In The Spotlight – Julia Harris

In The Spotlight – Julia Harris
July 19, 2022 Hannah Marshallsay

Julia Harris, our Freight Department Manager, is one of our longer serving team members having worked for PFE for over twenty five years. Julia tells us why she’s so proud to work for PFE, how her team is extremely important to her and the significant role that one of PFE’s founders, Dreen Toms, played in mentoring Julia at the beginning of her career.

Number of years in the industry?

25 years (in total)

What’s your journey been getting to PFE?

I joined PFE when I was only 17, so it was my first ever job. I started working in the accounts department as I’d studied accounting for a year at college. I was put under the wing of Dreen Toms who founded the company with Peter Collins, and I worked for her and Marion Collins (Peter’s wife) in the accounts department. There were only about 20 people in the whole company at the time, surprisingly, a good number of them are still working for PFE to this day. 

I worked in the accounts department for 5 or so years, until I decided to take a career break to go travelling. I did all sorts of jobs, mainly catering work in ski resorts in Europe and the US. After about 4 years of great fun, I decided to settle back in the UK and I was lured back to PFE by the need to be sensible as I was buying a house. I returned to PFE just as the new office in Witham was being built. In the time I was away, a lot had changed, we had a much bigger building, we had our own warehouse for the first time and there were a significantly larger number of people working for PFE. I didn’t go back into accounts, I moved over into operations to manage customers’ freight and after a number of years I became the manager of the freight department. I’ve been back at PFE now for 20 years.

What does your role at PFE entail?

We are a financial based department as we are responsible for charging all the freight out, so I still use my accounting skills. As Freight Department Manager I am responsible for overseeing the team that implements daily charging of freight on all the vessels that come in. We pay the shipping lines and adjust the freight rates for all customers. This involves directly sending out all the individual freight rates for each customer, which we do every month. We are experts in our part of the chain that is responsible for charging our customers’ freight. We receive the files from the Manifest team and then we do our bit, ensuring freight is charged in order for the customs department to use to do their entries and any contact with overseas agents is dealt with and their invoices passed.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The best thing about my job is who I work for and who I work with. I love my team, I really do. While I’ve had no training in management per se, I am a confident manager. I supervise my team well enough for them to be happy and that gives me great satisfaction. There have been very challenging times over the last couple of years, for example everyone needed a lot of support during the pandemic. We all looked out for each other and despite the additional challenges, we got the work done. We are a busy team, we don’t ever have time to have a breather, so the fact that we are so tight-knit means that we keep each other going on occasional stressful days. It is full on, but I’d hate to be quiet.

What has been the best thing about your job so far?

I feel like I want to mention Dreen Toms and her role in my career at PFE. Dreen was such an important role model to me when I first joined PFE. By complete coincidence, she was my neighbour when I was growing up. When I joined PFE and was a junior in the accounts department, Dreen became my mentor. She was five foot nothing, but ruled with an iron fist. She, along with Peter, Adam and Dave made PFE what it is today and working alongside Dreen was a real inspiration at the time. She taught me so much and really looked after me. It’s because of the kindness and generosity of Dreen and the Collins family that I am very proud to work for PFE. I have always felt supported and well looked after. I am grateful for everything I have because of PFE.

What makes PFE different from the rest?

I love the family roots of the company and the family feel that comes with that. Despite our size nowadays, the family ethos still exists today. PFE people are warm and friendly and just like a family, we have our traditions and ‘in’ jokes. The family culture extends to the relationship we have with our customers. Our customer service makes us stand out. We know it is our job to provide top notch service and treat our customers as we would like to be treated ourselves. 

Another thing that makes PFE stand out is the fact that we are always looking forward and that keeps us fresh. We’re always looking for things to improve, the ambition of the Directors filters through to all of us and the rest of us follow and help make it happen. The young blood that Jacob and Jonny Collins have brought to the company in recent years has been amazing. They are so clever and have come up with great solutions that have helped us work far more efficiently.

What are three words that describe PFE?


Do you have any future ambitions for PFE?

I’m very happy working here doing my job and really want to help PFE to continue to be successful. I love my role with my team, which feels very much like my own family. We’ve all had issues over the years, and together we’ve all got through it. I am very loyal to PFE and will be here until I retire. I would never leave PFE unless it was to follow a dream.

Who was your childhood hero and why?

My Mum definitely. My Dad left when I was two so she was my whole world when I was young. She had three young children and did childminding so she could look after us and earn some money. Then as we got older she was a carer, a home help and also worked in pubs, until she proudly landed a career in the NHS. She did a brilliant job looking after us all in difficult circumstances.

It has only been in the last year, and since I’ve lost her, that it has dawned on me how similar we are. I see her in me almost every day – in the way I look, in what I say, in my mannerisms, my laugh. We also have very similar interests. She was a rambler and she used to lead the walks. And here I am now, doing the Three Peaks Challenge and leading our training walks.

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?

It would be sushi. I worked in a sushi restaurant in Ibiza and also in the US where I served Dustin Hoffman on Millennium Eve. My favourite sushi is either a dragon or california roll.

What’s your favourite movie?

The Breakfast Club. It represents a time in my life when we watched it, loved it, and fell in love with the main character. I watch it with the kids now and annoy them by quoting all the lines. It’s a classic feel-good film.

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