David Wells is on a mission. The new chief executive of the Freight Transport Association (FTA) wants to boost the trade body’s profile among smaller van fleet operators in a bid to raise levels of professionalism across the entire industry.
It’s a laudable aim, and one that was given a fillip last year with the introduction of a cut-price £125 membership fee targeting smaller fleets. The figure of £125 was chosen to celebrate FTA’s 125th anniversary in 2014 and offers companies a basic level of membership to which they can bolt on additional services if required.
Included within the fee is access to the member advice centre. It’s a busy support line, taking 500 calls a week; Wells says that just one call could more than cover the cost of membership.
He believes it is vital to appeal not just to these smaller organisations; he also wants to extend awareness of the FTA to a younger generation.
“Our challenge is to attract a new generation into membership,” he says. “We have to up our game regarding our communications, such as social media. We have to be faster and braver with our comments, and speak out for the industry. We want to be bold.”
Wells was appointed chief executive in May, replacing Theo de Pencier who steered the association for eight years. His career started in engineering before shifting to a medical distribution company, giving him his first taste of logistics.
During his time there, Wells helped set up a national distribution centre and home delivery network, giving him an insight into fleet operations that was to prove invaluable when he joined the FTA in 2009.
Several roles in various industries followed and it was while he was at ventilation equipment supplier Vent-Axia that the call came from the FTA “out of the blue”.
Wells immediate clicked with de Pencier – “we have a similar outlook, especially on management” – and accepted the position of finance director. The role quickly expanded to include IT, health and safety and HR, then latterly operations which incorporates inspection services, the training business and the tachograph division.
He is now officially two months into the top job, although the handover started earlier. The initial signs are positive.
Since the start of the year, the FTA has added 200 members, taking it to around 14,800 (as an association covering all types of freight, around 20% of members do not operate any vehicles, such as organisations in rail, air and shipping). Wells hopes to pass 15,000 by the end of the year.
Growth has come primarily from the smaller companies attracted by the entry-level membership fee.
“Our penetration in big fleet is very high; the opportunity is the 10-100 vehicle fleets, especially vans,” Wells says.
He points to the FTA’s traditional truck members who also run vans. “They are run by people that are very compliant; they have good governance, health and safety, O-Licence obligations and CSR. That was where we started with vans.