Hilary’s all fired up

When Pall-Ex founder Hilary Devey joined the panel of investors on BBC TV’s Dragons’ Den in 2011, she immediately raised the profile of the logistics industry as a career choice. She talks to Guy Clapperton

Many young people see supply chain as a dull option, but you’ve made a highly lucrative career out of it. What prompted you?

“I don’t think it’s necessarily viewed as a dull option and the high number of candidates that we get applying to be part of the Pall-Ex graduate scheme stands testament to that. But, if I’m honest, I never intended to end up in the logistics industry. When I left school at the age of 16, I wanted to be an air traffic controller with the Women’s Royal Air Force. Sadly, this didn’t happen, but they say everything happens for a reason. I always thought that I would be quite good at sales as I had developed a lot of confidence pulling pints for the regulars in my father’s pub, so I went on to take a sales role at a distribution company. The whole idea of the supply chain began to fascinate me and I spent time learning the intricacies of essentially keeping the country moving. It’s not one of those things that you necessarily think of until you are part of it, but a smooth supply chain is essential for everyday life to continue as normal.”

How would you “sell” your market to people as a career choice?

“The supply chain is playing a crucial role in driving down costs for businesses at the moment. At a time when things are still pretty unstable, the supply chain is vital in helping the economy to slowly recover. It’s most definitely an exciting industry to be involved in. In a business like my own, there are so many different roles, from project management and client services to marketing and IT. There is something for a wide range of skillsets.”

What are the biggest challenges facing supply chain operatives at the moment?

“Like any other sector, costs are a major issue. The price of fuel is crippling many in the industry, particularly the smaller hauliers. We are also feeling the impact of what I believe to be ill-conceived policies. As an example, one of our London-based members recently expressed concern about the introduction of the low emission zone in the capital. The managing director explained how several hauliers will be forced to spend a huge amount of money replacing perfectly good vehicles, entire fleets in some cases. This, of course, comes on top of the congestion charge and the ever-rising cost of fuel. I didn’t hesitate to back his concerns as I felt that it was a case of a sweeping change being introduced without consideration for struggling businesses. The introduction of environmental policies, although needed, should be carefully considered and the wider implications thought through before being enforced. Last year, the industry also faced a major threat from the European Commission proposal that a standard height of four metres be introduced for all new lorry trailers sold in the EU. I spearheaded a campaign against this.”

From a supply chain point of view, is London going to be ready for the Olympics?

“The Olympics presents a significant opportunity for the country as a whole and, like everyone else, I am looking forward to watching them and displaying some national pride. But many challenges will be faced, including road closures, congestion and the unplanned use of the alternative road network. Operators can lessen the impact of the Olympics by planning ahead. I expect to see significantly more deliveries taking place between midnight and 6am, as well as economy services, to allow depots more time to plan their deliveries. But it’s not like the Olympics have suddenly been sprung upon us so hopefully things will run smoothly.”