Meet Our People: Tom Edwards
In our series #WeAreCustomsSupport, you will meet the people behind Customs Support. We value our colleagues and the work they do. In this series, we will interview the people who are always ready to assist you with importing or exporting your goods without worries. Next up in this series is Tom Edwards, who is the UK import operations manager.
Who are you?
I’m Tom Edwards, the UK import operations manager, and I am based in the Felixstowe office. I have been with Customs Support since the acquisition of UK Customs Solutions, and was with UKCS when they were established in 2014.
What does a UK import operations manager do?
My role is to oversee the import teams across our UK offices, liaising with managers to ensure that we are following processes, meeting standards, and keeping our customers happy in our day-to-day work.
The other side of what I do is the compliance checks. This is where we review the work that we have already done and make sure that we are working with high accuracy, using the correct information on the declarations, and keeping our clients on the right side of HMRC.
What does your typical working day look like?
Currently, there is a lot of travelling to the other offices involved. We are processing the integration of the Rochester and Dover offices into the Customs Support way of working, so I am collaborating with their managers on the best way to do that without disrupting the work that they are doing.
The more traditional parts of my day are the one-to-one meetings with the people who work with me, making sure that they are happy with what they are doing, they have what they need to do their work, and that everyone is pushing in the same direction. I am big on the team ethos and getting the guys feedback, and we have created our project objectives around that two-way conversation.
What is a big change you’ve managed?
I oversaw a team of five before Brexit when I was with UKCS. Obviously, Brexit was a period of growth for the UK customs industry and I went from overseeing that team of five to having different teams in different branches. Those offices had different people, different ways of working, and different shift patterns, so it was a challenge to get us all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Now, we have joined the Customs Support Group along with other acquisitions, so the challenge is far greater. We need to get every branch and every operator to change their processes to work the Customs Support way, whilst also working to improve our digitalisation so we can adapt to the ever-changing landscape of customs.
It is a lot of hoops to jump through, but there is a real sense of achievement throughout the team when we have been able to jump through those hoops.
What do you think is key to the team’s success?
We have only been allowed to achieve things in a positive way because of the environment which we are working in. Even if it looks good on paper, you need the team to be happy and feel accomplished for the win to count.
What enables that at Customs Support is that we are transparent with each other. I can reach out to anyone I need to and communicate with multiple offices to get what I need. We have that free flow of information from the top to the bottom and vice-versa. The directors and managers across the whole organisation are really good at sharing the information we need, and then trusting everyone at each level to do what they need to do or ask for help when they need it.
It's a big of a jigsaw, but we’ve taken the time to audit everyone’s roles, get our SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures] written down, and ensure that everyone knows both their job and the team’s objectives. It’s that environment in which we will continue to grow.
What do you do when you're not a work, and how does that influence your work skills?
I’ve played rugby since I was about nine years old, and still play for my local club. I also watch live games whenever I can. Along with rugby I have a young family and my spare time goes on making memories with them.
Playing rugby and raising kids have really made me into a team person. I’ve not necessarily been the captain at all times, but I’ve always prided myself on someone that has led by example. I want to show both of my children that you can achieve anything you want to in life if you work hard enough at it.
So, in this role I’m in now, it’s the example that I set to people who potentially want my position in he years to come. It’s being that person that my guys can trust to come to when they need that support or have a problem that we can solve by working together.
I think the ethos of developing your skills has also been very important. As I said, I’ve not always been the captain and I had to learn to be the leader in the spotlight, too. I’ve often been the quietest guy in the room in my early career, and as I’ve grown I’ve taken on that confident persona in my role so that I can speak up for both myself and the guys who are working with me.
No matter where you are, issues will crop up and you need to know you can rely on the guy next to you, and I work hard to be that team player that people can rely on.
You talk a lot about personal development. Do you feel like there are a lot of opportunities to develop more personal skills within customer support?
One hundred percent, so long as you’re willing. I felt ready to take on this role when I was offered it, but the reality is that you aren’t completely ready for a role that you haven’t been in. sometimes, you need to have that period of being uncomfortable to learn what you are doing and get confident at it.
There are a lot of things happening at Customs Support, and as new departments are made and new roles emerge, there will be times when we need someone who seems like a right fit and is trustworthy to look after it. We are all supported by those around us and they want us to succeed, so the only block is stepping out of your comfort zone and taking on the learning curve.
We have had a lot of success with this in Felixstowe since the acquisition, where the directors left and there was a chain of promotion. People who were doing a great job stepped up and they’ve exceeded expectations. There is a wealth of talent out there that just need the support to take those steps.
For me personally, I’ve had to think about things I never had to when I was overseeing a small team and make some big decisions. I also empower my guys to make decisions instead of dictating to them how it is. No one wants that. If a decision goes wrong, we fix it, we learn from it and we know what we can do better next time. That’s how we grow as both a team and as individuals.
What do you think is the strongest quality across your UK team that makes it work so well?
The variety of experience and opinions. When something comes up, someone will likely have dealt with it or there is a healthy debate about how we can go about it in the right way. We don’t want a guy at the top of the team and “yes men” below them. A healthy business has strong individuals that all bring something to the party, and we have that.
The other side of it is trust. As I said before, you need to be able to trust the guy next to you and that people around you want you to succeed. That means trusting each other’s experience and also knowing it isn’t ego or one-upmanship that’s causing the debate.
You work with a Europe wide network. If you were to visit a location of Customs Support, which country would you want to see first and why?
Germany, for a few reasons. One, I have never been there, so I’d like to go somewhere new and different. Two, I’m a bit of a history geek and there’s a lot to see there. The Berlin Wall, war memorials, and other remnants that would be interesting to go see.