Chris Robey: With the community at heart

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Monday is the most unpredictable day of the week for print management company boss Chris Robey, who is dedicated to making a difference to his firm’s fortunes and those of his local community.

It’s not a day to relax. Driven by a surge of adrenaline, the man at the helm of Systematic Print Management can often be spotted dashing out of a meeting and jumping into his car to answer a medical emergency.

Wearing a high-vis jacket and a chunky backpack of essentials, he arrives on the scene not knowing what he will find, but keen to help. Welcome to the world of one of Caistor’s First Responders.

Systematic, which has a turnover of more than £3 million and clients UK-wide, is big on Corporate Social Responsibility, a fact mirrored in Chris’ determination to support people within his community, which is home to many of his staff.

The provider of end-to-end print management solutions certainly ticks the boxes with customers searching for quality service and strong environmental values, but the workforce’s broader caring ethos doesn’t go unnoticed.

And there’s more. Five years ago Chris set-up the popular Caistor Running Club, which has 140 members, and continues to encourage more people to pop on their trainers and run for fun, fitness and cake!

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

New ideas

Then last month, his passion for CSR was highlighted once more, when Chris came to fore and invited people to attend a meeting in Caistor to discuss potentially setting-up a befriending service to brighten the lives of older residents.

Being ambitious to grow a company, whilst upholding a strong social conscience, can be hard work, but Chris had a good “teacher”. His father Nick, who founded Systematic in 1975, set the seeds of good CSR and his son has built on those.

He was actually enjoying a career as a personal injury lawyer when he was invited to join the firm, as his father was approaching retirement.

“It was an exciting prospect, but a tough decision. However I joined him in 1998 and became managing director in 2000. My father and I worked together for a further eight years. He is still my mentor and continues to take a very keen interest in our fortunes.”

When Chris joined Systematic, it employed 15 people, now it has a 25-strong team offering everything from business printing to corporate gifts. The firm has a wide range of clients in the private, public and voluntary sectors.

“One of the first things we did after I joined was to offer full colour printing and marketing. In 2000, we created our design studio, which now has four full-time graphic designers and a website specialist.

“Lincolnshire is a great location and the growth of broadband and technology has allowed us to grow our client base and our reputation, taking us from a regional to a nationally-recognised business over the last 20 years,” said Chris.

“One of our core offers is end-to-end print management. This allows us to meet our customers’ needs from the point of design and concept, through to the production of finished materials, their storage and management reports.

“Many of our clients have multiple sites and they want a business which can take total responsibility for their print and marketing requirements, delivering what they need when they need it. We don’t print ourselves but we have a network of tried and trusted trade suppliers.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Sustainability is key

Systematic is hugely proud of the fact that it is accredited with the ISO 9001 quality standard and the ISO 14001 environmental standard. Both are subject to annual external audits.

Electricity, supplied through Good Energy, ensures the firm’s power is from a 100% renewable source. Systematic has increased the amount of materials it uses which meet FSC or recycled standards, to over 80% and the amount of waste sent to landfill has been cut by 90%.

“CSR-wise we support organisations, such as the Caistor Running Club, First Responders and the Caistor Arts & Heritage Centre. We have been successful in Caistor in Bloom competitions seven times over the last 15 years and two years ago we supported the Woodland Trust’s Jubilee Woods project by giving trees to schools and customers and helping to plant a community orchard.

“CSR has always been part of our makeup. I think clients value the fact that they are dealing with a company that cares and shows compassion and we do it because we are based in the community,” said Chris.

“I believe we are very fortunate to work where we do. Lincolnshire is a hidden gem, with the beautiful Wolds, the coast with its great beaches and the bonus of vibrant towns and cities. It’s important to give something back.”
Chris’ father was pro-active in terms of community involvement and staff welfare and built up a team of loyal and hard-working employees.

“One Christmas he started a scheme whereby each member of staff chose a charity to receive £100 from the company. Since its inception we have donated more than £40,000 to a wide variety of causes,” said Chris.

He has certainly had a good role model, but what made Chris decide to become a First Responder? Interestingly, because of a job which the firm was doing for the organisation!

“I was proof-reading some leaflets we were printing about the service and it captured my attention. The idea of being allowed to attend people locally who had life-threatening conditions before the ambulance arrived, whilst being safe in the knowledge that it was on its way, sounded really interesting,” he said.

Fifteen years have passed since Chris, who spent five years as Chairman of Caistor & District Responders, answered his first call.

“When it’s my turn, I use the First Responders’ phone and let ambulance control know that I am available. They take the 999 calls, assess whether a First Responder is needed and text to tell us where to go.

“I am one of about 10 local responders and I can get that call at any time. I’ve left meetings to attend to everything from cardiac arrests to people with breathing difficulties and strokes,” said Chris.

“Fortunately, the situation isn’t always as serious as it sounds, but you certainly get an adrenaline rush. People are always pleased to see you. The job is really rewarding too, because it is all about supporting families at a time of panic and crisis.

“It is true to say that it’s hard for me to fully relax on Mondays, but the feedback from the community for the responders is one of constant support. That really helps us.”

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Keep on running

Chris started Caistor Running Club five years ago, once again doing his bit to boost the life of the local community. When he was out running, he noticed other people running alone, and simply thought it would be great to get people together to enjoy this activity.

“Today we have 140 members and our club attracts people from Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Brigg and even Nottingham, who run three times a week – on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings.”

Chris, who takes part in national and international events – he completed the Valencia Marathon in November, raising more than £4,425 in aid of Beating Bowel Cancer – is keen to get more people into their trainers.

“On March 22nd, the Caistor Running Club is starting an eight-week course, which aims to take people from their first few steps to running comfortably for 30 minutesby the end of week eight. Over 85 people have successfully completed the course in the last four years,” he said.

But his latest project is rallying people to set-up a befriending service in Caistor, with the aim of tackling social isolation within the community by improving life for the over-60s.

“I organised a meeting in Caistor Town Hall. The response was very positive. More than 40 people attended and our guest speaker was from the Cleethorpes-based group Friendship at Home.

“Many people expressed an interest in this concept and now we are looking to getting a committee together and forming our own group.”

Life is certainly non-stop for Chris, who is married to Sharon, Systematic’s Finance Manager. The couple have three children – Ellie (18), James (16) and Katie (13).

Whether any of them ultimately want to join the family business is anyone’s guess –but that’s if there’s a vacancy of course.

“This year we celebrate the long-service anniversaries of two colleagues who have been with us for 10 years, another who has put in 20 years’ service and a fourth who has been at Systematic for 30 years. Our last three retirees saw us congratulate staff who had worked for us for 14, 26 and 33 years,” added Chris.

This feature interview was first published in issue 65 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.