Award-winning logistics manager Maddie Thatcher speaks to workingmums.co.uk about her job, her work on corporate social responsibility and how recognition has made her more confident to drive further improvement in her industry.
Maddie Thatcher got an email from head office at CEVA Logistics telling her she had been nominated for an everywoman Transport and Logistics Award for her role as Facilities and Operations Support Manager in a field that is known for being male-dominated.
She admits that she was a bit worried about attracting attention to herself as it forced her out of her comfort zone. However, the process of being nominated, then shortlisted for the Warehousing Award and having to present to the judges made her realise just how much she had achieved over the years. That includes having the highest score in Europe for her audit, setting up a process to streamline administrative processes to reduce errors and saving her clients thousands of pounds. Maddie did photographs and a video and wrote articles about herself and then put it out of her head until the awards in the summer.
At the awards she enjoyed meeting the other finalists and was made to feel that all the finalists were winners, but as the time came for her award to be announced she became sick with nerves and could hardly eat the lovely dinner served up for finalists. Then her name was called. All her nerves disappeared as she headed for the stage and she spoke from the heart about how much she appreciated the recognition. Even better, she returned to her office, her colleagues had decorated her desk with balloons and flowers. “I cried,” she said. “It has made a big difference. I feel different and more confident in what I do.”
Maddie’s career trajectory in logistics has not been a traditional one. She was horse mad as a child and her first job after leaving school with no A Levels was training show and dressage horses in Germany. However, after being thrown from a horse and breaking her pelvis, she returned to the UK and started working in army administration [her dad having been in the army]. There she met her first partner and moved to Westbury in Wiltshire for her husband’s job. She got a job at Comet where she moved from administration to HR. She then moved again to Northamptonshire where she worked in HR for Matalan. Her boss sponsored her to do her Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development qualification and she took a part-time degree at Northampton University. Her confidence grew and she was promoted to senior HR adviser.
During this period, Maddie faced a lot of personal challenges. Her son, now 25, had been in and out of hospital as a child due to a complex bowel condition and was diagnosed with Asperger’s. Maddie also separated from her husband. As a single parent, she felt she needed more flexibility so she could spend time with her family than her job afforded her, even though she really enjoyed it.
Eleven years ago she moved to a part-time role as an administrative assistant at CEVA Logistics. “I didn’t want to be a manager for a couple of years so that I could support Ryan,” she says, adding that her daughter was only four at the time. A year later she went full time as she needed extra income. CEVA have been very flexible and supportive around Ryan’s hospital appointments and dance rehearsals for her daughter, now aged 15.
One of her friends was a general manager at a site run by CEVA and said she would be perfect for a job there in administration, even though she was overqualified. She joined and within three years was promoted to administrative supervisor. CEVA won a new contract in Corby with Ikea and Maddie set up the new site and trained four new administrative staff. She was then invited to take on another site, a multi-user one in Kettering used by Oxford University Press [OUP], Brand Machine Group and Amazon.
OUP used to be the only company using the site, but by bringing in other employers CEVA has helped reduce everyone’s costs. Maddie noticed that the packaging OUP was using was very expensive and that the service was not the best. She helped OUP to secure a significantly cheaper deal and better service, saving them 22K pounds last year. “They are delighted. It’s just the result of simple observation,” says Maddie modestly. She has also saved her clients money on shrink wrap by suggesting they use a thinner wrap which is also better for the environment and she has been fundamental in creating a zero landfill project by getting OUP to replace its brown paper infills with recycled cardboard. “That is why you bring in a third-party logistics team – for their expertise as well as their buying power and the way they can cut costs by sharing them across sites,” she says.
Speaking to Maddie, her passion for the job comes through and that has fuelled her approach to logistics. She has clearly been able to bring her HR expertise to her logistics role and develop the people-centred part of her job. Her site is very involved in charity fundraising in the community, for instance, working with people in a local hospice. CEVA promotes this from head office, but allows each site the freedom to choose whether to take part in a centrally organised charity event or one that they choose themselves. Maddie’s site has a corporate social responsibility [CSR] team and staff vote on the local charity they wish to support. Maddie says that ensures employees have buy-in. Employees are encouraged to volunteer their time during the working day or afterwards rather than being made to feel they have to donate money, which might be hard during the current cost of living crisis. They also organise clothing or food donations to charities.
Maddie’s site’s CSR work, which has made it the best CSR site in CEVA for the most engaged colleagues and community projects, is not just about charity work, however. The CSR team is also focused on the company’s environmental impact and employees have been involved in litter picks and in an LED lighting project and are looking at drives related to solar panels and water efficiency.
The CSR work and events such as quizzes bring the site’s 250 employees together and fosters friendships, says Maddie, who has also set up a staff mentoring scheme. In addition the company has a hot food canteen. That culture of support and togetherness is an important part of the culture and helps them to attract and retain staff in a very competitive industry, where competitors might be able to offer higher pay.
Maddie says she shares with clients the CSR benefits the company gains as many are now finding that they are being quizzed about CSR issues by prospective candidates. Doing more on CSR helps them to attract the best talent in a highly competitive labour market. “People can pick and choose employers now so you have to stand out by doing something different. Otherwise you will find it hard to attract and retain people,” she says.
Maddie credits her boss for being “amazing” over the years. He knows that she works hard and will go the extra mile when needed and in return he gives her the flexibility she requires, such as working from home from time to time. While she acknowledges that logistics is very male-dominated compared to HR, she says she has found the culture at CEVA very supportive. Although there are only two women in the senior team at Kettering she says her boss has been working to raise her profile and that women are treated and valued the same as men.
Maddie has also had her own health issues to contend with of late. In her 40s she discovered that she has a congenital heart defect and an aneurysm for which she has a monthly scan. She has to refrain from aerobic exercise and keep her stress levels down. Around two years ago she was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia whose symptoms include joint pain, fatigue and brain fog. She has tried to treat it through exercise and diet and so far thai has more or less kept it under control. If she does have a flare-up, her boss tells her to work from home. Maddie says she just takes each day as it comes and that work is a helpful distraction.
She is looking at the possibility now of going back to university to focus on diversity and inclusion, but in an operations-based role. She loves what she does, however, and says it is extremely varied as well as very flexible. She is also keen that her award is used to fly the flag for women in logistics and transport. She says: “I want to encourage more women to choose this as a career. You can have a really good career and things are changing. We want more women to come and be part of that change.”