Rutherford Cross is hosting a number of online networking events hosted on Microsoft Teams, aimed at bringing our clients together to discuss their responses to unique challenges facing business at this time, and to share ideas and best practice.
This latest event focused again on the Scottish manufacturing sector. We invited Bruce Middleton, Finance Director at Paragon Service Graphics – specialists in the production of large format display graphics, signage, exhibition and events, and William McMartin, Finance Director at Alexander Ross Holdings – a family owned manufacturer of high end soap and janitorial supplies.
Here, we summarise the experience and advice of each of our participants:
Manufacturing Under Lockdown – the Challenges
What became apparent early on in discussions with both Bruce and William is that certain areas of their business’s had been affected directly by COVID 19 but others had prospered as the organisations were able to change their tack and positioning to focus on these revenue streams.
For Alexander Ross Holdings, it was their industrial division and the ability to contribute to Government care packs which has resulted in ARH manufacturing over 35,000 bars of soap a week to help in the battle against COVID19, allowing them to protect jobs locally within the business. Conversely the group has seen revenue drop as their products were sold into pubs, clubs and hotels as well as the retail sector which are of course not operational in the current environment.
Paragon has been able to utilise some of their bespoke machinery to manufacture protective face masks for the NHS which again has helped the battle against COVID 19 and to continue employment for staff on those sites. They have also been heavily involved with the food retailers who have asked them to print various COVID 19 signs and protection barriers to be distributed across stores such as Aldi across the country.
The challenges both have found were at the start of the outbreak in the UK with numerous days spent producing financial models for the business, only for these models to change overnight with the ever-changing landscape. This now seems to have settled down and both have been involved in the direction of tactics for both business’s to help protect revenue and staff jobs.
It is clear that some SMEs have been able to make quicker and calculated decisions to pivot their organisations in order to adapt to current circumstances, whilst some of the larger corporates with multiple decision making layers are perhaps not in a nimble enough position to adapt as quickly
Running a Remote Finance Team
This question is relatable to many organisations which find themselves with their full finance team working remotely. Both our participants agreed that one of the main challenges of running a remote finance team was maintaining staff morale.
Bruce’s tips were to ensure that communication over video call/telephone was not just work related to ensure morale and team dynamics are kept as high as possible, which was echoed by William. They felt it was key to check in with individuals in the team who had smaller “social networks” or who were perhaps in lockdown on their own as work is a key part of some individual’s social interactions on a daily/weekly basis.
Both have been monitoring their teams working patterns and have ensured that colleagues have been challenged to switch off from work out with normal core working hours as both have seen emails being sent late into the evening. Both are advocates of their teams switching off in the evenings and early mornings to ensure sound mental wellbeing.
Both agreed that a positive that should come out of this is that organisations with provide more remote/flexible patterns which Rutherford Cross have recently seen as a high priority for job seekers in their new roles as technology and the need for flexibility progresses.
COVID 19 – Support and Advice
Paragon has utilised external lawyer’s advice around the furloughing process. This has come with both positives and negatives as both agreed the clear advice that is accessible to both the employer and employees at the moment is not consistent and ever changing.
William has taken the advice of broadening and diversifying the volume of their suppliers to offset any disruption across their future supply chain. Their reliance on key suppliers for raw materials became apparent with heightened surge of demand for products such as toilet paper and cleaning products/soap. ARH faced increased lead times & shortages across essential components within their supply chain to keep up with demand.
Looking to the Future – the Positives
Towards the end of the event, we discussed what we felt as a collective would be the positives that would come out the back end of the pandemic. These were as follows:
- The increased use of video technology, resulting in less travel for senior finance professionals should they have a national/international role
- Staff motivation to be back in the office and interacting again face to face will be at a high given the remote working pattern we find ourselves in
- More flexibility for working from home/remotely- lack of need to be physically present at meetings
- Process improvement across the business, processes that are not necessary have been stripped
- Potential positives of market share increase with both business’s being able to adapt their offerings
It was a pleasure to host a discussion between to senior finance professionals in manufacturing, and to learn from their very different situations. We agreed the following to be key points arising from our discussion:
- Small to Medium organisations have been able to adapt their product offering quickly to mirror the demand in the market and keep production volume at a rate which will help save jobs and revenue for the business.
- Embrace technology and keep connected with your teams to ensure morale is kept as high as possible
- Utilise the Furlough scheme with most employees taking this as a positive measure to protect their jobs in the future
- Both ARH and Paragon are having a direct positive impact in our fight against COVID 19 with their soap manufacturing and safety visor production!
We will be hosting a number of finance video networking forums in the coming weeks. Should you be interested in joining one of these forums please contact [email protected]