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Bart’s superb performance goes the extra kilometre to build partnerships

06 Jan, 2021 | published at 09:40 CET

PRS, part of the Faber Halbertsma Group, one of Europe’s leading poolers of sustainable wooden pallets to the polymer supply chain, understands a few things about going the extra kilometre to build pioneering partnerships in the circular economy.

In fact, it is going those extra kilometres in Eastern Europe that ensures the deal is done – even during a pandemic.

Forging frontier collaborations by driving through all weathers and across long distances is part of the job, according to PRS’s field operational excellence manager Bart Smit, whose role involves troubleshooting new territories in search of proactive pallet partnerships and international best practice working.

"To build these kind of relationships and understand pallet manufacture in territories such as Hungary, you simply have to go there – you can’t get the feel of their operation over a Zoom or Microsoft Teams call," he said.

Armed with the correct permission paperwork as an essential worker in the supply chain, Bart was travelling by car because all of the airports were closed.

"Sometimes this has involved driving up to 1200km in one go and pulling off the road to take power naps in the car because the first hotel is in Hungary at the border with Austria.

"The good thing, if there was a good thing, was that the pandemic meant I was the only car on a lot of empty roads as I criss-crossed Europe."

Sophisticated network

Bart’s frontier approach was to find long-term pallet partners in emerging territories to help establish a sophisticated local pooling network to feed the ever-hungry polymer supply chain as it expands into new markets.

Behind the scenes and working in advance of Bart’s visits, an online PRS Taskforce worked with new customer MOL, the Hungarian national petro-chemical company, to prepare the groundwork and to fill up the pipeline with 40,000 pallets prior to the start of the contract.

In addition, sustainable wood providers SATIM managed to get extra volume from current suppliers in the Czech Republic and Poland.

"Yet in Hungary we need partners to supply new pallets as well as a network of PRS depot activity and transport partners to collect and redeliver our pallets to the new customer.

"I enjoy the role as a pioneer. Finding potential new partners, getting an instinctive sense of whether or not this is the right company and these are the right people with the right set-up, is exciting and challenging especially as you have to explain the difference in approach between pallet pooling as we operate at PRS compared to their standard pallet trader business.

"I have to be sure of the whole picture – for example, will it match? Who may be interested? Which companies are a definite no go? What does the location looks like? What is the ISPM 15 interpretation like in Hungary – these are all considerations I have to have in mind."

Natural rhythm

"I can’t speak Hungarian, but even when there is a translator in the room, when we talk price and depot activity on PRS pallets, there is a natural rhythm to the discussions which means I can follow the conversation exactly whether it’s with a pallet producer, trader or transporter," added Bart.

"You break the ice with a joke and you soon build a chemistry with everyone in the room. I dress the same as them and I am happy to stand in the middle of muddy fields to talk timber – you need to be able to address them directly and in a friendly manner to build long-term partnerships in the petro-chemical industry.”

Bart understands that business is a language in its own right, wherever you are and whoever you talk to, especially when it comes to best practice.

"As I said earlier, you have to be there to understand the nuances of these discussions, whatever the language," he added.