After just a few moments in Dionne Redpath’s company online I’m swept along by her energetic description of how she’s spent the past year.
Not only has she been at the sharp end of pioneering technical developments within the logistics sector to overcome the “seismic” challenges of Brexit, while leading a team of 180 people across 13 branches nationwide through the maze of working from home versus priority on-site working, she’s also had to ensure her family were safe and happy in lockdown. That’s some juggling act.
As sales and branch network director of Europa Worldwide Group, Dionne is used to pressure, but she acknowledges this has been a tough 12 months – the first two of 2021 the toughest of all.
That was when the reality of Brexit hit the logistics sector and when Europa’s reputation for efficient, timed deliveries across UK borders and beyond were tested to the full.
“I don’t mind admitting it was hard, really hard, during January and February this year” Dionne says in her warm Sheffield accent. “I owe everything to our fantastic teams, our loyal customers and my fab, supportive family.”
Dionne’s enthusiasm for the job is obvious – and a definite asset in the current climate. She been involved with various aspects of the logistics business since leaving school at the age of 18 and getting a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) placement in the steel industry.
“I was put into the shipping department, saw how it operated and I absolutely loved the job,” she recalls. By her early 20s, Dionne was approached by Andrew Baxter – now MD of Europa – to join his company as an account manager. It was another job she loved and she rose through the ranks, taking over at the Sheffield branch for two years and moving to oversee a Liverpool warehouse operation for another two, before leaving to have her first son.
She returned to become general manager of the Nottingham European Operation for another five years, then had her second son. But far from slowing down, Dionne returned to take on the “very demanding” role in charge of the company’s domestic transport operation.
“I threw myself into the job, got a Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) licence and trained in health and safety. I was responsible for the operation of 600 trailers and 200-plus trucks, drivers and two UKtransit hubs, I worked full-time and worked long hours”
We break for a moment to share tales of being a working mum – and the inevitable guilt that accompanies it. “I would sometimes stop and wonder if I was doing the right thing and whether my sons were suffering, but children are incredibly resilient and they’ve turned out OK.”
Those early experiences have stood by Dionne through the pandemic, with the associated long hours, the pace of change and the need to overcome huge challenges at short notice.
Fortunately, she and her fellow directors had foreseen the issues that Brexit would bring and prepared early. They invested heavily in unique processes which has proved invaluable and has set them at the forefront of cross-border logistics. I glaze over a little as Dionne races through the complexities of the company’s “frictionless customs product” Europa Flow”, launched in September, 2020.
Basically, it empowers UK exporters to sell on Delivery Duty Paid (DDP) incoterms, taking care of export and import clearances and the payment of duties. The special process effectively zero rates the VAT, meaning there’s no VAT to pay. This means smooth transit of lorries across borders and the speedy delivery of goods to their destination anywhere in Europe. It has proved a winner with buyers and sellers and Europa has overseen 30,000 export movements in this process since it launched.
So far, Europa is the only company to have devised such a system – and it’s not been without a high price tag, Dionne admits. “It’s been very expensive and very hard work to set up, but so worthwhile,” she says. “We had to do something to overcome the challenges of such seismic changes within the sector brought about by Brexit – and then we had the pandemic to cope with!”
Despite all the challenges of the past year, Dionne appears supremely confident and exudes a warm, friendly attitude. She clearly loves her job, her team, her family and her life and although we women know we can’t have it all, she has found a way through the maze and come out smiling.