from scratch and I gave the team the task to go off-grid – we have lot of components – solar, harvesting rain water for the toilets, a new wind concept , waste methane from dairy industry to charge our vehicles etc, and now we’re trying to put it all together in an effective and efficient manner, and it’s never been done before, so it’s not quite as easy.
Lastly, what is the one book, film, series, podcast etc, that you think we all need to read, watch, or listen to?
I like a bit of escapism to switch off to so anything sci-fi or history with a twist, although the original Top Gun is my number one. It’s a good boy’s movie about someone who makes some silly, arrogant mistakes, and then learns and comes out on top, so that’s the message.