Carlton Forest’s Deputy CEO has been recognised by an industry-wide award for her work elevating women in the logistics sector – but she is also preparing for the challenges ahead.
Carlton Forest handles the logistics for household names within a variety of sectors including major high street retail, offering not just warehousing, but a range of complex order management services including picking and labelling products, running its own fleet of vehicles and a full end-to-end service for clients that require it. When we last met with Carlton Forest, we learned about the great steps the company was taking in integrating renewable energy solutions into its business. Since then, as the company’s DCEO, Diane Ward explains, the company has remained busy.
“We have seen major growth in volume, customers and square footage, accompanied by significant changes within the business in terms of IT solutions,” Ward tells us. “We have really invested in the technology of the business to provide the best offering to our customers and potential customers.”
Carlton Forest, and Ward in particular, have also received recognition from the industry as a whole with some amazing award wins.
“I won the Everywoman Industry Champion Award this summer, while also being shortlisted for the Diversity Champion award with the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport,” Ward says. “It was a tough category. There was some really big competition for a boutique 3PL against the big multinationals. Winning was a real achievement.”
However, it is not hard to see what put Diane Ward ahead of the competition. She has an incredible story. Ward’s career in logistics started in the army where she was fascinated by how the supply chain kept the army functioning and wanted to pursue it as a career. After leaving the army, Ward brought those skills to a transport office for Wilkinsons.
“I started in logistics all those years ago and worked my way through the sector, never giving up as a woman in the industry,” Ward says. “I started working for Wilkinsons when they had 45 stores, and was there when they took their first million, and then their first billion, running the firm’s warehousing and distribution operations.”
Throughout her career Ward became the first female Class 3 driver in the business, the first woman to be accepted into the management training scheme whilst working for a large blue-chip company. But critical to that is the fact that Ward is not just lifting up herself, but women across the industry. She recognised the need to encourage more women into the sector, and in the 1980s she was responsible for the creation and delivery of a 20-hour flexible contract for women, which was unusual at the time, then went on to introduce the capacity to job share in the ‘90s.
“It is about giving everybody the opportunity to be the best that they can be, to empower people to do their job as expected,” Ward tells us. “It is not about where you come from or who you are. It is about being good enough to do the job, giving everyone the same opportunity.”
Throughout her career, Ward has enjoyed mentoring and supporting her colleagues to be the best that they can be.
“Through the decades I have seen the industry and attitudes change,” Ward tells us. “I believe I have always displayed a professionalism that has been inclusive in terms of gender, race, sexual orientation and awarded opportunities on merit and performance. I was always perhaps a bit ahead of my time with this inclusive approach.”
That support is critical at a difficult time in the industry.
While Carlton Forest has been doing well, Diane is the first to acknowledge that the economic environment is a difficult one, as seen in the fate of Carlton Forest’s longtime business partner and Ward’s own gateway into the industry, Wilkinson’s, which went into administration earlier this year.
“We are located close to Wilkinsons’ head office and have worked alongside them for 20 years,” Ward says. “We are reading the market to make sure we keep on topof current trends and go after the right business.”
The retail sector is facing a recession that in turn leads to people spending less on the high street. That has a knock-on effect on the amount of warehousing space for sale. That is exacerbated by the extra warehouse space that was built rapidly during the pandemic to store PPE – which has now dwindled in stock leaving still more space on the network.
“Now it is about making sure you work well developing the customers you have got and that you are doing the right thing by them, adapting to whatever their needs are,” Ward tells us. “At the moment there is a lot of space in the industry. Retailers do not want to bring as much stock in. Businesses are looking towards next year and quite a few of the bigger players have begun reducing their footprint to be ready for the next two years of recession.”
Carlton Forest is also finding ways to adapt to this new environment.
“We have planned a strategy to get through the next two years with a profitable business that will go from strength to strength,” Ward says. “Our next step will be to keep our customers on track with IT infrastructure, make sure our profits are hitting the forecast and our team is engaged.”
Carlton Forest is also looking within the industry itself. Even in a recession, there are necessary staples that people will always need, including food, drinks, papers, and packaging.
“We are looking at sectors that we know will be most stable,” Ward says.
When we speak with Ward Carlton Forest is also about to launch a new website, having hired a new marketing team to help roll out the strategy they have defined.
“We are letting people know we are here, getting in front of the next curve ball,” Ward says. “We are not just waiting for it to happen.”
With that strategy in place, Ward is optimistic about the future, particularly with the next generation of talent coming on board.
“We have got some great new starts coming on board, joining a staff who have been with us for many years. I have been here myself 13 years,” Ward says. “The next two years are about making sure everything we do keeps the customer happy. We are investing in technology, investing in people, looking at the market and adapting to trends. We will test the market over the next 12-18 months and start looking at a way to rebuild that will take us beyond our current 1.2 million square feet of space.”
A huge thank you to Business Focus Magazine for publishing