Leaders’ Insights: Niall Thompson, Interflow

16 Aug 2016

Niall Thompson is the CEO and founder of Interflow, which provides freight forwarding and on-site logistics for national and international trade fairs and exhibitions.

Interflow works with multiple industries, including, tech, manufacturing, healthcare, retail and consumer goods.

Today, the company, which Thompson founded in 2010, ships freight for more than 220 international events in 38 countries, and has locations in Killarney, Dublin and London.

Describe your role and what you do.

The day-to-day role involves a variety of tasks, including business development, operations, marketing, financing and HR. I prefer the operations, if I’m honest. It’s a lot of fun being on the show sites spending time with customers. No two events are the same and each presents its own logistical challenges. In the short-to-medium term, my role is to transition the company from a local provider to a European exhibition logistics provider. As a company, we are dependent on one another to achieve success. We work well as a group on large projects and we also have team members who are industry-specific.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I can’t say I’m the best at prioritising but I’m improving. I rely heavily on my MS Surface and make lots of checklists. The events business is incredibly dynamic and requires constant monitoring. I try to focus on the task in hand but, from time to time, one can be pulled off centre. This can eat up hours, so its important to try and manage that. I have full trust in our team and have no problem delegating responsibility. They are experienced and can handle every last detail of our customers’ logistical and forwarding needs.

What are the biggest challenges facing your business and how are you tackling them?

Right now, our biggest challenge is to find staff with the skill set to handle our international business. This has always been the biggest challenge. The skill set is quite specific and there is no silver bullet. We have found success by hiring self-motivated, creative individuals.

We must also retain our staff. We have found that not only do you need to offer a competitive package, but you need to make sure your people are challenged. Some of our projects involve time-critical, high-value shipments delivering to a variety of venues. We need to apply smart logistical solutions. This means the work is never boring or repetitive and is very rewarding.

We have a steady stream of business and there are significant opportunities for growth. To expand, we need to keep our service levels high, no matter where in the world we are working. We only partner with the most reputable agents to ensure quality of service.

‘We have found that not only do you need to offer a competitive package, but you need to make sure your people are challenged’

What are the key industry opportunities you’re capitalising on?

We have strong growth exporting Irish exhibits to overseas events. We offer a door-to-stand solution, which is not common in general logistics. Failure to deliver in our business is not an option.

We are also experiencing strong growth with equipment logistics. Interflow operates throughout Ireland and overseas, offering an extensive range of transport, lifting, engineering and export packaging services. We have also handled complete factory relocations for several well-known multinationals.

What set you on the road to where you are in the logistics industry?

I was asked to help a friend organising the freight for an animal cell technology show in 2007. Some of these companies were pioneering the swine flu vaccine, so it was very enlightening. I didn’t become a scientist, obviously, but I did see an opportunity to develop a business. With the use of event apps, augmented reality and virtual displays, today’s trade shows are offering the best platform for qualified buyers to see and trial the latest product and services. Every day, I am surrounded by industry experts launching new products and services. I admire those who have used technology and innovation to solve real problems.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Trying to be all things to all people and not being able to say ‘no’. It doesn’t work and it’s exhausting. Get to know what you are good at and focus on it. Your customers will respect you more.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Empower them to make their own decisions and develop their own ideas. Reward them for their achievements and give credit where credit is due.

Who is your business hero and why?

My mother was very entrepreneurial. She started a food business from her kitchen cooker in Carrigaline, Co Cork called Owenabue Preserves. She is an incredibly hard worker, as is my father, who became the transport department while running the farm. At the height she was exporting produce all over the world and developed a really nice hamper and gifting business. They worked hard to give us a lot of opportunities. They pursued success at the risk of failure.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. The book exposes the changes in Indian society from independence in 1947 to the emergency called by then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi. The characters, from diverse backgrounds, are brought together by economic forces changing India.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

My family and my iPhone.