Tim Ferwerda, sales, marketing and distribution director of Finning UK & Ireland, is by his own admission relatively new to the plant industry, having only joined the business in 2017 following his decision to seek a new challenge after a rewarding career in the glass manufacturing sector.
He’s made a big impact during a period of significant change for the Caterpillar dealer, helping to drive forward improvements to customer services, new ways of interacting, and more delivery options.
Tim recently answered Gary Moug’s questions about the importance of the Scottish market to Finning’s operations, why innovation is key to meeting customer needs, and why wearing a full wet weather outfit to the hottest Hillhead event on record probably wasn’t a great idea…
Q) WHAT’S YOUR BACKGROUND? HOW DID YOU FIRST BREAK INTO THE PLANT INDUSTRY?
A) I’ve only worked for two companies, Finning being the second, which makes me relatively new to the plant industry.
My first employer, Pilkington – a leading global glass manufacturer – was a huge part of my family’s life; my dad was managing director of a subsidiary company in The Netherlands, and my brother and wife still work there today. I joined the business at 20-years-old while also studying for a Masters’ in economics. Family circumstances meant I took on a leadership role in the local business within a year and, for the next few years, worked round the clock to help build the company.
Upon finishing my Masters, I was offered a European role based in the UK, where I continued to work my way through the ranks. During my 19-year tenure at Pilkington, I held a succession of increasingly senior leadership roles in the automotive side of the business.
Leaving what felt like the family firm to move to Finning was a huge decision. Despite enjoying a rewarding career up to that point, I wanted to experience a different industry, learn new markets, face new challenges and meet new customers. When Finning approached me about the role, I was intrigued by the variety of sectors it works in and the range of projects I could get involved in — I haven’t looked back. No two days are the same. I particularly love the diversity of projects and customers that I meet who are working on anything from big highways or infrastructure projects, to a fishing trawler out in the North Sea.
Q) WHEN DID YOU JOIN FINNING? WHAT WAS IT THAT ATTRACTED YOU TO YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
A) I joined the company in January 2017. Finning is a company with bold ambitions and I was keen to be a driving force behind making some of these changes.
In the last three years, we have made significant changes to the way we operate. We have invested in upgrading our capabilities and making Finning easier to do business with by offering customers more choice. This includes introducing new products and services, new ways for our customers to interact with us and additional delivery options. The partnership with the world’s most advanced construction and mining equipment manufacturer, Caterpillar, was also an important factor.
I have also been taken by the true sense of family at Finning. My daughter was just four-years-old when I took the job. I’d spent a large amount of time travelling around the world for work, missing out on valuable time with her. With Finning, I have the best of both worlds. I spend more nights at home now, while still getting to enjoy working with a global firm.
Q) HOW IMPORTANT IS THE SCOTTISH MARKET TO THE OVERALL FINNING BUSINESS?
A) Scotland is an important territory for Finning. The skill and experience of the engineers in the region is exceptional, gained through years of working at the coal face of open cast mining.
The decline of the mining industry forced us to refocus our efforts to support other industries. This enabled us to safeguard and retain the skills and experience of our teams and ensure a sustainable future for the company.
Today we work with a diverse range of customers across the construction, civil engineering and quarrying industries. Finning is proud to have supported some major highways and infrastructure works in Scotland over the last decade, including the construction of the M74 motorway and the upgrading of the Aberdeen bypass.
The Finning site in Glasgow forms part of the operational spine of the dealership in the UK. From here, we provide our Scottish customers with a full range of what we call Triple R service capabilities – response, repair and rebuild. We have a team of more than 50 engineers based out of Glasgow who service customers across the whole of Scotland, from the borders to Shetland and the Outer Hebrides.
Finning also has a small depot in Inverness as well as a hub in Aberdeen with a team of specialist engineers servicing the offshore oil and gas, and fishing industries. Each year, we continue to build the capabilities of our staff across Scotland and have an intake of Scottish recruits to our apprenticeship scheme to work in various roles across the company.
From a personal perspective, Scotland will always have a special relevance as the first significant deal I signed for Finning was with Morris Leslie, a national plant hirer with Scottish origins and headquartered in Perth.
Q) WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT FUTURE PLANS FOR THE BUSINESS? HOW VITAL IS IT TO BE CONSTANTLY INNOVATING AND BRINGING NEW MACHINES/SOLUTIONS TO THE MARKET?
A) Continuous innovation is key to meeting evolving customer needs.
As the Caterpillar dealer in the UK and Ireland, Finning represents the world’s largest construction equipment manufacturer. We are in the midst of Caterpillar rolling out the most comprehensive new product introduction programme that the plant industry has ever seen. Its Next Generation range of machines offers unprecedented improvements in productivity, through a range of built-in operator assist features, reductions in maintenance costs, through extended service intervals, and lower fuel consumption, setting a new standard for our industry. The innovation doesn’t stop there and includes a range of new safety features as well as design changes to further increase operator comfort.
As a dealership, we want to give our customers increased choice to do business with us in the way that suits and supports their operations. We are striving to be more than just an equipment supplier, as a trusted partner who actively supports customers to be more productive and profitable. We have invested significantly in digitisation, enabling us to convert the myriad of data collected from our machines into actionable insights to help customers manage machine operating costs, build service profiles and be more productive. In parallel, we are continuously developing enhanced self-serve capabilities, giving customers the opportunity to interact with the dealership at any time, from basic parts ordering to receiving real-time operational insights and alerts.
Q) WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHANGES YOU’VE SEEN IN THE INDUSTRY?
A) The importance of health and safety of sites and the people working in them is rightly becoming ever more prominent. Technology again plays a big role here, helping the industry to improve safety standards further.
As for machines, new safety features, such as adjustable height/slew restrictions and avoidance zones (virtual fences), are increasingly built in as standard on Cat machines, which further reduces the risk of injury to workers on site. Here at Finning UK and Ireland, safety is our number one priority, indeed we are recognised as one of the safest Cat dealers worldwide, based on recordable industry rates.
More recently there has also been a shift towards safeguarding the mental health and wellbeing of those working in the sector as well. We take a strong stance on this and are working with Mates in Mind across the organisation so we can provide a supportive and open network to help those employees who are experiencing issues related to their mental health.
Diversity in the sector is another topic that is gaining more prominence. For Finning specifically I’m pleased to be supporting the drive. The female hiring rate in my area of responsibility increased by 12% over the past year and female engagement outscored male in the latest annual Employee Experience Survey. During my time with the company, I have recruited, mentored and promoted a number of talented women to leadership roles in the organisation. As a dealership we are committed to build and sustain a diverse and inclusive workforce as well as supporting the wider industry to be more inclusive too.
Q) HOW COMPETITIVE IS THE PLANT MACHINERY INDUSTRY AT PRESENT AND HOW DO YOU STAND OUT IN THAT MARKET?
A) This is an extremely competitive market so differentiation is key. We have evolved beyond the traditional sell and service model to one that proactively supports customers at every step of the journey throughout the lifetime of ownership of their machine. Standing out comes in part from the products we sell, and I previously referred to the many benefits of CAT products, but buying the equipment is merely the start of the customer journey.
At Finning, our aim is to add value to our customers’ operations by giving them more choices on how to access our services and support in the way that best suits their day to day operations. These range from digital interfaces, for example 24/7 online parts ordering, machine condition monitoring and asset health reporting, through to boots on the ground providing specialist engineering support. We provide a range of service contract options suited to different customers’ needs and, for some of our larger customers, our Finning Managed Services (FMS) teams are like an extension to their own field teams, working on site delivering real-time support to optimise machine uptime and customer productivity in a safe and sustainable manner.
Regrettably, some people are under the false impression that Finning is only interested in big customers with big budgets who buy big machines. Over the last few years, we’ve made a lot of changes to the way we operate specifically to support the needs of smaller businesses, owner operators and contractors better. This includes ensuring that purchasing equipment is affordable and accessible for them. Ultimately, the services we provide to our customers are underpinned by a desire to help them increase productivity and be profitable, safe and sustainable.
Q) CAREER HIGHLIGHTS?
A) Being appointed managing director of a European business unit before the age of 35, with responsibility for more than one thousand staff working across nearly one hundred sites in fifteen different countries, is something I’m very proud to have achieved.
More recently, being a part of HS2, a once in a lifetime project that will leave a legacy by transforming the way large infrastructure and construction projects are delivered in the future is a clear highlight.
Finning began working with HS2 Ltd and JV Contractor, Eiffage Kier, more than three years ago. We articulated a vision of using our capabilities and a technology-led operational approach to support them in delivering the project in the safest, most efficient and environmentally friendly manner.
Spearheading this type of transformative and collaborative approach demonstrates a step-change in the way we operate in this field, extending our reach across the entire earthworks process, from initial planning and design through to demobilisation.
Q) WHAT’S THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
A) Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of working with some exceptional leaders. When I joined Finning I received a call from the CEO of Finning International who gave me the following advice: “Focus on two things: people and the partnership with Caterpillar.”
Building up a solid network internally would ensure I’d be able to get to the information required for decision making quickly and be responsive to customer needs. Secondly, investing in developing the partnership with Caterpillar means we’re intimately in-tune with a shared passion for building a better world and supporting our customers to be successful. Since then, I’ve passed that same piece of advice to every new member of the Finning leadership team.
Q) ANY FUNNY ANECDOTES FROM YOUR CAREER?
A) Hillhead is probably the biggest event in the industry calendar. I’d been warned that, despite being in June, the event was invariably a cold, wet and windy affair. So having built myself up, my first year just happened to be the hottest Hillhead on record.
Needless to say, my full wet weather outfit on day one didn’t quite fit in with the 30 degree heat!
Q) HOW DO YOU RELAX WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING?
A) I love spending quality time with my family. We enjoy all manner of outdoor activities and, when not in lockdown, like to visit National Trust properties and walk the surrounding grounds.
Both my daughter Amelia, who’s eight, and I are keen tennis players. We also love building things together, from Lego and cardboard creations to the garden shed – fortunately she appears to have more natural talent for engineering than I had growing up!
Q) WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR ANY YOUNG PERSON CONSIDERING A CAREER IN THE PLANT INDUSTRY?
A) The industry is a lot cooler than people give it credit for and is a lot more stable as a long-term career prospect than many other industries.
New technologies are advancing the way machines work and projects are delivered, requiring different skills from those needed in the past and making this industry an even more exciting place to work. There are also a range of career opportunities beyond the traditional operator role, including engineering, sales, product support and equipment design.
At Finning, we are totally committed to investing in the long-term future of the industry. In parallel to being proud sponsors and ambassadors of youth-focused STEM education, we have been running our apprenticeship programme for more than 30 years. Indeed, our director of service operations began his career as an apprentice at the Glasgow branch 30 years ago.
Q) FINALLY, WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FACING THE INDUSTRY IN THE COMING YEARS?
A) Without doubt the biggest challenge the industry faces today is emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic intact.
Those working in the plant industry have been hard hit by the lockdown, especially in Scotland. At Finning, we are committed to playing our part in the recovery by safely supporting our customers through this challenging period.
As a dealership, we are adapting the way we work whilst evolving our commercial and services offering to help customers regain ground when site restrictions are lifted. For example, we have launched a range of support packages through Caterpillar Financial Services, including 0% finance for larger repairs and ‘buy now, pay later’ on machine purchases.
We will continue to work closely with our customers and do what we can to keep them operating while the sector recovers, hopefully boosted by the government’s commitment to infrastructure investment which will create new opportunities across the entire construction supply chain including the plant industry.
The current crisis has unfortunately had a severe impact on the construction industry and its workers’ personal lives. However, what’s been evident over the last few weeks is that the industry has pulled together, supporting each other to help keep the wheels of the country turning.
I strongly believe this experience will result in the plant industry coming back stronger and more resilient than ever.