‘TNT Express is a success story of the very first order … and provides a clear example for other companies to emulate.’ So began former prime minister John Major’s acclamation to parcel delivery group TNT in November 1994, when it won that year’s UK British Quality Foundation award.
A policy of keeping a tight grip on standards has formed the basis of the company’s success. Since 1994, the restructured company, now named TNT UK, has been widely recognised for its efforts to improve its quality management. The 1994 award and three subsequent European quality prizes for business excellence are the result, and the gongs themselves make an impressive showing in the reception of TNT’s Atherstone headquarters.
Leading this drive towards quality is TNT managing director, certified accountant Alan Jones. His attitude to work is reflected, apparently without exception, across all areas of the company. Receptionists are more friendly than usual. A corporate video plays endlessly in the foyer.
Its message simply seems to be ‘smile’ – although given that TNT has just adopted a day-glo orange livery, that must prove difficult at times.
Jones has risen through the ranks of TNT having joined the company in 1980 as general manager of the fledgling TNT Overnite delivery service. But when he started working, becoming a professional accountant was not something he had ever considered.
Having left school at 16 with five O-levels, Jones was desperate to find work doing anything he could. Through his mother, then a switchboard operator at Midlands Electricity Board, he heard about an accountancy apprenticeship scheme within the organisation. He applied and was duly offered a post – a move which he sees as his first big break, as MEB only took on two apprentices. The other was Ian Duncan, current deputy chairman and managing director of finance at industrial management company Tomkins.
Despite finding the apprenticeship hard work, Jones soon realised it was a valuable introduction to the inner workings of the MEB. Even at this stage, his role was more than just accounting. Jones experienced working in every department of the organisation from accounting to laying cables to working in the stores. ‘It was fantastic training,’ he says.
He believes the MEB job was a lucky break because, compared to today’s trainees, he had relatively few qualifications. And he suggests that luck counted for a lot in his early career. But what he calls luck, others might call diligence and application. With his ACCA finals coming up in June 1968, Jones decided to sit for the Institute of Taxation associateship in May because he thought that revising for and sitting the exams would provide a useful rehearsal. The move paid off. He was placed third in the order of merit in the ACCA finals that year.
‘I still think that having a common surname helped me,’ he insists. ‘I must have been mixed up with someone else.’
Once qualified, Jones says he felt a ‘moral obligation’ to stay at the electricity board, and therefore worked for six years with MEB before moving to North West Electricity Board and then to London to work at BBC Radio.
It was during his time at the BBC, where he worked as a cost accountant, that Jones first learnt about applying quality management in a large organisation.
‘Local radio was just starting up so we had to put the case for it.’
After the BBC, Jones joined Pickfords Heavy Haulage in 1974 where, as finance manager, he had operational responsibility for a third of the company. During this period, he believes he got his second break when he was given his first executive post.
Pickfords was also his first experience of 24-hour transport operations and he was keen to get on. But he believes in balancing work and family life. He has two daughters in their twenties, a one-year-old baby and another on the way. ‘Not bad going for a man in his fifties,’ he jokes.
Jones clearly attributes his success to his early experiences, especially Pickfords. ‘Working in transport was good experience. I met people from lots of other industries and learnt so much about industry and commerce.’ He is quick to point out the value of accountancy in providing a good grounding for future business managers.
‘Every accountant dreams of going into general management. I was very lucky to get the opportunity to do that.
It is such an interesting job and accountancy provides a very good training and a solid foundation for any business career,’ he says.
‘For a general manager to be trained in accountancy is almost a must, but other disciplines, such as sales and marketing, are also important.’
His commitment to quality and his respect for the team ethic go hand in hand. He has a great belief in the TNT staff, and they respond with their belief in him. He advocates a good working climate as fundamental to successful business practice. If the staff are committed to their jobs and the customer then, he believes, the business cannot fail.
Simply the best
Jones sees quality as ‘the differentiating factor’ between TNT and others in the field. Put simply, Jones and TNT aim to be the best. ‘We have always known that that was the right way to run the business, but we went about it in a more formal and systematic way from 1990 onwards,’ he says.
TNT decided to implement quality management throughout its operations.
Under Jones’ guidance, the company adopted the European Foundation for Quality Management’s business excellence model in 1992.
‘This is not rocket science. We are moving things from A to B. The EFQM model provokes various questions to help us refine the process continuously. The model is a way of identifying weaknesses and improving them,’ Jones says. It appears to have worked.
Since the method was adopted, TNT profits have more than doubled.
The self-assessment ethic applies from grass roots level up to the board room. TNT strives for customer satisfaction, continuous improvement and attempts to involve all its employees in improving the business.
This approach has been recognised in recent years by three wins at the European Quality Foundation Awards. TNT has also won the UK and Northern Ireland Quality Awards as well as Investors in People awards for its employment standards.
One of nine finalists for the 1998 European Quality Award, TNT’s use of the business excellence model will be judged later this month against companies such as Siemens, Yellow Pages and Telecom Italia. These and other companies in Europe have gained measurable benefits from introducing total quality management as a way of improving efficiency and effectiveness.
The results of this year’s awards are due to be announced later this month at a ceremony in Paris. TNT is up against some pretty tough competition.
But winning a gong is not an end in itself. As Jones says: ‘Quality comes in at every level of TNT. We always know that we can do even better.’
THE EFQM MODEL
The European Foundation for Quality Management’s approach to total quality management is crystallised in its model for ‘business excellence’. Focusing on business results, the model helps managers analyse all areas of their operations, and is intended to provide a framework that can be applied to any company, regardless of size, sector and structure.
The basic principle of the model is that customer and staff satisfaction are achieved by company leadership, and the policy, strategy and management of staff, resources and processes.
The EFQM model (above) is widely recognised as the best framework in Europe to assess organisational strengths and weaknesses to gain competitive advantage.
The model consists of two groups of criteria. Five criteria, called ‘enablers’ (on the left), are concerned with how an organisation performs various activities, and a further four (on the right) with the ‘results’ the organisation is achieving with respect to different stakeholders.
It is intended to provide controlled self-assessment. Companies can use it to undertake their own evaluation before looking externally. It is, in essence, an organised method of self-help.
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