Blott: “I didn’t choose glue so much as it chose me.”
Tony Blott runs a glue supply company having directed an NHS trust. He sees little difference in many ways and he considers himself lucky.
Theresa May, 2016: “From dynamic start-up to established family firms, our small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of our country…. I want to build an economy that works for all and that means working with and listening to small firms.”
Meanwhile, Tony Blott, director of glue supplier, Interlock Adhesives – one of the nation’s vertebrae May was speaking of – explains why anonymity is a measure of success in his business. “If the customer is opening the packet thinking of us, then something has gone horribly wrong,” Blott laughs.
Interlock’s major business is supplying the food industry with the types of adhesive found in cereal boxes, soup labels and ready meals. Tony founded the business two decades ago after a hospital career when he became the youngest director of an NHS trust.
He has an uncommon view of the attributes that separate public and private sector people. He doesn’t think there are any: “The skill set that you need to tap into for the public service or the private sector is fundamentally the same. Whatever you are doing from cleaning a floor to running a country, you have to do the job as well as possible. Everybody needs to be appreciated for what they do.”
Blott believes that it is far too simplistic to hold that the public sector has much to learn from the private sector: “There’s no truth in the idea that you can get a bunch of bankers to head up the health service and everything will be alright. It is so transparently not the case that I think that those people who believe thatit, are starting from a different planet from the rest of us.”
He rejects the notion that the public sector is characterised by bad administration and with recent financial sector history in mind, he points out how private sector blunders have “dwarfed” those in the public sector.
“From cleaning a floor to running a country, you have to do the job as well as possible.”
“To suggest that all the public sector needs to do is learn from the private sector, is to misunderstand what public service is all about,” he says.
However, he doesn’t accept the widely held view that people who work in the public sector are necessarily more ethical than those in the private sector.
So why glue? Was he keen to cement new relationships? Did he bond with the industry?
A polite smile declares his ennui on hearing bad glue puns. He’s heard them all. But why glue?
“I didn’t choose glue so much as it chose me. I had looked into other businesses, restaurants and novelty chips before realising that I had enough contacts and opportunities in adhesives. So having spotted a gap in the market, I decided to pursue that.
“The challenges of supplying glue are as interesting as anything else. The product we supply is crucial – generally, if there’s no glue, the process stops. We have considerable technical experience in- house and we continue to research.
“It is one of the things that good suppliers do for you. They provide you with technical backdrop should you need it. It can be technically demanding but we are straightforward in our handling of customers and we follow up. Bigger companies often say that they deliver on promises and follow-up, but the evidence doesn’t bear that out.”
Blott says he has strong guiding principles in business that are ethical as well as practical. But he dismisses recipes for business success as “principally the business of gurus who publish for the airport store”.”
“Research and proper finance are key. If your research is good, then your decisions are evidence- based. Your continued success has to rest on delivering what you promise. If you don’t, your customers lose faith.
“You don’t lose customers overnight. You lose customers as a consequence of them losing faith, over time, in your ability to deliver what you promise. If you keep promising to deliver on a Monday, it shouldn’t keep arriving on a Thursday.”
As affable as he is candid, Tony credits luck: “You have to work hard but not be delusional about your own ability and anyone who doesn’t acknowledge luck, is probably over-estimating his or her ability”.
“There is no truth in the idea that you can get a bunch of bankers to head up the health service and everything will be alright.”
And he concedes that he is going to need some luck once the UK has parted company with the European Union: “Brexit has so far led to our main European supplier raising prices significantly due to the exchange rate. They linked their price hike directly to Brexit and they took a very hard line – they established a high-level Brexit Committee the day after the vote. We have been priced in Sterling for more than 20 years and this is the first time exchange rates have been an issue for our supplier.”
Blott foresees a difficult time ahead for small businesses like his who rely on a “stable domestic business environment”.” He has, he says, been in similar territory in the past however: “Interlock has been through recessionary times and managed the conditions well, when some of the competition went to the wall or were bought by bigger organisations. We don’t lack confidence but we would prefer stability and surety in the market. Supporters of Brexit point to opportunity but at what cost?”
Blott now works alongside his brother and son. He values working with colleagues who share his values and ethics and who he knows well: “You need to know what kind of personal skills you and your team have got. I am not a great delegator but I believe that delegation is something you must continue to try and master, because people always have more skills and abilities than we give them credit for.
“On the occasions when they haven’t, you absolutely need to know. And how are you ever going to know, if you don’t delegate? Giving people a chance to shine is important, because in an established business we don’t always get better, we just get older and more experienced.”
Blott’s insights on business draw on experience in one of the largest UK organisations, as well as his own small operation. So when he says: “cleaning a floor or running a country: you need to deliver what you promise, you need to acknowledge luck when you get it, and you need to give people a chance to shine”, it’s fair to assume it’s advice that’s worth taking… Are you listening Theresa?