Jacob and Jonny tell us about their earliest memories of PFE, their aspirations for their own and PFE’s future and how their Dad, along with Steven Gerrard, are their childhood heroes.
When did you start working at PFE?
Jacob: I started working for PFE in 2016. I had worked at an importer for a few years, so I joined with a little bit of prior relevant experience from the other side. The skills I’d learned at the previous job were useful, such as understanding warehousing and shipping data. So I came on board with some industry knowledge, but it wasn’t like I had a degree in shipping!
Jonny: Ignoring dinner table talk for as long as I can remember, I joined PFE permanently in July 2021. I’d done the odd bit of work experience in summers while growing up and then joined the company for just under a year after leaving university in 2017.
What’s your earliest memory of PFE?
Jacob: I’m sure Jonny and I will say the same. I’d say it would be being brought in by Grandpa and Dad and being let loose in the boardroom to play with all the toys. I also remember the warehouse guys driving us around on the fork lifts – which I’m sure wouldn’t be allowed now! I also remember, when we were a bit older, being asked to find something helpful to do, like sweeping up the warehouse floor.
Jonny: I’d definitely say being in the boardroom and causing havoc in there. Also, being given a stack of files and spending hours stamping away. Playing hide and seek in the warehouse between the racks, racing warehouse with the guys on the forklift trucks, all the stuff that you definitely wouldn’t be allowed to do now! And of course, getting looked after by Anya, Angela, Julia or Gill.
Was it always your expectation that you would work for PFE?
Jacob: When I was much younger it didn’t really cross my mind. I’d always seen Dad going to work and I never really knew what he did. PFE was just kind of there. It was when I got a bit older that I started to wonder how the company actually functioned. And, even when I started doing summers of work experience here, I didn’t properly appreciate how the industry worked and the company operated.
I went to university to study design. So I’ll be honest, I never really thought I’d be working in a job sitting at a desk in front of a computer. I thought what I wanted to do was in the design world, and yet in reality it wasn’t what I actually wanted to do. My expectation was that I was going to have a career in product design or 3D design or manufacturing of some kind, rather than logistics.
Jonny: I always knew at some point I’d join the company. My intention had always been to get as much experience as possible elsewhere before joining PFE. In my mind I was expecting that to be when I was about 30, but then COVID came along and changed things!
After I came back from travelling, I started the commercial graduate scheme at Rolls-Royce and moved to Derby to work there, which I did for two years before moving into a permanent position. When COVID happened I moved back into Dad’s in early 2020 where I continued to work for Rolls Royce remotely. Then being under the same roof for a year, he roped me in day-by-day, until I decided it was time to start working for PFE (only five years earlier than I planned).
What are your roles at PFE?
Jonny: My current role is predominantly focussed on taking our processes and systems to the next level, whether that is making best use of the vast data we have available to improve our ways of working, bringing greater visibility and on-demand tools. The main goal is to enhance our ways of working and maximise efficiencies across the board and in every department, allowing us to stay on a path of continuous improvement and deliver the best possible service for our customers. We must not stand still and expect our previous success to continue. As an overall objective I’m learning as much about the business as possible, from working on certain customer accounts or dealing with our wide range of suppliers.
Jacob: I manage the Air Freight department as my main day- to-day job. We are a close team in a dedicated office and I run it as a separate operation that links up with the other parts of the business.
In my other role, I am a Commercial Analyst, which is similar to what Jonny does and because of that, Jonny and I do overlap in what we’re doing sometimes. For example we are working together on some development projects for customers at the moment. So there are some things we work on separately and independently, but there are quite a lot of similarities and crossover in what we do.
Jonny: We’re probably two of a handful of people in the company with the opportunity to work across every aspect of the organisation. Most of the team are, quite rightly, focussed on the work that is being done in their department. Jacob and I are able to join the dots where needed. We’re both a little bit geeky and like tech stuff, so the work we’re doing plays to our strengths and our working practices are becoming more streamlined as a result.
Jacob: Our focus has to be about finding a good balance of developing new technology for PFE and then teaching the team how to use it. The next step will be that the whole business is utilising all of the digital tools we have and they become part of the PFE ecosystem.
What are you most enjoying about working for PFE?
Jacob: I really enjoy managing the Air Freight team. It’s very hands on and, as it’s air freight, it moves very quickly. Everyone says that working in logistics, every day is different. I would agree and I enjoy the fact that no two days are the same. I also like having a mix of operational management and then also working on these bigger projects with Jonny and Dad in the background. It’s a nice balance of work.
The other thing I enjoy and value is engaging with customers. I’ve got many customers on the air freight side that I’ve built strong relationships with over the last few years.
Jonny: Cliche, but it is the people we work with at PFE that makes it enjoyable for me. There is so much knowledge of the industry and so many years of experience around to draw on. I also appreciate that I’m in a role where I can get involved in so many different things and have the freedom to do so, from one day working on a data-heavy project; the next arranging a shipment. No two days are the same, which keeps everything exciting.
It’s a really positive time for the business. There are so many things that are moving in the right direction and everyone is getting right behind it all. The PFE team has been willing to build on how they’ve done things for 20 years and help us reach another level.
What are PFE’s strengths?
Jonny: Our customer focus. We will tailor what we do for every customer, no matter how big or small they are, to best suit them and deliver what they need. Whatever needs to be done, we will get it done. Solutions will always be found, and we’ll find the best way of doing it, whatever that may be. Everyone in the company buys into that principle.
Jacob: At the end of the day, we are a family business and we have staff in the team who have been working at PFE for a long time. We are all very much invested in the company and take it quite personally when things aren’t going as well as they should be. Our focus is to look after our customers and make sure their needs are satisfied as a number one priority and then make sure we’re as efficient and as good as we possibly can be. The difference is we care a lot more than a lot of the other companies.
What three words describe PFE?
Jonny: I think PFE’s Core Values really sum up what we stand for. We are a highly reputable company and we have the responsibility of Peter Collins’ legacy to maintain – when you have meetings with suppliers or customers and they talk about remembering Grandpa from working with him 30 odd years ago, it’s a pretty nice feeling. He defined PFE, and still does to this day.
How does the prospect of leading the company at some point in the future make you feel?
Jonny: I’m definitely excited by it, so long as we are both ready and capable enough to do it. We would never just expect to take that position if it was not warranted or deserved. We have Grandpa, Dad and Aron and their combined decades of experience to learn from, not even mentioning so many others throughout the company. Having the three of them to draw on, you can’t really ask for much more than that. For now it’s a constant learning curve, we need to get as much experience behind us as we can.
Jacob: It feels a lot of responsibility sometimes. We are working hard to prepare ourselves. We are being given a lot of responsibility and getting good support from the Directors and everyone else across the different departments, so I am confident that we have all the experience we need to learn from. I’ve also always said that I wouldn’t do it, if I didn’t think I was able to. I wouldn’t just assume that we’re going to be the right people to do it, just because we’re the sons of Adam Collins, it doesn’t work like that.
In the more immediate future, do you have any aspirations for yourself?
Jonny: For me the next couple of years is focussed on some of the bigger system changes and introducing new tools that will help keep PFE as a leading freight-forwarder. We have brilliant bespoke, in-house built systems and tools, but we are constantly working to continue on that journey. It will undoubtedly be a tough year ahead for everyone with the struggles across all industries so now is the time to make as much progress as we can on ensuring we remain as streamlined and efficient as possible.
Jacob: I’d say it’s about focussing on maintaining the balance of relationships with our customers as the industry becomes more automated. The future of logistics will undoubtedly lead to change. Getting the right equilibrium of customer service and systems will become more important. We’ve got to make sure that both sides are covered, that we have the digital systems which streamline our operation, but we’ve got the right people here and a good team to maintain personal relationships with people. I’m passionate about helping PFE maintain our reputation for customer service.
Did you have a hero when you were a child?
Jacob: Obviously, it would be our Dad. We rarely tell him just quite how much we appreciate him, but he inspires us both every day. The older you get the more you can really understand and appreciate the sacrifices he made over the years to get PFE where it is today, from the relentless working, late nights and holidays spent on the phone, but still always finding time for us come the weekend.
But there’s another person that Jonny and I would also both agree on – Steven Gerrard.
Jonny: Steven Gerrard, without a doubt. He is someone that religiously put the entire team on his back every time he stepped onto the pitch, and gave us some of the best moments of our childhood with our Dad. We saw him play from when he had just broken into the team, right through to his retirement game.
If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Jacob: My go-to would probably be pizza – as boring as that sounds! I love all pizza. I think that’s the bonus of pizza, there’s so many different varieties. You can have a different type of pizza every day!
Jonny: Carbonara (a proper one with no cream in sight).
What’s your favourite movie?
Jacob: In all honesty, it would be ’Ali G Indahouse’. We grew up not very far from Staines where it is set. It’s very relevant to our childhood and that early noughties era. The jokes are very funny. Die Hard is also a great film. Everyone loves Die Hard, it’s a classic.
Jonny: I would probably say Lord of the Rings The Return of the King. The best end to any trilogy. It’s got everything from the crazy battle scenes to emotional moments. The extended version is a must watch too.