Published: 7 Jun 2019

Former BBC Journalist, Murray Hudson, Managing Director at Gratnells, explains what quality means to him. 

Please tell us about the history of Gratnells

Our company was founded in 1890 by my great-grandfather William Hudson in the East End of London. The wider company made household ironmongery and we were set up as the manufacturing arm by my grandfather Leslie. The company changed its name to Gratnells in 1972, and moved into the manufacture of educational storage, organisation and trays.

What does quality mean to you?

Quality means having a satisfied customer, no matter how demanding they are. Three years ago, I was asked where our quality department was by a customer visiting from Japan – and I realised that we did not have one. From that day onwards, quality went from ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’ for us. 

Quality is at the centre of my values as a person, and this is firmly reflected within the values and vision for Gratnells as a business. Without this, I believe that the honesty and trust in our brand that we have worked so hard to build with the customer could not exist.

Quality management has helped Gratnells along a transformational journey

How do you encourage others to focus on quality?

Quality management is now part of everything we say, do and think. When visiting Gratnells’ UK site – in Harlow, England – it is apparent that the importance of quality is everywhere, from the Furniture Makers’ Company Manufacturing Guild Mark signs that adorn our entrances, to the quality policy displayed throughout the organisation.

The importance of quality is instilled into our workforce from the minute someone joins the company. The induction programme places a strong emphasis on right-first-time and producing a quality product better, faster and for less. This is underpinned by the learning culture that has been implemented within the business. There is an emphasis on quality and continuous improvement within all appraisals – whereby staff are encouraged to make recommendations on how to improve products and overall quality. I hold quarterly meetings and presentations with all employees, where the importance of quality to the business is always within the first few slides.

Quality management is integrated into the manufacturing of our products from inception, with our robust NPI [New Product Introduction] process ensuring that risks are mitigated and operations are mistake-proofed before launch. This, in turn, leads to a greater synergy and morale for those involved.

What advice would you give to quality professionals who want to be heard by senior management?

They should tell the boss that the future of their business absolutely depends on it. To ensure that your voice is heard, make sure that you base your decisions on facts and objective evidence – quantifying this in monetary value and providing datasets never fails to catch the attention!

As a person: be confident, and be sure to tell your boss how your decision will drive the business forward. Ensure, too, that if mistakes are made, they are reviewed and learned from.

How has quality benefited your organisation?

Quality management has helped Gratnells along a transformational journey: from aspiring to conform to ISO 9001 standards to really understanding how excellence in manufacturing can be achieved. When we decided to implement the standard, we made the decision that the policies and procedures needed to be created and driven internally and not by a consultancy company. We recruited a quality professional, Lee Wood, and we now have the leadership, governance and experience needed to guide and ensure that all aspects of quality are implemented on a daily basis. 

What skills do you think are crucial for a quality professional?

I would say, patience, excellence in communication, attention to detail – plus patience, and more patience.A quality professional must be versatile in their approach and must be able to effectively communicate with everybody in the organisation – from working alongside, and mentoring, the operators on the shop floor, through to conveying key information to the Senior Management Team and Board.

A pragmatic and tenacious approach to problem-solving is an essential skill for a quality professional. Without effectively establishing the root cause of a problem, the same issues will just repeat themselves – undoubtedly at a detrimental cost to the business. 

Lee Wood, Quality Manager at Gratnells, talks about his experience at the organisation

“When the opportunity to work for Gratnells was presented, the scope of the job immediately excited me. Being given the opportunity and responsibility to create and implement a quality management system at the age of 30 is every young quality professional’s ambition.

“There is a refreshing approach adopted by senior management at Gratnells for empowering employees by involving them in the decision-making process. This means complete trust when establishing quality criteria, managing supply chains and creating specifications.

“One of my favourite things about working for Gratnells is the engagement with the community. By having close ties with the local engineering college, I get the opportunity to speak and engage with the students about quality and continuous improvement.

“Gratnells is also aligned with me ethically. It is great working for a company that supplies to the education sector. We are actively conscious of our environmental impact and are committed to a number of environmental initiatives such as Operation Clean Sweep, with a view of working with our supply chains to also commit.”