Ten years of challenge and achievement: Allseas Global Logistics

14 September 2013

Q&A with Darren Wright

That slightly well-known song ‘Happy Birthday to You’ may have been subject to a recent wrangle over copyright … but here at Allseas Global Logistics, we think it’s perfectly fine to say: ‘Happy Birthday to Us’. In fact, ‘Happy Tenth Birthday to Us’.

We are delighted to be celebrating our first ten years in this exciting, dynamic industry. And what a decade it’s been – challenging, thrilling, rewarding, exhausting, uplifting and – sometimes – just a little bit scary.

Who better to tell us the story than the man who started it all – Darren Wright, our Managing Director and the co-owner and founder of Allseas. We actually managed to catch up with him and make him sit still for long enough to answer a few questions – and also noted, of course, that ten years down the line, he hasn’t aged a bit.

Q: How did it all start?

Darren: The time was right. I had got involved in the forwarding and logistics business straight from school and had about ten years’ experience with a company that grew from three or four people to about 30 during that time. I had started as the office junior and did everything from emptying the bins right up to operations manager. But I had always longed to be my own boss. My original partner and I had gained the experience, built up a good list of contacts – customers and suppliers – and felt really confident. This is a people business – if you are good at what you do, people stick with you. We were tried and trusted and we had built enough of a reputation in the industry. So we went for it!

Q: What happened on the very first day?

Darren: We started the business in an office the size of a broom cupboard, at a business park next to Manchester Airport. There were four of us – me and my original partner, an operations person and an IT person. For the first hour, we sat staring at the phone waiting for it to ring. Then, once it did, it was manic – it was like a trading forum. Literally, we were leaning over desks and passing phones back and forward. We never looked back from that day.

Q: What was the first major job you won?

Darren: The Star Trek job – really! It was from a contact we had in Singapore. The Star Trek tour had been in Hyde Park, with all the props, staging, simulator, and so on – including the bridge of The Enterprise. Our job was to move everything to Asia for the tour there. We had to organise 200 containers of this equipment, all labelled up in Star Trek containers and colours. It was massively high profile for us and involved a huge outlay on equipment, some of it on personal credit cards. It wasn’t exactly ‘make or break’ but it was certainly a really testing time cash-flow wise. But it was something we couldn’t turn down. We had to boldly go … well, you know the rest. Another very early and very challenging job was for the MoD, shipping tanks. We had an outlay of £60,000 on equipment for this job, and at one point it was almost cancelled. But it ended up being shipped – and it was a really successful project for us.

Q: ‘Confident young things’, then?

Darren: Yes, we were bold, we were confident and we never believed that things would go wrong. If you are going to succeed in this business, you have to believe in your own ability – if you don’t, you can be sure that nobody else will. We had always been taught to make decisions and believe in what we were going to do. We have maintained that attitude throughout, and instilled it across the team. Customers like the fact that we can make quick decisions – we don’t need to go to a head office miles away or pass the details through a chain of 25 people. We take decisions here and now. Our attitude is – let’s get the job done. And that is particularly important in the fast-moving, high-profile oil & gas sector, where you are handling high-value goods and very urgent deliveries. If the client needs you to take a phone call at midnight on Saturday – that’s what you do.

Q: So ten years down the line, how does the Allseas operation of 2013 compare with that ‘broom cupboard’?

Darren: We have done an incredible amount in those ten years. We now have four offices in the UK, with 32 staff, a team of five in our Dubai office and six more people in our Brazil office. We also have two packing companies with 45 people. We got involved in the export packing side three or four years ago; International Export Packing is a natural fit with Allseas and gives us an unbeatable combination of skills and services. Seeing a project through pretty much from start to finish definitely gives us the edge because we get a genuine feel for what’s needed at the early stages.

Q: Can you name a project that you look back on with particular pride?

Darren: That’s an easy one. Although we have done so many challenging projects, the one that really sticks out for me was shortly after the tragic tsunami in Japan. A new US$40 billion nuclear power station at Shimane was ready to begin operations; it had not been damaged in the disaster and the power was desperately needed for Japan’s recovery, but new regulations meant it could not open until emergency power back-up was in place. We were entrusted with the delivery of five vast generator units, two equipment control rooms and other vital components to Shimane … and this was definitely not a job for the fainthearted. The various parts of the consignment had to be transported to Japan from locations in the Netherlands, the UK and the United States. The deadlines were incredibly tight and the whole project was really challenging and demanding. We had to design and manufacture bespoke transportation and lifting equipment, and we were constantly thinking on our feet, with voyage plans altered as the job progressed. Our people really took that job personally – it was a 24/7 operation for five of the team, but it really galvanised us all. The whole company was proud to be involved in it. Winning the International Freighting Weekly (IFW) Project/Heavylift Forwarder of the Year award for that was probably the proudest moment in my professional career to date, and it just created a buzz around the whole company.

Q: So what’s the plan for the next ten years?

Darren: Well, my sales director tells me I won’t stop until world domination! We might not get that far, but we have a lot more to do. The team are all ambitious to grow and we are all excited about the future. We would like a few more strategically located offices overseas. We want to expand our export packing, with at least one new facility in the UK – packing is the logical add-on to forwarding. We have started working with some high-profile customers from the retail sector, and want to build on that – 3PL services and more warehousing. We have quality staff with great ideas and we want to grow. But we will do that in a controlled way, not overnight; we have seen other companies expand too quickly and then run into problems.

Q: Is the industry a changed one compared with ten years ago?

Darren: In the current economic climate, of course margins have become tighter and prices are scrutinised – but the demand for good quality service hasn’t changed. We make sure we remain as streamlined as possible, but we will never compromise on quality. We feel that our customers’ product is also our product, and we take it personally. If there is an issue, it pains us as well. We had a passion for the job when we started, and we still have that passion. Getting the right people in the team is crucial – we target people with a similar mindset to our own. It is people that make a great company. Our tenth anniversary celebrations will include a weekend away for the whole team, and their partners. We recognise that families are also very much part of Allseas. After all, it is the families that are impacted when their loved one is taking phone calls late into the evening, working unsocial hours, or travelling for long periods of time. This job has never been a ‘nine to five’ job – it is finished when it is complete and if that means you are working until ten at night, such is life. Everyone understands that.

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