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OPM: Our team are our competitive advantage

OPM Group is a family-owned, labels and packaging leader. Managing Director Chris Ellison says success has always rested on the inspiration, creativity and vision of its talented workforce

Tell us a little about OPM (labels & packaging) Group?

OPM is a privately owned, independent company established over 40 years ago. Initially an engineering company turning over £300k pa manufacturing small desk top printing machines, I bought the company in 1986 and began producing plain and printed self-adhesive labels under the new name of OPM. In 2013, OPM moved into its current site in Leeds. Since then, we’ve invested over £6 million in the latest label and packaging technology, including automated MIS and pre-press systems and servo-driven printing presses. We have a broad machinery footprint allowing us to accommodate low, medium and large runs cost effectively. Our selection means we offer highly decorative and functional products.We are proud to announce that it has recently been awarded Zero Labels 2 Landfill Certification.

How important are people to your business?

People have always been essential to OPM – they are its most important resource. They provide the inspiration, creativity, vision and motivation that gives OPM its competitive advantage. Even in these days of advanced technology and automation, our organisation could not exist without people.

How important is age and experience when allocating responsibilities?

The most common criteria we use to select people for a job are qualifications, technical skills and experience. But these criteria are never the only considerations. In many cases, providing that people have the basic skills needed and the right attitude to learning, we will train the specifics of a job. If they don’t have the right approach and personal culture, it’s much more difficult to teach them to be friendly to customers, co-operate with their team mates and accept change. We always try to match the people we employ with the culture of our organisation and vice-versa, so they will not find it frustrating and hard to integrate. Training will also be the way forward in the future as an ageing, experienced workforce will need to be replaced. We have worked hard utilising the knowledge of our existing staff to create a training academy to ensure this knowledge is shared and passed to the next generation.

Describe your management philosophy

My management style is hard to put your finger on but generally, my philosophy is to give clear directions and actually stay pretty hands-off, but be ready and available to jump in and offer guidance, expertise and help when needed. I also go out of my way to make sure I know when my team needs help and I work with them to set clear goals and KPI’s that are achievable.
That means plenty of informal check-ins, both on the work they’re doing and on their general job satisfaction and mental well-being. I see running a business as a collaborative process, but one that still has a clear structure in place, where colleagues and management work together to drive our vision for OPM’s future.

How important is state-of-the-art technology to your business strategy?

We have worked hard to develop a business environment that supports and promotes innovation as its culture. The OPM innovation strategy is based around four main factors that we consider especially important in improving innovation performance: culture, collaboration, strategy, and technology. The state-of-the-art technology we have chosen to drive innovation has helped OPM develop specialised products in a wide variety of sectors to maximise long-term value.

How close is OPM to achieving its process automation goals? How important is this to your business strategy?

Process automation is key to OPM business control and agility. It allows us to optimise resources, speed development and adapt faster to market changes. Today, our aim is to maximise automation rather than re-engineer it. Technological advancements in software and technology have accelerated the evolution of business processes from ‘re-engineering’ to ‘automation’. Our goal is to automate as many manual processes as possible. This is an ongoing project; as we automate existing processes, we develop new ways to automate the new technology we bring to the business too. Automation has reduced the number of tasks we do manually. This allows us to get more done in the same amount of time, greatly increasing productivity. It frees up our time to work on tasks that add genuine value to the business, improving customer experience, allowing OPM to be more innovative and increasing our employees’ levels of motivation.

What are the keys to a successful client/printer relationship?

Packaging has a big job to do. It has to contain the product, serve as a promotional tool, market the value proposition, and stand out on shelf, within the constraints of a budget while delivering a profit margin. But despite this, it’s often the last thing on a company marketing strategy.
Retail is more stressful today than ever with the demand for speed to market at its highest. In our business, deadlines are everything – so OPM offers short lead times through continued process efficiency. We blend innovation, functional products with decoration to create print that engages the consumer and jumps off the shelf. OPM asks the right questions and listen. We share the mission of our clients to grow and succeed their brands. Ultimately, our printed products have to be sold twice; once to the retailer and again to the customer.

What are the challenges and rewards of running a family-owned business?

I think the greatest benefit is our ability to communicate openly and honestly with each other. As a family we have built up trust in each other while working together. The best thing about our team is that there is no resentment or rivalry because we have all earned our positions through skills and experience. In some family businesses, challenges can develop – it can be come emotionally charged. I decided early on that in order for us to work harmoniously, we all needed to have distinct roles; too much overlap could lead to confusion. As a family we naturally hold common values about the business – “not accepting second best of ourselves or others”. There are challenges as in any business but we overcome these as team. I feel that the benefits of the quality time we get together achieving our goals makes up for extra demands that family ownership brings.

What succession planning advice would you give to family-run companies?

The necessary steps have to be taken well in advance so that the building blocks are in place when the time is right. Succession planning can be complicated because of the emotions and relationships involved and because most people are not that comfortable discussing topics such as aging, death, and their financial affairs. Plan Early! This allows you time to involve family members in your decision and open a dialogue. Ensure you have the time to mentor and gradually introduce your chosen successors into the business. Find the right advisers to help you put together a successful succession plan.

What’s one piece of advice you would offer others?

Set aside time, at least every week, to stop being a manager and assume the role of CEO. Fire yourself from jobs you no longer have to do and promote yourself to jobs that a growing company needs someone to perform, but that only you can do.

What are your interests outside of the label & packaging industry?

Since I was 7 years old my passion has always been racing motorbikes. At the age of 16, I was a junior Trials champion and raced competitively in Motor Cross. Up until the age of 35, I raced both 2 & 3 wheels both at Clubman and National status culminating latterly at British Superbike events. Following at short spell in 2000 running my own British 250cc team I’m now just interested in all forms of motorsport; bikes, and cars anything you can race with an engine! In more recent years, I’ve also become strangely attracted to gardening – particularly citrus, and fruits that I cultivate in our green house. As I relax, I ironically now complain about the noisy motorbikes that buzz around on a Sunday morning – maybe its karma!

For more information, please call: 0113 2311000 or go to their website: www.opmgroup.co.uk

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