Editor’s viewpoint: Best foot forward

Editor’s viewpoint: Best foot forward

In PBM’s January 2018 edition, Editor Paul Davies discussed the merchant sector’s need to appeal to and develop the best new talent “without barriers, exceptions or excuses”.

It is true to say that merchanting can offer a career pathway where an entry level position can lead to the boardroom of £multi-billion companies.

A topic we frequently return to is the notion that the merchant industry continues to have something of an issue when it comes to self-promotion. I would argue that the ‘image problem’ is being addressed in many ways and from numerous quarters and the staid, traditional perception is being replaced by an awareness that a diverse range of roles — in sales, marketing, purchasing, IT, logistics and beyond — can lead to rewarding careers if individuals are prepared to graft and embrace that passion that exists within the sector.

Indeed, it is true to say that merchanting can offer a career pathway where an entry level position can lead to the boardroom of £multi-billion companies.

However, to attract the best talent from other sectors and appeal to the next generation of business leaders, there is always more to be done. As such, I was delighted to see builders’ merchant representation arrive at one of the most high profile organisations in the country with the news that Buildbase CEO Kate Tinsley has recently been appointed as an independent non-executive director of The Football Association.

Kate’s background in merchanting, with senior roles at Saint-Gobain, BSS and elsewhere within the Grafton Group, is matched by her passion for football with the FA-qualified coach having invested significant time in the grassroots game. It’s worth pausing to fully take this news in for a moment — a builders’ merchant is helping to shape the future governance of the national game.

It is also worth reflecting that this platform is being taken by one of the industry’s leading women, because if there’s a discussion to be had about attracting the best talent to the sector, why would we limit it to half of the potential intake?

Back in September, Travis Perkins sponsored and participated in the inaugural Inspire: Women in Construction Summit during which close to 400 delegates — including students and school pupils hoping to enter the industry — heard about “the achievements of women blazing a trail in the built environment”.

With sessions highlighting the opportunities available within the wider construction sector, one of the panel discussions featured three women working at Travis Perkins (in property surveying, branch management and transport) and focused on how the industry can move forward and adapt to become a more welcoming environment for future female employees.

The conclusion drawn was that the industry needs to get “more positive case studies and stories out into the public” to shake off its “old image” and broaden its appeal to future employees and customers alike.

Representation is important — and in this issue, we have a number of news items and editorials which feature women in the industry. For some context, however, this edition also features our annual listing of the UK’s 20 largest merchant businesses and, amongst the information we present, we cite the names of some of these firms’ most senior directors. Virtually all are men.

To say it again, representation does matter. And to return to my original point, the merchant sector still needs to work on its image as a modern, dynamic business environment. The industry faces many challenges over the coming months and years, and for it to truly thrive, we need to appeal to the best and brightest without barriers, exceptions or excuses.

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