Industry Q&A: John Braithwaite, Ali Group

What does your role typically entail on a day-to-day basis?

As the business and brand development director my remit encompasses everything you would expect from a role of this kind. Broadly speaking it is a multi-faceted job. At the sharp end, the role involves working with our brands, the supplies industry’s specialist consultants, equipment dealers and customers when required, and to provide the right solutions for projects of every type and kind.

In some instances, Ali Group may have a specific target for me to achieve, or they might have a particular company or brand that needs to improve its position or sales in a specific market. I’ll speak to the company concerned, take a look at the landscape of the market that they want to develop, or go into it and then see how we can help them facilitate their needs.

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How long have you been in the role and who do you report to?

I work directly for the executive vice-president of the Ali Group and have been in this role for seven years. Prior to my present role I had worked for individual companies within the group.

What are your objectives this year?

I’d like the awareness and understanding of the Ali Group companies to increase in every market, so the lesser known brands that are extremely important to us in Europe, Asia and America are equally as well known to the UK industry and consumers. The Ali Group has a deep and wide portfolio of products unique in the industry. Brands such as Ambach and Rosinox are already the equipment of choice for UK consultants and suppliers of major projects both here in the UK and in numerous other countries worldwide, but their profiles in the UK are not that of the predominant brands of Williams or Falcon.

And that’s not just the UK market, it’s also the international market, especially the emerging markets where a lot of the companies don’t currently trade. In this global economic climate, what we have had to do is look at markets that we haven’t really tapped into before. Naturally we are trying to further develop our penetration into these markets.

Ali Group owns 66 brands. Are you in touch with all of them on a weekly or monthly basis?

No. Some of the brands are so successful in their own right that I don’t really need to liaise with them quite so much. Each individual company operates autonomously with its own sales force and export manager. If I get a specific request from a client, whether it be a hotel group, an end-user or a consultant needing something specific, I will put the particular company or factory in contact with them. A lot of the time I can withdraw because there is no advantage in them using me as a fulcrum, they may as well deal directly with the company or factory, especially if it is technical information that is required.

What plans do you have for developing the Ali Group brand while still preserving the individual brand identities of each member company?

We want all the companies to be successful in their own right, but we would like everybody to be aware of the Ali Group and how we as a group help and support those companies in terms of manufacturing, sales and investment. I will be looking at all the market sectors — the established ones and the emerging ones — and I will be looking at the companies in the group to see how we can develop routes to markets. I intend to work even more closely with consultants, groups, chains and end-users this year to examine what business is available.

Why are you keen for your member companies to put more emphasis on the fact they are owned by the Ali Group?

It is a very respected and established brand that has been in existence for over 40 years. I think this gives people confidence that they are not just dealing with an individual company, but a very large and financially sound group, which is particularly relevant in today’s climate. It is a company which is very stable and built on strong foundations. We also take pride in our on-going after-sales service and the various companies will always be able to supply spare parts. You are talking about individual companies that have been established for a long time and, in conjunction with the Ali Group brand, that gives clients reassurance, which is very important.

For example, I went to see a client the other day who had bought a kitchen from an import company that went into receivership within two months of the equipment being purchased and installed. Sadly for this particular client, he has no-one to turn to for his after-sales warranty or servicing of his equipment and has no recourse as the company no longer exists.

Do you ever look at how multinational corporations from other industries deal with managing multiple brands?

Not really, no. All the Ali group companies are autonomous and have their own sales teams, their own R&D — they are their own profit and loss centres. Many other multinational corporations in other industries have a parent company as a guiding light whereas the Ali Group allows autonomy and allows the individual companies to express themselves with their own marketing and sales strategies. So I don’t think a relevant comparison can be made with other major global groups. We have our own philosophy and that is what we like to follow.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the UK equipment market at present?

Obviously the global economic climate. There is a lot of hype over the Olympics at the moment and I think that could possibly affect the 2012 trading year. There is a two-month window for the Olympics and Paralympics and with so much focus on those I don’t think there will be a lot of work undertaken, not just in our industry but in many industries. Of course, I could be wrong. Another challenge is if you look at public sector work in the UK, government funding for those has been cut back quite heavily. Therefore, the new prisons or the new schools aren’t being built. Also, there are not so many refurbishments being undertaken, but there is a flip side — with equipment being retained this helps our service companies.

Given that some companies in the group compete with one another, how do you manage any conflict that arises?

Most of the Ali Group brands in the UK market are sold through wholly-owned subsidiaries and they have their own sales forces and strategies. There are some instances where some of our brands are imported by independent agents and therefore it is left to those companies to compete with each other. My main interest is to ensure the end-user purchases one of the Ali Group brands.

Fact file

Name: Ali SpA
Head office: Milan
Telephone: +39 02 921991
Website: www.aligroup.it
Employees: 7,000
Revenues: EUR1.4bn (est.)
Sales split: Africa, Asia, Aus & NZ 15%; North America 21%; Europe 64%
Brands: 66
Countries present: 24
Founded: 1963
Background: The company was founded by existing chairman Luciano Berti as Comenda, a dishwashing machine manufacturer, before the Ali Group name was eventually introduced and several decades’ worth of acquisition activity ensued.

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