An Interview with NET LED’s Managing Director – Oliver Bubb
17th September 2020
September 2020 marks Oliver Bubb’s tenth year at NET LED. The marketing team sat down with him, to discuss his journey at NET LED, futureproofing the business, and adjusting to the digital strategy we are undergoing.
Let’s start from the beginning: how did you start at NET LED Lighting?
At first, NET LED was run by my Dad, Paul, and his business partner, Chris. When the business grew to the point where it needed its premises, they hired me part-time. My first job was to paint the floor, so the warehouse looked nice, and after stock arrived, I set up the racking. I was 16 at the time.
Installing Lighting in our second warehouse
Do you think that early experience has given you an appreciation for the people that do those jobs regularly?
I couldn’t do my job today without the lessons I learnt ten years ago. It’s why I appreciate talents within our business like Nick (Nick is the current Product Engineer at NET LED) who’s spent countless hours learning the software and understanding how materials work with each other. It’s the same across all departments. Because I started so early into the business’ development, I’ve seen every department grow into what it is today.
Let’s talk about that journey then, how does someone go from painting the floor and putting up racking to managing the entire business?
Eventually, I earned the trust to pick orders; then, Paul trusted me to use the computers and put orders on. It wasn’t a skill thing; it was a trust thing. Once I moved half-way across the country with the business, from Devon to Cambridge, I was fully committed and wanted to play a pivotal role in the company.
Has working with your father had an impact on your relationship?
When I was younger and still living with Paul, it strained the relationship he and I had because we couldn’t escape work. Working with family is tough. I think it’s tougher on the father than it is the son because I appreciate the opportunity, and I expect harsher treatment than other employees because I’m the son.
And was that the case?
I think he’s done that, and I think it’s the right thing to do because I wouldn’t want it the other way around. People would think I got special treatment, but Paul was the one who had to find that balance, not me. I just had to show up to work and give 110%, but that’s what employees have to do if they want to grow within a business. I wouldn’t change that though, because I’ve seen aspects of NET LED that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
First Trip to China
So our first venture of going online was a project assigned to me by Paul. When working in the warehouse, I signed up to a Shopify account; it was £30 a month e-commerce platform. I integrated it with Sage and spent a few weeks running it as a project and getting orders online.
Was that an early iteration of the myNETLED Ordering portal?
That was the first step to myNETLED, back in 2012. But, it’s baby steps compared to how the portal functions today.
Since your promotion to Managing Director, there’s been a pivotal shift in business towards digital. Was that something that was always going to happen if you were to take over?
It’s very much a mix between being a bit of a techy guy and Covid-19. I scare my senior management team by saying things like “what systems and processes do you want to see the business running in 3 years? Let’s order them today.” If we need new systems for Warehouse, Finance, or HR, for example, we can plan for growth ahead of time and save ourselves a lot of pain. It’s painful to change systems when you need to because you’re already at capacity.
I believe in adopting technology early. Whether it be products or processes like myNETLED, it futureproofs the business. If we were laggards and failed to adopt new things sooner, we wouldn’t survive in our industry.
21st Birthday at NET LED
Why is that?
Because our competitors run good businesses and they run them well, especially some of our biggest competitors. We believe NET LED stands out by pushing boundaries. We know not every customer will love it, but if we keep moving forward, things will change as they do in every industry.
NET LED has had some backlash, particularly on social media following Covid-19 redundancies and recent company restructure. As newly appointed MD, how are you dealing with these criticisms, and what do you learn from this?
It demonstrated to me that as a business, we failed to communicate our vision correctly to our customers. We have a unique offering to be delivered to our customers over the phone, video and myNETLED and we haven’t yet explained this to industry. We continue to be worried about the effects that Covid-19 will have on our industry, with the likelihood of a second lockdown increasing daily. Customers asking us not to send Regional Sales Managers into branch unless it was essential means we had to consider Zoom, Microsoft Teams and even Whatsapp to engage with them and build relationships.
When we made our decision regarding the restructuring of our sales team, we needed to educate customers on how we’re different and how we can continue to provide massive value to them, our core values haven’t changed. I do, however, feel with the changes we’ve made we’ve protected more than we’ve hurt; not just our people, but jobs, customers, suppliers, the lot.
Going from your previous role to Managing Director, is it just a “passing of the torch” from Paul or is there a lot more responsibility?
It wasn’t Paul that allowed it to happen; it was the team.
And by that, you mean Senior Management?
Yeah. We appointed a Sales, Finance and Operations Managers that we can trust to run the business, and now I spend all day making sure I work on and develop the business. That can be making sure someone has the right tools, training, or new systems that benefit customers. If I take time off right now, the company will still be running as well as it did when I left. But I still want to go home every day with NET LED in a better spot than when I arrived.
Team of Directors
Are you more focused on growth than maintenance?
Nowadays, I focus on the growth of people, systems, and processes. I’m not trying to conquer the world. I care more about NET LED being a fun place to work.
You seem equal parts, customer and staff. Do you agree with that? Where are your allegiances?
There isn’t one side, our people are who service our customers, as much as I love my systems, technologies, and processes, our people are what drives us forward.
Ok so you’d say you’re a very technologically minded person, but your conscience of how necessary your staff are.
Absolutely, if you look after your people, they will look after your customers. If we value our teams, they will, in turn, provide our customers with value. If we keep investing in our people, they will want to put the 110% that I do.