The only way is LJ

Nov 10, 2021

In the first of our new company profile features, Derek interviews Mick Jennings, owner of Essex based operator, LJ Transportation,

I feel confident that over time this new feature for Professional Recovery magazine will prove to be an interesting read but perhaps more importantly an all-inspiring feature. Where, within such a vast and diverse industry, should we look for our first company or candidate to feature? Is it a company that has been in existence for 35 to 40 years, or is it a younger company 10 to 15 years?

Considering we are now in this more modern era why not mix the 2 and have an individual with some 40 years industry experience and mix it with, what in business terms is a relatively young company?

Massive growth

Nestled in the Essex countryside 10 miles from the M25 and just 4 to 5 miles from the A12 is a small industrial site, in a village called Latchingdon, there you will find LJ Transportation. I made the journey from South Bucks, a familiar route for me as I’ve been there on a number of occasions. What I wasn’t expecting was the massive growth in such a short space of time.

Remembering (just prior to Covid) when I last visited in December 2019, the LJ Transportation at Latchingdon was a single industrial unit, split into dedicated workspaces, a little bit cramped but very manageable. Now the business has expanded into more than double the size as Mick Jennings, managing director of Nationwide Holdings Ltd, the holding parent company to LJ Transportation explained to me how Covid had accelerated a restructuring process that began in the Autumn of 2019, with the intention of a slow staged restructure.

Re-evaluate and restructure

This will appear a strange thing to say but Covid turned out to be the good thing for LJ Transportation and Nationwide Holdings. Mick explains “Overnight it stopped us in our tracks, made us re-evaluate the business and restructure a full year ahead of our plans.

Placing the right members of staff in the right positions within the company and leaving no stone uncovered.”Nationwide Holdings Group I hear you say, well yes, I asked, and Mick explained further. “The restructure was not just about today, Clearly Covid was the wake-up call, I’m sure most readers can understand that, especially when your operation has grown to a sizable fleet, with driver numbers in the hundreds. Mick described to me how parking most of his fleet and placing the majority of staff on furlough was enough to wake anyone up and for him the catalyst to restructure without delay.

Something synonymous with the recovery industry is the involvement of family members, Mick and his wife Lisa are no different, Mick is MD but close by his side is Lisa, a company director in her own right and at the heartbeat of the company, she’s plays a key role within LJ Transportation as well as the other raft of group companies, assisting Mick overseeing the company with some of the key decision making.

Lisa is a real people’s person, and when she’s not in the offi ce, she’s switching an amber light to blue, and forms part of a team saving lives. Not sure how but she fi nds time to put on the uniform and work part time on the NHS frontline for East of England Ambulance Service, her driving skills don’t end there as she’s held a class 1 HGV licence for over 20 years and she’s not scared to use it.

The family members roll on, Swain Foreman director- Kasey Foreman director - Holly Jennings - Compliance Queen, Shannon Kuchnir – marketing, not forgetting Nanny Joyce, she does a bit of everything and Grandad Brian - first LJ driver. This must be one of the biggest families in the UK. Something that is a little bit different about working at LJ and the other group companies is that Mick and Lisa treat every employee as family, a huge extended family. They both realise that the success of the company stems from its roots up and without good, reliable and trustworthy staff, success will never come.

This caused me a bit of a problem, my brief from Paul, was to keep the edit under 1000 words and at this rate I’m going to double that (sorry Paul). But Mick insisted on mentioning the key extended family. “Impossible,” I said, “How many drivers do you have?” Anyway, without naming them - they know who they are - manager, supervisors, drivers, controllers, accounts admin, yard staff. Mick and Lisa say, “thank you all.”

With each member of staff managing their relevant departments, always challenging decisions, looking for efficiencies and cost savings and closely managing a very well-maintained fleet. In fact, the fleet department record keeping would put any library to shame.

“We were operating, at least 200 trucks, so many, mainly because we never sold any just kept replacing with new, and kept hold of the old truck, fi lling the gap, taking every and any job, freezing out the competition! So, 200 trucks, 120 drivers and an average wage bill of £250K pm and a fuel bill £80K pm, a maintenance bill of £85K per month, that all without a subcontract £40K pm and then COVID hit!”

This was a slick operation with massive growing pains, and not enough emphasis on managing the infrastructure and cost saving. Today following the group restructure and some serious investment the operation is double the size, with half the amount of drivers and vehicles, but all working twice as efficiently, with a nearly new fl eet and 15 further trucks in build and all on a fleet replacement programme with a more than halved maintenance bill.

“We need more money for the job, of course we do, but let’s face it, we will never get paid what every job deserves, even with a rate increase. So, we must better manage our resource and costs, making sure the more complicated jobs, the fl ooded 4x4 in a basement with everything in lockdown, or the EV with all 4 wheels locked, this is where we must be paid correctly. But more importantly manage your asset, the truck, the driver and the fuel, stop being busy fools.”

The impact the restructure has made to all aspects of the operation is almost immeasurable. From job satisfaction, both on the road and in the control room, with slick desktop management of every job, daily stats on every part of the business in fact, if we want them stats by the hour. Each section of the business has its own reporting line and is now confident to report accurately at monthly business and finance review meetings.

“The business grew fast, we were obviously doing something right, then Covid and the brakes came on, our key extended family worked under very difficult conditions, keeping a few wheels turning as we all did under key worker status. Great teamwork.” There are always a few things special to me, and I think they are key to a successful business. Working with and within your local community, and in as many ways as possible, so I asked a few direct questions.

DF – I see a few younger employees in the office, do you work with your local college?

MJ – Yes, we do, we recently took on 2 apprentices, unfortunately one of them was not suited, but the other is doing great and we will continue to work alongside Essex College. The one that left us will also be replaced as soon as a suitable candidate is found.

DF – Do you do any charitable work?

MJ – yes, loads, we support the industry charity RISC, in fact we recently donated to support the roadside safety campaign RISC is doing with Tendo. But at a local level we support a charity called Basics Essex (British Association for Immediate Care Essex) a network of volunteer emergency doctors and paramedics who provide immediate access to pre-hospital immediate medical care, only last week we put 2 teams into a charity golf day and made a donation. You know, the call I took 5 mins into our conversation, that was our local kids rugby team, I just sponsored £300 for their rugby kit, we tend to help whenever we can.

Final few questions, and back to your day job, I know you do a lot of work with hybrid and especially EV’s.

DF – Should you be paid a special rate for all EV’s?

MJ – Standard EV movement, NO, it just another vehicle movement (car that is), but when its damaged or compromised, wheels locked, etc then that’s different, there should be a premium paid.

DF – Should your drivers EV training include interrupting the high voltage systems and carrying out the service disconnect function or should that be only for the few specialist trained drivers.

MJ – There’s so much scaremongering at the moment, special gloves, boots, rubber mat. No not for the average recovery driver, its either for the specialist trained person the same as the fuel tanker industry do, or at the very least an experienced and properly qualified driver or member of staff. Only a select few, competent staff in any recovery business should receive that level of training, it exposes unnecessary risk. Anyway, the problem is not just the modern EV on sale today, they are designed with crumple zones to protect the battery, it’s the vintage conversions, with a stash of batteries in the boot that poses a bigger risk/problem.

Mick, thank you and your staff, for being so direct and open with our discussion and your answers to my questions. My edit will only scratch the surface in terms of any business appraisal, perhaps we can go again another day and concentrate on the other companies within your group.