No fuss, no noise. It’s business as usual at HL Plastics

Martin Thurley

HL Plastics’ Managing Director, Martin Thurley talks to Chris Champion, Editor of Glass News, about joining the company, his background and what makes him tick, plus the future of HL Plastics and the Liniar brand.

Ed: The arrival of a new MD can often herald wholesale changes. Although there is no sign of that, is it something that is coming?

Martin Thurley: That’s an unequivocal no! We’ll continue to develop and progress the business but this will all be in line with carrying on the business as normal. I’m here to help Roger Hartshorn and the management team, and particularly to free up Roger from the day to day administration of a large company. Roger has been the centre of the universe for HL Plastics and his philosophy of applying common sense and treating all stakeholders fairly will continue without fail. He and the team have carefully developed a fantastic culture and way of working as a high performing team – my top priority is to maintain and progress this. Roger needs to be able to have the time to concentrate on the longer term strategic direction of the business and the next generation of innovative products. He really doesn’t need to be signing off annual leave forms for the staff.

Ed: When we sat down I fully expected you to be lining up your pad and pencil and adjusting your tea cup…

Martin Thurley: So the word is out on my OCD tendencies! It is true that I’m very organised and I score myself a 10 for desk tidiness. However I would also score pretty highly on creativity and I believe I’m easy to deal with and responsive to both needs and people. Good people management and engagement has always been a very important focus area of mine. When I met with Roger before my appointment I had rehearsed in my head what I would say. He asked me about myself and I was ready to reel off my CV.

Roger said: “No, I know all that. Tell me about you.” I knew then that I wanted to work at HL Plastics.

Ed: You are not new to the industry but you are new to systems houses. Does that concern you at all?

Martin Thurley: It really doesn’t – I’ve managed businesses for many years and the principles remain the same. I started at John Carr Doors as a 17 year old temporary worker on the factory floor and ended up as General Manager some 20 years later. This included a gruelling and extensive Management Development Programme that provided me with a solid grounding across functions such as Sales & Marketing, Manufacturing, Procurement, Finance etc. People didn’t suffer fools easily back then, and it was tough at times.

I consider myself very fortunate to have been supported and guided so well in the early years of my career – something I now try to do with younger people who show a passion or talent to progress.

I have also held senior Commercial and Operational positions at JELD-WEN UK and Arden Windows. I joined Masonite in 2014 and have been at Doorstop for the last two years.

There is, of course, a learning curve and a company culture that needs to be learned but in the case of HL Plastics the core values are centred on the customer and its employees. It’s about loyalty and trust. As Roger would say, it’s about ‘doing the right thing’, and I learned that immediately on arrival at the company.

Ed:
Can you explain that, Martin?

Martin Thurley: It is very important to the company that our support for the customer is paramount. It’s about long term relationships based on loyalty and ultimately not letting customers down.

My arrival coincided with the opening of our new 178,000 sq ft warehouse and while the move into it was well planned we suffered a glitch in the moving. On reflection we underestimated the scale and complexity of the move within a 24/7 working environment and, bluntly, we let some of our customers down.

However, some good can come out of bad. I found myself thrown into manual picking of product, shoulder to shoulder alongside the team, who all threw themselves into catching up with the orders due for despatch. After a few weekends of physical picking I found I had met a large proportion of the staff and understood the culture of working together for the good of the company, and our customers. A steep learning curve; but worthwhile.
The team’s support of the business, across all functions and at all levels, was superb – I believe this was a direct result of Roger “doing the right thing” by people over many years and a genuine desire at all levels to “fix things” and get back to looking after our customers.

Ed: You have an MBA. How did you do that as you actually started work at 17?

Martin Thurley : From the start of my Management Development Programme aged 17 It feels like I’ve slogged my way through many years of personal development, taking me through O levels, A levels, NVQs and DMS and, finally, an MBA. It’s a good thing I did as I have an expensive son to fund through University!

Joking apart it’s been a considerable personal commitment including many long evenings and weekends, but it’s all been very worthwhile – I still enjoy learning new things and contrasting the practical and theoretical – as we all know it’s an on-going process irrespective of age or position.

Ed : Has your arrival been driven by the Quanex ownership?

Martin Thurley: No it hasn’t. This is certainly not part of a grand plan by Quanex but a decision by Roger to provide more management and operational thinking to HL Plastics and allow him to concentrate more on strategic thinking and innovation. This was always his plan long before Quanex ownership. After all, Roger’s talent is what has driven the company and made it what it is today.

Ed: : While we have mentioned Quanex, has its involvement changed the company at all?

Martin Thurley:No – Quanex has proven to be an ideal owner and partner – they are manufacturers through and through. Roger was very considered in terms of choosing new owners. The Quanex team are extremely supportive and respectful of the work Roger has done in building this business and the team. Apart from adhering to Sarbanes-Oxley requirements in line with an American parent, nothing has changed. Basically they are very happy with us and the fact we are hitting the numbers. We can all learn from each other from both sides of the pond.

We have a 5 year strategy in place and are working to that plan. However, adapting to change in the market is equally important and sticking rigidly to a plan in changing circumstances is never sensible. Listening to the market and our customers and providing steady growth and a steady ship is key.
Ed And is there growth to be enjoyed?

Martin Thurley: There is for HL Plastics and Liniar – but it may be at the expense of others! Our tonnage is still growing and we are steadily climbing up the table of systems houses’ output. It’s important to be able to grow… by that I mean, to be ready for growth. We have a world class facility here and we are future proofing the company and, fortunately, we have even more space to grow into.

We have a 24/7 operation and provide a good service to our customers… as long as we don’t repeat our warehouse move anytime soon! We are delivering in to the larger customers on a daily basis – and providing product to our customers when it is needed must be our priority. Customers don’t want to stock product in case they need it. They want it delivered to their own timescales and requirements.

Ed:What does the future look like for HL Plastics and the Liniar brand?

Martin Thurley : More of the same. Steady controlled growth and bringing innovation to the market. Colour and foiling are both important aspects, as is the growth in aluminium.

We introduced a new Specification Guide at FIT Show which includes every single Liniar product that’s been developed in the last 10 years – including our brand new 90mm window system, which was also launched at the FIT Show.

Our concentration remains, as always, on developing our people, creating a safe and exciting place to work and ultimately helping our customer base in every way we can. It really is all about customers and what they need.

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