Sharing a common vision

25 August 2022


James Latham’s managing director, Andrew Wright, talks to TTJ about his tenure thus far and how the company has survived and thrived during the last few years

TTJ: YOU’VE BEEN IN THE SEAT FOR THREE YEARS NOW – WHAT’S IT BEEN LIKE?

Andrew Wright: Well, I think it’s safe to say it’s been an exciting and somewhat challenging roller-coaster! Like all of our colleagues in the industry, there have been a series of significant and unexpected challenges – fortunately these types of events don’t occur very often but when they do, they really make you focus on the important aspects and often bring out the best in people. We’ve worked as a team to successfully navigate these choppy waters, so there has definitely been a degree of satisfaction, but as we have all experienced in business, we must expect the unexpected and be prepared to adapt.

There’s no doubt that we’ve achieved a lot, but the ride certainly isn’t over and in a developing company there is no time for sitting back or complacency. We will continue to innovate, test new ideas and look to advance both our business and the sector.

TTJ: WHY HAS JAMES LATHAM BEEN SO SUCCESSFUL IN THIS TIME?

AW: Simple. Our experienced staff and successful teams! As I mentioned earlier, the awareness and agile nature of the business and the people we employ has enabled us to successfully adapt and respond to the rapidly changing circumstances and market conditions. We’ve learned to rely upon each other and share a common vision to achieve our goal.

The initial lockdown provided the opportunity to identify several new business improvement projects, then suddenly the market conditions changed again. So, finding time and capacity to focus and successfully complete these proved a little more challenging than we might have expected at the outset. However, by remaining focused we have managed to complete the majority and are well on the way with the remaining.

Improved communication has been key to this, both internally and externally. Lockdown meant we had to adopt new methods of internal communication. From simple platforms like internal newsletters and employee surveys, to more sophisticated methods such as video conferencing and an entirely revamped intranet, we’ve managed to distribute and receive information in an efficient and easily accessible fashion. With teams suddenly dispersed across the country and no longer in depot silos, we had to find ways of keeping each other informed. And fortunately we did that very well.

We also identified changes in the way our customers and suppliers were operating, so we reviewed how we communicate and engage with them too. Each depot has had a video conferencing suite installed, we instigated online order placement, developed our Digital Showroom platform and have collated a library of over 50 promotional videos covering depots, products services, and many things that people would miss out on if they couldn’t meet in person.

TTJ: WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT?

AW: There are dozens of small decisions that all make a difference, and although it might sound far too simple the most important aspect and achievement is enabling and empowering all our people to do their jobs and deliver these results. It’s a team effort.

And that team effort spreads beyond our company. I think the challenges we have all faced together throughout this period have certainly helped galvanise the relationships with our key suppliers and customers. It’s hammered home how important we all are to each other, and how we’re all critical links in the chain.

TTJ: WHAT ARE THE CURRENT TRENDS YOU’RE NOTICING?

AW: I think the big one is definitely timber and the carbon story. This message is beginning to resonate with all the stakeholders, it’s a golden opportunity for the timber industry to help influence awareness and increase demand for sustainable low carbon timber products. We developed our Carbon Calculator as a direct response to this.

A greater focus on performance is driving more specific material selection process in general. Be it sustainability, fire, anti-bacterial, longevity, you name it, the developing technologies in our industry are giving specifiers and end users a wider choice and the ability to be more specific in their requirements. This increased customer expectation isn’t just product related, but service comes into it too. We’re seeing increasing demands from customers with regard to stock levels, delivery capability and technical support, so we’re acting to fulfil these needs too.

TTJ: WHERE DO YOU SEE THE INDUSTRY GOING?

AW: Certainly the future for timber looks bright. It is, increasingly, the sustainable material of choice. As a mentioned previously, new timber products are emerging which open new opportunities and new markets. As an industry, we just need to embrace and accommodate them.

Obviously the challenges with supply in certain markets is likely to continue. It seems as though one supply issue clears up and another takes its place, however we’ve learned to expect the unexpected and this has held us in good stead. Flexibility and agility are the key.

Customer expectations on service levels will only increase, and to cope with this our sector needs to evolve. Our own ‘Lignum Charter’ is an example of this, setting service measures, customer experience parameters and training plans throughout the group. This has and will continue to change the way we interact and communicate with our customers.

TTJ: WHAT’S NEXT FOR LATHAMS?

AW: Ah, that would be telling, but rest assured we’re not resting on our laurels.

Andrew Wright has been MD for three years
The company developed a Digital Showroom platform and has collated a library of over 50 promotional videos
Customers’ expectations of products and service have increased
Lathams exhibited at the Surface Design Show