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The Back View

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Ian Jones from Backhouse Jones discusses everything related to the transport industry, with a side-order of law.
8 Episodes
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SPECIAL EXTENDED EDITION: Here’s the hook – you can improve profits fast, by talking to your drivers. In a lively and entertaining specially-extended podcast, Ian Jones chats with David Somers who’s been running the driver professional development firm Road Skills since the 1990s. In a lively podcast that’s full of amusing anecdotes, David looks back over his career as a commissioned officer who reached the rank of major, and about the skills required for leading men. Recalling how he went from a salesman with a company car and good package to being on the front line, he talks about his training at Sandhurst, how leadership develops, how to instil discipline and leading a unit There are clear parallels with the transport industry – getting people to do what you want them to do. “It is not about enforcing discipline as a regular management technique – that’s the difference with leadership,” he says.  “When you enforce discipline it doesn’t work,” he adds. They chat about great leaders – and why they had a ‘great right-hand man’. Asked who he admires – the answer is perhaps surprising, before the conversation moves onto current politicians and leaders We also learn what it’s like to drive a Chieftain tank and why he left the army as an infantry officer to go into road transport, at a time when there wasn’t the recognition that military training and skills could be transferred. He spills the beans on how he ‘sneaked in’ to the army, and got away with a ‘sleight of hand’ for his medicals… and how he got his HGV driver licence – a story in itself - then ran a haulage business. Since the 1990s David has been running training, developed in-house when he owned the haulage business. He explains how it started from looking at how to reduce the number of collisions his drivers were having, using a simple but effective solution.  He also talks about the different between right and wrong, 'avoidability' and how effective coaching makes a genuine difference for companies.
You might assume that commercial insurance is dull; but you’d be very wrong, as Phil White proves as he reflects on his career with Ian Jones, of Backhouse Jones.He talks about how insurance was “in the family DNA” and the best and worst advice he’s received.He looks at the changes in IT and working at Lloyds of London in the 1980s, along with changes in IT for vehicles and how this means operators can avoid being “sitting targets.”He recalls the development of brokerage Belmont, and its transition to Gallagher as well as the practical application of insurance and risk assessment – with an amusing tale of how it could have all gone very wrong during a visit to Chicago.He also votes for his favourite after-dinner speaker (and the worst), talks about the best times in business and, curiously, the long-running soap Cheers…
In this week’s edition, Ian Jones of Backhouse Jones chats with Richard Bamber co-founder of multi award-winning Runcorn-based Anthony’s Travel, as he looks back over his career. Richard started in the industry by cleaning coaches for ‘lazy coach drivers’ at 50p a time, and aged 10 became “the richest kid in the playground.” His father was a bailiff and Richard recalls how a repossessed minibus started a business in the middle of the 1980s recession, when there were no jobs for youngsters.  At the time Richard was 13, so his father and mother applied for a Restricted Operator Licence – in the days when a first application required a personal appearance before the Traffic Commissioner. He learnt much from his father, but he also describes the challenges of being an impatient young man. Having been very open about mental health issues “way before it became fashionable it to do so,” he explains how depression isn’t a sign of weakness. He also talks about family relationships and how a breach of trust led to a difficult situation that ended up in court. We discover that he knows one of The Beatles and chats about their early years along with his philosophy about life, where he thinks the coach industry will go over the next couple of years and the “great opportunities” ahead. As one of first coach operators to embrace technology, he tells us how it’s benefitted his businesses, helping it become multi-award winning.  And, the strange story of why his coaches are painted metallic pink…
In 1992, the late John Backhouse predicted lawyers working from home and engaging with people using computers.  Back then, the internet was in its infancy, emails were relatively new and 64-bit microprocessors were the latest word in PCs. Lawyers have ghastly reputation for being luddites and doing things the ‘old fashioned way’, but, says Professor Dominic Regan of City University, London, that’s just not true. Chatting with Ian Jones, Director at Backhouse Jones, the affable professor charts lawyers interaction with technology - being among the first business groups to embrace the fax machine - and points to the lag in courts which have ‘not yet caught up’. He talks about why someone parachuted into a British court from Dickensian times wouldn’t see many differences, but also how something called ‘predictive coding’ is revolutionising the mass of documents required for trial. He discusses whether ‘virtual courts’ have a place and what it’s really like to be in court, plus bad practices by some lawyers and why there’s nothing new about ‘human rights’. Controversially, they explore the topic of capital punishment, alongside the QC’s dog that gained a qualification, and how a school bus injury resulted in an unexpected response….
Fellow Liverpudlian and MD of Nottingham City Transport (NCT), Mark Fowles, chats with Ian Jones about how the council-owned bus operator transformed from one that was so shabby in 1994 that it had a programme to de-flea its buses every six weeks, into today's multi-award winning business. By his own admission Mark Fowles “fell into the bus industry after getting bored watching things dripping into test tubes,” yet his technical background later served him well when he launched the first citywide smartcard in the UK - four years before London’s Oyster. He talks about psychometric testing, recruitment and people management. And, how as a new recruit from the National Bus Company’s management training scheme he soon became part of a management buy-out at deregulation. The responsibility he was given early in his management career “quickened the pulse” and he recalls how, armed with £1m in 1986 from his directors, he was tasked with a creating a start-up company.  That business, Sheffield & District Bus Company, went from nothing to starting full operations with 94 buses and 250 staff, in just five months. Listen as he tells Ian Jones about ‘the idea that got away’ that could have seen a very different outcome for him. Being radical is what he brought to NCT, and he talks about how he overcame resistance to a major re-invention and turnaround of the business - changing everything from the routes, to frequencies and introducing new marketing ideas. The result was that 2001/2 saw NCT’s first increase in patronage since 1956, and growth continued from there.
What have the Romans ever done for us? Apart from straight roads, there a few other things still around today, including some non-Latin language fragments.  It may seem a tenuous link to this week’s guest, Chris Bingham, CEO of Craggs Energy Group, but it opens a fascinating conversation that covers everything from his business start-up, to how to survive and succeed in business. In conversation with Backhouse Jones Director Ian Jones, he explains how a derelict poultry farm, and a software business led to today’s ‘challenger business’ in the environmental and energy sector. He talks about the benefits of starting a business from scratch, and why that enables innovation and drives mould-breaking pioneering ideas. Chris also reveals why he chose to enter fuel distribution - a sector about which he knew nothing - and how solving a big problem became his company’s biggest seller. He also reveals what’s behind his entrepreneurial spirit, which is driven by a deep desire to answer the question ‘how can we do things better?’  He sets out the difference between a leader and a manager - and the difference between leaders and entrepreneurs and explains why a failure to understand and recognise these differences can stifle a business. It’s not all been plain sailing for Chris, as he talks about doing businesses in the USA - traditionally a UK corporate graveyard - and how the cultural differences almost broke his biggest-ever business deal. Is there a difference between risk and gambling? And why are entrepreneurs less afraid of business risk? These are two points on which Chris expands as he talks about the need for not only stubbornness in business, but positivity too. Finally, he looks ahead to fuel price, legislative and availability changes expected to come this autumn and Christmas - especially if there’s a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.
The reluctant Lawyer: Despite being one of Britain’s best-known transport lawyers, Mike Cunningham had very different career ideas when he left school, he explains, in conversation with Ian Jones. But, with his ambitions thwarted he “drifted into law.” Having qualified he then discovered he “disliked what I was doing with a passion,” instead, wanting to be in court.  So started a journey when, as a fresh-faced young man in his 20s he became a prosecutor for the police, based in Liverpool. As he looks back on his career, he recounts how he became involved in road haulage, by working for Thomas Nationwide Transport, later better known as TNT. Yet, despite a very good job with terrific prospects, one afternoon the purchase of a secondhand Adler typewriter saw a very different chapter open in his life, which ultimately could have led to him becoming the Traffic Commissioner for Wales. He also recounts the startling effect of a response given by a truck driver in court, and who his fictional legal heroes are.
Leading the charge: Jenna Rush is a woman on a mission - to save the coach industry.  If that seems like hyperbole, then just pause for a moment and consider the stark facts.  The UK coach industry is primarily made up of small family-run firms often passed for generation to generation. It is also one of the most capital intensive industries in the country, whose finance is largely underwritten by personal guarantees on vehicles that new, cost from £200,000-£450,000.  And, that’s why no income during COVID is a big issue. Although the government could solve this at the stroke of a pen, and at no cost to the public purse. While some finance houses have agreed ‘payment holidays’, not all have, and in any case all are due to cease very soon.  Not only does this mean that business will fold, but also families will lose their homes, as they are used as the security on the vehicles’ finance. Amidst all of this, the UK’s coach operators have come together as never before, under the Honk for Hope banner. Backhouse Jones director Ian Jones travels to Cardiff on the latest Honk for Hope Rally to speak with Jenna Rush, MD of North East Coach Travel, to find out all about the issues and the campaign. And, he finds out why 8-year-old Theo Taylor has been writing to Boris Johnson and has epitomised the soul of the industry with his public appearances.
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