Paul Edwards: Passionate about manufacturing

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Manufacturing company boss Paul Edwards was in the market for a fresh challenge when a recruitment consultant signposted him to an opportunity to join one of Lincoln’s best-known manufacturing firms.

Armed with a wealth of knowledge gained in the aerospace and automotive sectors, Paul decided to take a leap of faith and left Firth Rixson (now part of Alcoa), where he was Plant Sales Manager, for the world of engineered hoses at James Dawson & Son, part of Fenner Plc.

When Paul, who lives in Derbyshire, revealed that he actually joined Dawson’s on April 1st, 2009, there is the irresistible urge to ask whether he should have chosen a less auspicious day!

As things have turned out, he made the right move. Joining the company as Sales & Marketing Director, in 2013 Paul found himself in the Managing Director’s chair after only four years.

He is now responsible for 200 employees in Lincoln and 65 more in Shanghai, China. All are busy providing engineering hoses for a diverse worldwide customer base. Demand has seen Dawson’s turnover hit £17 million.

The company also has a warehouse in America and sales people based “locally” in Germany, America, India and China, as well as the UK. Prestigious customers include Caterpillar, Cummins and JCB.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Getting closer to customers

Now in his eighth year with the company, Paul is seeing the rewards of the hours spent in encouraging his team to forge stronger relationships with Dawson’s customers, at a time when the firm’s overseas competition has intensified.

Paul has also nurtured good relationships with Lincolnshire firms since his arrival at Dawson’s and tapped into their home-grown expertise in his drive to increase Dawson’s sales.

The company’s hoses are used extensively in diesel engine applications requiring OEM (original equipment manufacture) and other solutions, and supplied to the agriculture, power generation, on and off highway, construction and specialist vehicle sectors.

“When I became Sales & Marketing Director my main objective was to grow sales and to get more intimate with customers. I wanted to develop relationships and I was also keen to up-skill our workforce,” said Paul.

“However, I was also clear that I would never ask anyone to do something which I wouldn’t do myself.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Dealing face-to-face

“I feel that a lot of sales people are not “commercially aware” enough. By that, I mean that they tend to be more product, rather than marketing-oriented. One of the first things I did was to bring in new sales people – two to work locally in America, another in Germany and a fourth in the UK.”
Paul’s decision was based on his own experience and the power of meeting customers on their own territory.

“I personally had done a lot of face-to-face negotiations and travelled regularly in America and Continental Europe. I have also attended trade missions to Brazil and China.”
Paul, who originally hails from Newcastle, took over as Managing Director when his predecessor retired in February 2013.

“At that point, I realised that it was vital to develop our strategy. We didn’t have a formal strategy as such at that time, but we had a list of ideas to work with,” he said.

“In 2014, I discovered that the global marketplace for our products was becoming more sophisticated, particularly within India and China. Whilst Dawson’s had tended to be ahead of the game from a technical viewpoint, there were signs that we had rested on our laurels sales-wise.”

To get a clearer picture of where the company stood in relations to its competitors, Paul commissioned FMC in Lincoln to undertake a research and benchmarking exercise.

“The results revealed that we were well known for our technical ability, our service and flexibility. However, China and India were doing better when it came to the pricing of their goods,” said Paul.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Forcing the pace of change

It was time for a rethink and Dawson’s looked to do things differently.

“We changed our approach. It isn’t simply a case of offering customers items from a catalogue, our expertise extends to the manufacture of bespoke solutions.

“Today our sales people may be the first to talk to a potential new customer but, after they have started the conversation, they will inform our technical team and put them in the picture.

“Then our technical engineers will have another conversation with that client’s technical engineers. That way we can be confident of coming-up with a specific solution tailored to their exact needs.”

That fresh approach has had a dramatic effect.

“It’s the way we came to develop our new NeoTeX neoprene hose. That simple change of focus led to Dawson’s introducing the first new product developed at our site in Lincoln for ten years, to the market.”

“It was based on a lot of knowledge and expertise and it has already provided our customers with a more cost-effective solution. The first customer we expect to benefit from this new product is JCB.

“Our sales team have seen how the technical team has been able to develop products which will wow our customers. That, in turn, has led to an increase in the number of hoses sold, giving us an annual turnover of £17 million for the UK and China,” said Paul.

Small bespoke solutions, provided by flexible teams – able to manage rising levels of production – are likely to see Dawson’s shift systems increase within a company producing 2,600 different part numbers and 1.8 million hoses a year.

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Photo: Steve Smailes for Lincolnshire Business

Vision for success

After firming-up Dawson’s future strategy, Paul has now gone a step further with the help of well-known local business leaders Paul and Dawn Barron of Human Alchemy, the firm has created and clarified its vision for the future.

“We called in Paul and Dawn in October 2014 and they have been helping us to clarify our game plan and create a three-year vision statement. We realised that our business needs to quickly “up its game”, after noting in 2014 that our competitors had advanced technically,” said Paul.

“Paul had a track record of helping to transform businesses at an advanced level. It was good to keep things local, by using local expertise and Paul had “been there and done that” before.

“As a result we explored the status of the current management team and I went on to recruit a new Head of Innovation Technology and a Head of Global Operations (UK and China integrated).

“Dawn and Paul (Barron) ran a couple of two-day workshops, getting us all to gel as a senior team. We drew up the vision and they helped us to communicate it to the workforce. It was all about getting our employees more engaged and motivating them to greater ownership of what the company is doing.

“We are working towards having a proud, committed and engaged workforce. People have the desire to see us succeed. We aim to modernise our facilities and to incorporate enterprise, excellence and innovative processes. We want to be the global brand of choice and are determined to offer customers the best value solutions, products and services,” said Paul.

Apart from his passion to see Dawson’s hit new heights, Paul is equally keen on polishing his own skills. He attended the Advanced Development Programme at Cranfield School of Management in 2011 and is currently undergoing a course of personal leadership development coaching.

Paul lives in Belper, Derbyshire with his wife Rebecca. He has two children from a previous marriage, daughter Erin (13) and son Jacob (10).

This feature interview was first published in issue 81 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.