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The bigger picture: weathering the storm, water-cooler moments, and plans for a US office

DSL’s MD, Rory Dear, talks openly about the personal challenges of his first four years at the helm of DSL, the business impacts of global crises, and the resilience of the DSL team. From when he took over the business to where he is now, is he where he expected to be?

Considering what we’ve been through, as human beings and as a business, we should be really, really proud of how we’ve responded to uncertainty and change.

I often look with misplaced envy at my predecessor’s reign. Derek, who started the company in 1991, was my mentor and is a fantastic guy who taught me everything I know.

Since I took over the running of DSL, we’ve seen Brexit, ports closed, the Suez Canal blocked, products stuck off shore, factory fires, and a global pandemic. You name it, we’ve had it. Not to mention a climate emergency, energy prices and more recently the bewildering events in Ukraine. In the last four years, the level of global upheaval and crisis upon crisis has seemed perpetual.

Was it smooth sailing for Derek? Or was it actually pretty rough for him too and he just shielded the team from it? He was MD during a recession and the ‘Credit Crunch’ in 2008 which shook the foundations of the international economy. When the exchange rate plummeted, we had taken orders that we were suddenly making a loss on overnight.

It would be naive to think that Derek didn’t suffer the same level of challenge that I am experiencing now and suffer similar impacts from his own tenure’s global crises.

I like to plan and be strategic. When I took over the business, I had a three and five-year plans. To some extent, these have been torn up and the rules re-written, more than once.

rory-dear-dslThe value of the office and serendipity

Of course, DSL isn’t alone in this. There have been greater forces at play. Like most organisations and especially SMEs, we’ve had to be very reactive; a ‘what can each of us do today to get through this’ mentality.

When we first entered lockdown and there was only two of us in the office, it was a strangely enjoyable novelty; the quieter pace was nice. But after the initial uniqueness wore off, it was actually quite lonely and too quiet!

I thrive in an office environment; I can’t work from home as efficiently as I can in an office.  Being surrounded by home comforts and trying to work as hard in that environment, with my seven-year-old being home-schooled, was a real challenge. My motivation comes from being dressed for work, driving to work, and being in a place of work – the atmosphere and camaraderie help me to go that extra mile.

The team adapted brilliantly; they coped much better, and were much more capable, than me! The company was still at 100% efficiency, but we missed out on all the ‘water-cooler’ moments. The ad-hoc face-to-face chats, the impromptu support, and the improvised ideas that come from people just passing each other’s desks or in the corridors were gone. Teams calls just couldn’t replace these serendipitous moments. I hadn’t considered the true value of this before. There’s much more importance placed on these moments now.

Expansion across the pond?

This year will be an interesting one. The positive sentiment is improving in our industry and although there will be bumps in the road, we’ll weather the next storm too (we have thirty years’ experience in doing just that at DSL!).

I hope what we’ll see throughout the year is the Covid impact reducing and components flowing through the industry.

Yes, the component crisis is irritating. You can become downtrodden about how bad the shortage is or you can look at what difference you can make as a UK business, how you can help mitigate it, and do something about it as a team.

The opportunity with the component shortage is to design, or redesign, products with more readily available parts and that’s how DSL’s product designers, engineers and sales team are working together with our customers to tackle this inconvenient situation. Our free Design Health Check is proving invaluable to these efforts.

Looking further into the future, we set up the legalities of a DSL US office the day before lockdown. And although that had to be put on hold, it is something we’ll be picking up again and we’re very excited about that. Watch this space!