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Mr Loadlink assesses the England football team’s successful Group B campaign at the ultimately doomed European Championships, reflects on Vertikal Days and welcomes a load cell maven.

Pizza boxes were sent flying and drinks were spilt. It was 3:45pm on a Thursday afternoon and pandemonium ensued in the Straightpoint boardroom at Havant headquarters here in Hampshire, UK. The tension had been broken. Just when it looked like another false dawn, the net rippled, sparking wild scenes of jubilation.

England match at Straightpoint

I may have already lost readers who aren’t football (soccer) fans. It was England’s second group game in the European Championships and we’d just scored a last-gasp winner to defeat neighbours Wales in what was billed the Battle of Britain. Stick with me because there is, as always, a business point to make here. But first let’s relive that magical moment.

It was more about perseverance and belief than brilliance. England had possession on the edge of the Wales penalty area. The ball found its way to Daniel Sturridge on the left hand side of the box and he shaped towards the near post. Despite the close attention of Wales defenders and a last-ditch sliding tackle, Sturridge fired the ball low past the goalkeeper. It was so late in the game, it was safe to celebrate it like a certain match-winner—and we did!

Prior to that, our goalkeeper, Joe Hart, had effectively pushed a speculative long-range free-kick from Gareth Bale into his own goal to give us a mountain to climb having already dropped points in our opening game against Russia. Substitute Jamie Vardy had levelled proceedings before the late drama unfolded. England eventually limped into the last 16 of the competition when a goalless draw against Slovakia four days later saw us finish runners-up in the group, ironically behind Wales who stuffed the Russians on the same night.

Let’s not go into what happened next.

Tactical nous

What’s all that got to do with business? Well, many CEOs and company leaders curse summer sporting events. They see football World Cups, the Wimbledon tennis championships, Olympic Games and other extravaganzas as a distraction. They think it’s bad for business that people follow live scores and send emails about it being expected that employees will use annual leave, not company time, to watch their heroes and national icons.

Consider what happens when an employee reads such a message. They turn to the person next to them and scoff about the boss. They spend the next 30 minutes talking about how unreasonable it is before forwarding it onto a colleague and friend with a message containing a few asterisks so the bad language is not detected by the email police. People talk about the archaic policy in tea rooms, over lunch and in the pub after work. They tell their parents, siblings, sports teammates and anyone else who’ll listen. The negativity spreads like wildfire. Imagine the damage that does to company morale and team spirit.

I’m not in search of the boss of the year award. Truth is I love football and had an interest in the game myself. But I wanted to give my staff the opportunity to talk positively about a big game at a tournament that clashed with working hours. Instead of making people take time off, we put the game on the big screen in the boardroom, ordered in some food and invited those interested to take a couple of hours off and cheer on the boys together. I think everyone appreciated the gesture.

Again, I’m not looking for adulation, but I hope employees did tell their families and friends how we accommodated the game. I think more business leaders should consider the positive impact such events can have. I certainly detected added vigour to people’s work that afternoon and a spring in their step when they reported for duty again the following morning. Ok, that probably had more to do with Vardy, Sturridge and co than me but you get my point.

Vertikal lift

I was glad I could share the winning moment with Team Straightpoint. That morning, I had woken up 250 miles northwest of headquarters in Liverpool, where I attended the Vertikal Days show, hosted by Vertikal, the publisher of Cranes & Access magazine and its German sister title, Kran & Bühne. The annual two-day crane, access and telehandler event celebrated its 10th anniversary at the famous Haydock Park racecourse.

I wanted to hit the road early on the second day to watch the England match so I planned accordingly. The event is known for its social event at the end of day one, where entertainment, food and beverages accompany networking among lifting industry professionals. My itinerary straddled the two days so I could partake in the festivities, where it was good to catch up with Modulift and LEEA in addition to lifting, transport and storage specialist Rapid Response Solutions. It was great to interact away from the formalities of the expo. We spend a lot of time on trade show stands and in meeting rooms, but often more mileage can be gained and better friendships forged over a drink in a social environment. Vertikal Days (or nights) proved that again.

The journey north incorporated lunch with Dave Mullard, our business development manager and last month’s guest blogger, as many of you would have read. I enjoyed reading his blog, particularly his references to the importance of effective communication, growing our distributor network and the Breakbulk Business Run. For some reason, I think it’s the first time running around a city has been referenced in a Mr Loadlink blog!

As Dave explained in his well-written piece, I have spent much of my time of late working with Roshan Divakaran, our design engineer, and the team on our expanded range of ATEX products, all of which conform to a new directive (2014/34/EU) effective this spring. Following the launch of the ATEX and IECEx version of our most popular product, the Radiolink plus wireless load cell, at the turn of the year, we’ve followed it with a new wireless Handheld Plus, compression cells, shackle cells, load pins and the Running Line Dynamometer. It’s worth reiterating that they all boast classification in Zone 0, 1 and 2 hazardous areas.

One of our recent goals has been to add more products to our catalogue and the new explosion proof kit will be the icing on the cake when we send out the latest versions. The bumper edition will hit distributors’ doormats with a resounding thud, which is down to the ongoing hard work and commitment of Roshan and his team.

Heavy hitter

We are meticulous planners here at Straightpoint. Roshan’s work with the Sira Certification Service, an independent certification body, on the ATEX product range is an example of that, as are our yearly and quarterly plans. However, sometimes in business one has to be spontaneous. It’s one thing to go into a fight with a strategy to work behind the jab and break down an opponent, but if they let their left hand drop, instinct takes over and the right fist comes over the top to connect with the open chin. There’s another sporting analogy for you!

Such was the case this month when it became apparent to me that there was an opportunity to introduce one of the lifting industry’s biggest punchers to the company. My public relations consultants always tell me to stick to the key details and let the facts do the talking, particularly when we’re communicating with trade magazine editors. Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, they say to me every time we meet. But they’ll forgive me for further embellishment in my own blog, particularly given the importance of the acquisition.

wayne and dave at straightpointI am delighted, thrilled, proud and honoured to announce that force measurement, load monitoring and suspended weighing load cell industry veteran Wayne Wille has joined our already star-studded North American team as technical sales manager. Wayne brings over 20 years of relevant experience to our company and he could catapult our U.S. subsidiary to a new level. It’s not important where he come from—anyone who’s anyone in the industry already knows that—but the fact he now has the industry’s broadest product portfolio at his disposal is going to open so many doors for us.

Just for you, Bridger Howes…

Who: Wayne Wille
What: Technical sales manager
When: Monday 13 June 2016
Where: North America
Why: Because he has the potential to double our business in the USA
How: Because we can offer the industry’s best people the best portfolio of products to work with

As I touched upon in the press release we circulated confirming the appointment, while it’s important to seize opportunity and let spontaneity rule at times, one constantly has to act with caution. Imagine if the boxer in the fight dropped his hand by way of deceit, for example. What if they’d drawn the attacking move only to counter with more dominant force of their own? In business terms, what if a company couldn’t sustain the demand or interest generated by a landmark appointment such as Wayne’s?

It’s worth thinking about next time such a situation is presented to readers of this blog responsible for such decision making. In the wake of an uptick in demand, particularly for products that we offer industry that other companies might not, our manufacturing processes and supply chains had better be up to speed. If we can’t deliver product timely and efficiently, relationships with new contacts would be damaged before our kit can even impress on site. We’re confident we can capitalise on this opportunity but the whole team must realise it’s not a case of sitting back and watching Wayne work his magic.

Wayne is currently in the UK, where we’ve lined up more than a week of training, meetings and other activities to introduce him to life at Straightpoint. It has been uplifting and reassuring to listen to him talk about the impression of the company he had from the outside and how we are perceived in industry as being responsive to end users’ force measurement problems. That dynamism and flexibility, in addition to the existing breadth and quality of product, are unique selling points that Wayne is keen to work with.

All things considered, we’re confident it’s going to be an interesting second half of the year. Follow us as it unfolds on Twitter—@LoadCell—and use the hashtags #loadcell and #belowthehook to engage.

Mr Loadlink

Home Improvements…

The better you get, the more important it is to improve, says Mr Loadlink in his final blog of Straightpoint’s latest financial year.

The need to improve doesn’t change with success. Can you imagine Sir Alex Ferguson arriving at training during his reign as Manchester United manager and saying, “That’s it boys, we’re done improving, let’s concentrate on staying as good as we are”?

Balls, you can!

Other great sporting and business leaders agree that the best time to improve is when a team is at the peak of its success. That may sound oxymoronic but consider the determination and wholesale buy-in to good practice and systems that run through a successful team. Success breeds energy and hunger for more silverware—or sales.

I hope Paul Cook, the manager of my football team, Portsmouth, is demanding constant improvement from his charges at our Wellington Sports Ground training facility this week as we pursue League One status via promotion this season. The better Pompey (our nickname) do, the more it’s apparent how continued improvement is vital. People challenge success and the consequences of failure become greater. Every defeat damages our chances of promotion. For the teams languishing in mid-table, the price of immediate failure is less.

Roshan Divakaran, design engineer, and I were certainly looking at ways Portsmouth can further improve in the run-in, despite watching them defeat promotion rivals Accrington Stanley 3-1 at their Crown Ground in deepest Lancashire earlier this month. Three first-half strikes did for the home side that night.

We noted that a visit to the Sira Certification Service, an independent certification body, coincided with the match and as Roshan and I were in the north and on the road already, the opportunity for him to take in his first away game was too good to turn down.

He worked in close collaboration with Sira on development of our ATEX and IECEx Radiolink Plus. It’s worth repeating that meeting Zone 0 classification (an area in which an explosive gas atmosphere is present continuously or for long periods) is unprecedented in wireless below-the-hook force measurement technology. Furthermore, we also provide the technology to Zone 1 and 2 classifications to suit varied hazard levels.

But this blog is really about improvement and moving forward. The purpose of our latest trip to Sira was to advance plans to launch ATEX and IECEx versions of our wireless load shackles, loadpins and compression load cells, which will become part of our expanding hazardous area range of equipment. More on that another time.

Roshan has improved himself since joining us. At the time he was a Manchester City fan but even by his own admission, he’s now 80% Pompey. Only another 20% and he’ll be stitching the star and crescent crest to his overalls!

Giving 110%

Despite our continued and rapid growth, I demand constant improvement of the whole Straightpoint machine and, more importantly, the individuals within it. They are, after all, the most important components of the engine. That’s not to say they’re not giving 100%—they are—but their all can be greater if we analyse and tweak our operation.

That was the focus of recent sessions with Action Coach where we looked into our stock control, inventory control, lead conversion and systemisation, for example. Dave Mullard, business development manager, made some good observations during an exchange about our sales processes and I look forward to implementing those improvements as our new financial year gets underway on April 1.

A sense of perspective is important to continued, effective improvement and often that comes from positivity. When referencing a winning team or a successful business, it’s important to acknowledge that one is seeking to improve a good thing, not a bad one. At our monthly sales meetings, for example, we specifically focus on our recent victories and strike an upbeat tone.

When Portsmouth romped to a 4-0 victory over Notts County on Good Friday—I was at Fratton Park again—boss Paul Cook would have focussed on the overwhelming positives, I’m sure. Unfortunately, our Easter Monday visit to AFC Wimbledon was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. A chance to improve on the training ground, perhaps.

Pivotal to improvement at Straightpoint is our distributor network. At the mid-point of March I flew out to Batam in Indonesia, where a successful visit to PT Rigspek Perkasa resulted in their appointment as a distributor in Southeast Asia and Oceania. I am confident that Jannes Sibuea, managing director; Alexander Silalahi, business development manager; and the team can continue to raise our profile in the geography.

It was interesting to hear Alexander talk positively about government investment in the infrastructure and power sectors in the coming years. Rigspek are also part of the Carl Stahl Group, who we do a lot of work with so there is a good synergy with other elements of our operation. I know they plan to implement our equipment in load testing applications with water bags—another commonality with global applications. Port development in the region is also exciting.

Winning team

Just as it’s important to cultivate new contacts, maintaining relationships and collaborations that have secured earlier wins and success stories is aligned with improvement. To that end, I flew from Batam to Labuan, a territory of Malaysia off the coast of Borneo in East Malaysia, where I visited Anthony Ho at Leyden Engineering Services.

Leyden has been a loyal distributor for the best part of two decades. Anthony and his team have visited Hampshire, UK headquarters but it was my first visit to their facility, where we discussed the 2016 catalogue and he led a tour of his fascinating facility. It was also opportune to enjoy a fabulous seafood dinner or two. The shrimp, scallops and other steamed fish was as good as I’ve tasted.

Improvement comes in the shape of research and development too. Perhaps R&D even epitomises it. Our ATEX and IECEx versions of our wireless load shackles aren’t the only new products in the pipeline. In fact, they’re a long way down the road to the pages of the catalogue, hence our recent visit to Sira. Further away are a series of other products that we’ve been site-testing this month ahead of 2017 launches. Roshan; Sarath Chandran, project engineer; and Alfie Lee, operations manager, have all been involved.

Tests didn’t always go to plan but that’s a natural part of the process. I’d advise any companies during the R&D phase of product development not to be discouraged by the challenges that are encountered. Often, if a product has got as far site-tests, it’s a great idea and one worth persevering with. Even if a concept has to be shelved or returned to the drawing board, remember the value of the process and stay positive.

At the time of writing, a delegation from heavy lift specialist ALE visited this morning from Spain to gather intelligence about our 300t+ compression load cells and centre of gravity software. There’s always too many visits and meetings to mention them all (Bridger Howes and Rapid Response Solutions were present at other notable networking sessions), so that brings to a close another blog and uplifting financial year as Mr Loadlink.

Straightpoint certificate

A certificate was presented to all ALE staff that visited and completed training.

Let’s keep improving. And Play Up Pompey!

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Mr Loadlink