CEO Interview: Denys Shortt, DCS Group
PUBLISHED: 10:36 20 September 2017
© Thousand Word Media
In a challenging retail market, toiletries distributor DCS is bucking the trend. Chairman and CEO Denys Shortt reveals why a positive mental attitude is the secret to his success. Frank Tennyson meets him at his Oxfordshire HQ
Arriving at the Banbury headquarters of DCS, it becomes quickly apparent that this is a company with a difference.
Glinting in the summer sun stands a glorious replica of a Spitfire aircraft, testament to the site’s history but also a nod to one of the passions of DCS chairman and CEO Denys Shortt.
“DCS stands on the site where the Northern Aluminium Company factory was one of the first aluminium manufacturing plants in the world,” says Denys. “It played a huge role in the Second World War providing materials for Spitfires. I’m an aviation fanatic myself so I thought it would be fun to commission the Spitfire statue as a tribute to the history of the place and the 4,000 people who worked here.”
Whilst the Spitfire soars into the sky, DCS can boast a similar stratospheric trajectory. As the largest distributor of health, beauty and household brands in the UK – boasting the likes of P&G, Unilever, Gillette, Colgate and L’Oreal as partners – DCS has enjoyed unparalleled success. Since its creation by Denys in 1994, DCS has enjoyed turnover in growth every single year.
“I’m pleased to say we have a very impressive graph that shows from a first year turnover of £5m, we grew our turnover to £212m last year,” says Denys. “And this growth is accelerating. That £200m target was something I had spoken about for a while and was a scary thing that hung over me! Thankfully we got there and now we look to keep growing and growing.”
The sustained growth of DCS means that the company had to swap its more modest headquarters in Stratford-Upon-Avon, its home since 2001, to a new mammoth 25-acre site in Banbury this year. Some 420 trucks facilitated the move and despite the obvious upheaval not one single order was dropped through the mammoth process.
“The scale of our business meant we needed new premises and now we start a new chapter in Banbury,” continues Denys. “We are very focused on growth and this site gives us scope to do just that.
“Our logo represents everything that we are about. Its five points show the five tenants of what we call ‘Growth Accelerators’.
“Consumer Insight is about knowing changing buying habits, the growth of the internet, Amazon, and Aldi-Lidl effect.
“We concentrate on Best Selling Brands where the big wins come, from the likes of Proctor & Gamble, Unilever and the like, while in Creative Marketing, we come up with ingenious ideas for delivery and packaging,
“We also pride ourself on using Leading Edge Technology and Achieving Excellence is the over-arching bubble in which everything sits!”
An hour in Denys’ company, and its clear that sport has played an important part in his life. Selected to play for England at hockey at just 16, he believes there are parallels between excelling at top-level sport and international business.
He explains: “When you are selected to play for England, you are operating at another level. You are coming up against the most powerful teams in the world. And the same applies when it comes to business. We benchmark ourselves against the real powerhouses of international business. We look at the likes of Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls Royce, Proctor and Gamble and how they operate. We say we want to be better than that.
“This continues today to be our drumbeat. Customers appreciate it and suppliers appreciate it. The key in business is to be completely passionate about what you do. Sport comes in here too. You have to aspire to excellence every single day.
“Everyone knows that retail has been very tough since the arrival of internet shopping. I just say ‘welcome to playing for England! Every game is tough. You’re in the big leagues now!’
“Every morning I look in the mirror and say ‘do you still inspire yourself, are you still inspiring?’ I try to be on the leading edge of everything that I do. Another sporting analogy if I may – if the All Blacks destroy a team, they are on the leading edge of excellence. I have to be the same in what I do.”
So how did it all begin? Growing up in Assam, India on a tea estate and educated at Eagle House School and Warwick School, swapping from international hockey star to international businessman, is something of a journey. But Denys says it is something that “just happened” as he developed his business acumen, working his way up from the shop floor.
“I lived in the Cotswolds with my parents and was due to go to Loughborough University but in the summer holidays I worked for my dad, who distributed tea and coffee.
“After this summer job he handed me £500 wages. I saw this cash and thought I fancied more of this! I’ll just work instead of going to university.
“I then started in the warehouse picking orders and drove a truck delivering to customers around Birmingham. I really enjoyed talking to people, so then became a sales rep, selling to small corner shops.
“After a while I took a look at dad’s business and found that it wouldn’t really sustain his children earning the kind of money we wanted. My target was to earn £100k a year but it would have been impossible in his business.
“So I started thinking about what else I could do. We were buying and selling food which was all very tight and competitive. So I had a look at toiletries. It’s funny when you think back but at that time toiletries were seen as a bit girly. If you were a macho bloke, you were suppose to want to sell beer.
“But I saw that it was a big market. We all wash every morning, brush our teeth every day, comb our hair. It’s a big, big industry and I just started wheeling and dealing in 1994 and sold £5m on my own on the phone in one year. DCS grew incredibly quickly so we focussed on that and shut the family business down soon after.”
Whilst Denys is rightly proud of the success of DCS’ bottom line, he is also keen to stress the value of people to the business. His new HQ is re-furbished with the needs of his staff at front of mind. On his personal website, the following mantra takes pride of place: “Life isn’t about how much money you make.
It’s about how many jobs you create and how many people you have helped along the way.” It’s a message he is keen to re-iterate when speaking to Cotswold Life.
“The importance of people is paramount, both inside and outside the business. Obviously we want our staff to be as happy as possible, to be rewarded for all the excellent work they do.
“But within our strategy we also have a written community plan. We want to create a working environment that is amazing for our people, with lots of benefits but at the same time help the community around us.
“We did a huge amount in Stratford Upon Avon across charities and healthcare, education and enterprise, the environment, sport, the arts and various other areas. And now the job begins in Banbury. Our staff payroll obviously gets spent locally which is great but we will be looking to give more and more back to the community as we enjoy our new home.”
Under the DCS umbrella Denys and his team also created the Enliven Brand which is a range of 70 health, beauty and household brands exported to 70 countries around the world. Add to this the founding of three separate software companies – Enable Software, Deal-Track Ltd and EnableID – it’s clear to see that this is a man who likes to keep moving forward.
After a two year-stint as Chairman of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, where he hosted the Prime Minister David Cameron for the first National LEP Conference, he was awarded an OBE for his services to the economy.
“I was very proud, of course” says Denys. “That role was a lot of hard work, I was incredibly busy so had to get things moving quickly. The OBE was obviously a huge honour but, to be honest, I would have loved to have received it for running DCS. Heading up a massive business can be a lonely world, being responsible for 400 salaries and 400 families. It’s huge.
“And it’s one thing to be successful. It’s another to maintain that success during 23 years of growth. I guess it’s like being an international sports team and winning every game for 23 years in a row!”