Moving swiftly and decisively

Embarking on a new role during normal times is an exciting and challenging occasion but this has been no ordinary time. John Park-Davies, managing director of Vertik-Al and Ikon Aluminium Systems, gives an informal insight into those first extraordinary months.

At the start of 2020, I was invited by the board of Allumette to become managing director of Vertik-Al, in addition to my MD job at Ikon Aluminium Systems.

I am not new to Vertik-Al, the UK’s largest independent architectural aluminium powder coating pioneer. I have been responsible for the marketing and business development across the Allumette group and have also been in the unique position of being one of Vertik-Al’s top three customers since joining the group nearly four years ago.

My new role encompasses the day-to-day business requirements at Vertik-Al and Ikon. Angus Mackie will focus on a wider portfolio, developing the Allumette group of companies in the capacity of group managing director.

Mid-March, I was preparing a timeline of when and where we were going to announce the subtle leadership transition which would take effect from the start of April 2020, and the implementation of our ambitious plans for the future. Then, on March 23, prime minister Boris Johnson announced the first UK lockdown.

The following morning, arriving at work after driving through deserted streets of Birmingham, I was greeted by a team that I can only describe as heroic. Despite the confusing message from government, every single person had reported for duty.

We had to move swiftly and decisively. We made a fluid plan; adaptability was key. Staff safety, on and off-site, and cash flow were critical.

We implemented a Covid-safe operating procedure across our 3.4-acre site, evaluated our customer base and analysed our cash burn for the coming period.

When April arrived – the time we had prepared for our restructure – the last thing on anyone’s mind was to have a fanfare regarding job titles and changes; we were busy, very busy.

In those early days we were providing products into government and NHS settings. We were even sent letters of authority to work; in case our operatives were stopped on their commute. Interesting times indeed.

We were soon back to around 60% of our pre-pandemic output and our team was working, safely and efficiently. Enquiries started to get stronger and these were converting into orders and, in turn, generating sales.

When you are standing at the gates of uncertainty, you have two choices: fight or flight. Adaptability, in my experience is the only option so, we have pressed on with our investment for when we come out the other side.

We took advantage of an opportunity to procure and install a bank of new guns on line two. With two new horizontal powder coating plants already installed on lines one and three, this now gives us a full complement of new equipment across all three horizontal lines.

We invested a further £60K upgrading our IT system and server to better enable our teams to operate anywhere, now and in the future. We also decided to press ahead to deliver our commitment to a £1 million green truck and hybrid vehicle replacement programme.

We have also taken this moment to implement our most ambitious investment yet: we have commissioned a custom-built new vertical booth. The line will be a revolution for our product offering. It will give market leading coverage, enable faster track speeds, enable higher output rates, much better powder transfer efficiency and, with the V-shaped line, quality that is second to none.