Accepting a job as a financial director, Neil Carpenter probably didn’t expect to spend the first days of his new career directing cranes.
But that was exactly what he found himself doing in 2001 after accepting the position at the fledgling pallet network Palletforce.
One of Neil’s first tasks during those ‘fun but chaotic’ early days was to supervise the cranes delivering the Portacabins, which would act as the business’ offices and accommodate around eight or nine staff.
"It wasn’t your average financial director’s normal day, but it was great fun," said Neil.
Now Neil is celebrating 10 years service with Palletforce, which is also celebrating its 10th anniversary, although today his duties are more in keeping with his job description.
For instance Neil was heavily involved, but in a much more hands-off role when Palletforce made a huge leap forward and moved out of the Portacabins and air hangar warehouse into one of the largest distribution Hubs in Europe.
Today operations have become calmer and more controlled despite a meteoric rise in every statistic possible, from volumes, staff, and fleet to members, turnover and market share.
"I started on day one and it has been fascinating to see the way it has ‘mushroomed’, from setting up the first offices to handling 500 pallets a night and now handling 10,000 pallets a night," said Neil.
"It was great fun in those early days, but equally in 2001 pallet networks were having a bit of a honeymoon period with plenty of room in the sector for more good quality networks to come on board.
"I was always conscious that we would not have this exponential growth forever so we needed to bring a professional spin to Palletforce.
"We have always tried to run things in as professional a manner as possible, that goes straight to the heart of how we work and I like to think that was something I was focussed on from the beginning."
Recognising the need for professionalism within the relatively new sector – something that has undoubtedly been a key driver in Palletforce’s phenomenal rise to become the UK’s leading palletised distribution network – is even more impressive given that Neil had no previous experience within the logistics industry.
An accountancy firm he had worked with put Neil, 48, in touch with the founding directors of Palletforce and he was given ‘the strangest interview’ of his life.
"It was in a businessmen’s club in Norwich because they wanted to meet in an informal environment," said Neil.
"They held it there because they wanted someone who could do all the usual accounting duties but they also felt that being a network it was important that anyone they employed could communicate effectively with members.
"Arguably you could say it was a risk taking on a job in a different industry and with a business that had not even really started yet, but the shareholding structure that was, and still is, in place meant that all the hauliers who had signed up were taking an avid interest in the business and were committed to sending a certain number of pallets through the network.
"While it was a new venture, it wasn’t a situation where the business had to go and find customers, they had already committed themselves and once a few big names came on board it became self-propelling as more and more joined the network.
"The rest, as they say, is history."
And while he may have been ‘green’ to the industry back in those days when he was directing cranes, in the past decade he has learned a thing or two – not least by helping to navigate the business through a change in government and the worst recession for decades.
While the difficult economic situation and changing political landscape have provided challenges, the resilience of Palletforce and a decade of experience has left Neil more positive about the future than ever.
"The business is still, in the grand scheme of things, relatively young so there is plenty of growth potential," said Neil.
"With everything that is happening in the economy, people are focussed on cost and increased efficiency, which is a positive thing for Palletforce and the sector."