Lynne in 1994, celebrating EDME winning the Queen's Award for Export
Taking it in her stride
She never wanted to get behind the wheel. But she has been in the driving seat for 40 years. Lynne Smith is transport manager at natural ingredient company EDME, and the company has just celebrated her four decades of service.
Her story is of someone who worked hard to get where she is, broke the mould back in the 80s, and still breaks the mould now. As managing director Mark Hodson says, “She takes it all in her stride.”
Starting at the Mistley-based company in 1983 as a part-time admin assistant, Lynne’s work involved a bit of logistics. It was then she got “bitten by the transport bug” as she puts it. She took evening classes at Colchester Institute, gaining her Certificate of Professional Competence. She was the only woman in a class of at least 15 would-be transport managers.
She became more and more involved in the transport department, and it wasn’t so long before she was headhunted by a haulage company. At that point, EDME bosses decided she was too good to lose, and offered her the job of managing the department.
“By that time, I was doing the job in all but name anyway. Everyone in the business came to me about anything connected with transport and logistics,” says Lynne - and I got on brilliantly with the drivers. Management was just a logical next step.”
Breaking the mould
However, she recounts how sales reps and people from outside the company would almost always start by addressing themselves to her assistant, Andrew Brinkley.
He would say, “Hmm, you ought to talk to the transport manager about that,” and they would reply, “Ah sorry, I thought you were the manager. Who is he?” Andrew would answer, “She’s sitting right here, next to us.”
As Lynne says, the reps would do a double-take, astonished to find a woman in the top job in transport. “It was comical seeing their reactions,” she says. “Actually, that is something that’s changed. While there aren’t many women in senior positions in this field, people aren’t so surprised at our presence any more!”
A woman with many hats
The role is multi-layered and complex and includes ensuring that the company complies with the terms and conditions of the Operator’s Licence.
Lynne is responsible for everything to do with the trucks and trailers, from purchasing to maintenance. The recruitment, retention and management of drivers is also down to her.
Over and above that, is the all-important movement of goods to and from the site. There’s liaison with farmers providing their loads of raw grain. There’s liaison with customers about their deliveries of EDME’s wholegrain flours, flakes and seed mixes. And she has to be in constant discussions with colleagues in other departments - production, packaging, quality control, warehousing, sales and finance – to ensure that her team can deliver customer orders in full and on time.
Dealing with Brexit
Despite the challenges and cost to the company of Brexit, EDME has managed to maintain its exports. This is in no small part down to the phenomenally hard work of Lynne. She always gives the credit to what she calls her ‘tremendous team’ and ‘superb suppliers’ who all pitched in to sort out the numerous problems.
“But,” as her colleagues say, “anyone who passed the office in the early hours of the morning, or late into the evening during the months of transition will know who shouldered the responsibility.”
The company invested in a warehouse in Zeebrugge to help mitigate some of the issues caused by leaving the EU. Managing the shipping and haulage of goods to this store is now just one more of Lynne’s duties.
Going the extra mile
EDME driver Andrius Normantas describes Lynne as caring, saying “She’s great. She always has too much on her plate, but that never stops her from helping everyone else with whatever they have on their plate. That means all of us will go that extra mile for her.”
Fellow driver Clive Hart adds, “No matter what issue you have, you can count on Lynne to give you a hand in resolving it. She’s as much a friend as she is a manager, treating us all like members of the family.”
The company’s seven trucks cover the length and breadth of the country, taking natural, nutritious ingredients to bakeries and food manufacturers. These customers embrace the fact that almost everything EDME supplies comes from domestically-grown, mainly prime East Anglian, crops.
In further efforts to operate as sustainably as possible, most of EDME trucks are ‘backloaded’ for their journeys home. In other words, rather than driving around empty HGV (and often trailer too), Lynne and her team arrange for the drivers to pick up goods for other companies. They then deliver them en route on the return trip.
It's the people
Lynne’s brother, sister and niece have worked at EDME, but hers is the longest service. When asked what is best about the job and why she’s stayed in the same company and same job for so long, there’s not the slightest hint of hesitation in her response. “It’s the people.”
She says, “I am honoured to work with such incredible people. The drivers in particular: their contribution to the business should never be underestimated. They, and many of our suppliers and customers are more than colleagues. They’re friends. As is Andrew, who has been my right hand man for 26 years. He and the rest of the team are just a delight to work with.”
Lynne is Mistley born and bred, and deeply involved in the local community, organising and helping out with endless activities and events. She is secretary of Mistley RUFC and, just as an example, ensured that the Club played a big part in the Mysteries of Mistley History and Food Trail in the summer.
“In short, Lynne is a superb driving force, maybe not behind the wheel, but certainly making things happen and always delivering results,” concludes Mark. “I’d like to thank her for her unwavering dedication and great work over 4 decades. She was a change-maker at the beginning, and she is still a catalyst for positive change.”