Senior Leadership Interview Series 2020: David Young on Managing in Time of Crisis

Could you give us an overview of your career within the industry?

I started my career in merchanting with Wolseley UK, completing their graduate Sales/Management Programme. I was fortunate enough to run my first branch while still half-way through the course. From there I held several area and regional roles in sales and operations, eventually moving to Trading Director for the southwest for Build Center. I then moved to Drain Center and ran this brand nationally for a few years. I left Wolseley after 19 years and joined Bradfords Building Supplies as Business Development Director, becoming MD a year later and then CEO in May 2019.

What are the most important values you demonstrate as a leader?

Always a difficult one to answer yourself, as I suppose it is how I am perceived that is more relevant. In terms of values that I feel are important; I am who I am and I don’t try to be anyone different. I don’t believe in politics at work – I am direct, straightforward and respectful. I care about the business and everyone associated with it. I am committed to ensuring the business delivers long term. I trust everyone to do their job, and work hard to create the space for them to perform. I suppose good leadership is ultimately about making promises and sticking to them. Anyone can promise the world, but it is all about delivery.

How has your business adapted to the new working ways since COVID-19?

Prior to the first lockdown we had worked hard on a new operating model, minimising personal contact. When lockdown was announced we were well placed, however we continued to tweak the model. The key was clarity of communication. We were very clear and used basic and consistent messaging and constant reinforcement. The team have adapted well especially in the early stages – others were closing around us and the team quickly aligned and believed in what we were doing and the way we were doing it. We continue to evolve the operating model using technology as a key driver.

How have you managed and motivated your teams during this uncertain time?

The key has been regular contact with all levels of the organisation. Daily updates from me to all staff, regular conference calls and MS Teams meetings with the branch management estate and daily calls with the senior management team and Group Board.

We recognised that our employees were representative of the UK population as a whole.  Understandably their initial reaction to the pandemic and lockdown, was one of fear, and we had to balance the prerogative to stay open from a commercial perspective with the understanding that we were dealing with a workforce ranging from terrified to fully engaged.

The crucial element was consistent reinforcement of the key messages around hygiene, social distancing and latterly face coverings, and ensuring that we gave our staff the tools, procedures, equipment and support to be able to work as safely as possible. The business quickly understood the rationale for staying open, supporting the local self-employed customer and key public sector projects.

The Builders Merchant Federation have been superb and the letter from Alok Sharma at the end of March really helped settle the nerves of the workforce. Crucially this pandemic has bolstered local team spirit that is such an ingrained part of Bradfords culture. We know that all our teams feel more cohesive now than they did back in March. We have also seen an extension to this regarding their relationships with the local building community.

How do you lead through change and difficult times?

With clarity! I tried to be as visible as I could, ensuring I witnessed first-hand what the business was going through. I kept close to a few branches and customers and this really helped me get a good understanding of the challenges we were facing. The Senior Management Team have been superb and our daily meetings ensured we were aligned and informed with the most up to date information. This allowed us to make some very good decisions. Inevitable we made mistakes but reacted quickly to address them.

How much has COVID-19 impacted your talent acquisition plans?

We were very fortunate as we had spent 2018 and 2019 building a management team – this was the first year of a full team. So, in terms of talent acquisition at a senior level, the timing was perfect. What is clear is that we have a well-rounded team, each bringing their own skill set and specialism. However, the pandemic has provided opportunities for growth and we are bolstering the team in supply chain, logistics and eCommerce.

We have recruited during the pandemic, increasing our workforce by 10%, however one area that has been impacted is our Fast track programme – developing new managers of the future. Due to the pandemic constraints this programme has been delayed until 2021. The apprenticeship programme has also been impacted due to the lack of face to face training. Remote training is all well and good but the ability to deliver the volume of training programmes has been affected.

Tell us about Bradfords’ future plans?

We are very excited about the future. The pandemic has been a roller coaster and has taught us so much. In management terms I feel we have been through 5 years of decisions in 6 months – so for all of us at Bradfords it has been an unbelievable learning experience. There are plenty of opportunities for the business – the way people buy is changing and I think we are well placed to maximise every channel in the future. Supply chain has never been so important – not only with the pandemic but also with Brexit and other Global challenges. Having a robust supply chain is essential and the pandemic has shown us that ours is fragile. Some supply partners have been superb, but others have struggled to adapt to the fast pace of change.

Developing our people has always been key but the pandemic has taught us the need to have a flexible, more rounded workforce. We have redesigned our plans for effective people development and these launch in Q1 2021.

Our communication channels have also been stretched in the last 6 months. A radical review sees the development of a communication hub, bringing all communication into one place, easily accessed by all. This will be key to ensuring better, clearer, more detailed and consistent communication in the future.

Our IT systems have been an enabler to growth during the pandemic and further investment here will help us offer a better and more efficient service to all our customers. Investment in eCommerce will continue at pace to ensure we are offering all customers an easy route into Bradfords to browse, design, shop or manage their account effectively.

We have been fortunate enough to invest during the pandemic – the workforce has grown by 10% and our service proposition is expanding. The future for Bradfords is a bright one. We have had the backs of our customers for 250 years – and we are not going to stop now.


t:  0161 660 2548