Powerful Beginnings

29 March 2009 (Last Updated March 29th, 2009 18:30)

From a humble start, Duncan Seaton has swiftly moved through the ranks at electronic company Interpower Components. He talks to Andrew Tunnicliffe about his career progression, the business and today's economic climate.

Powerful Beginnings

Duncan Seaton joined Interpower Components working in the company's warehouse when it first moved to his resident town of Milton Keynes in 1999. A subsidiary of Interpower Corporation of Oskaloosa, IA, US, the firm has now been supplying international companies with exceptional products and services for over 30 years. Demonstrating keenness and a sense of responsibility earned Seaton a series of promotions and six years later he became general manager for the company.

What does your role comprise?

My role has changed in the ten years I've been with Interpower. At the moment, it's about trying to retain existing business and win new accounts in these difficult times.

So are you finding the current economic situation difficult?

Yes – I think that anyone in manufacturing, or supplying goods to manufacturers, would say the same right now.

How do you envisage the next 12 to 18 months panning out?

I am hopeful that our service levels, fast response and ability to do what is right for our customers will help us to retain what we have and gain new orders. However, there needs to be a customer base out there, (in Europe), and it's going to be a very different market-place once we're through this.

Interpower is still a relatively young company, having been formed in 1992. Can you give me a brief rundown of what it does?

The company was originally based in Bognor Regis, moving to Milton Keynes in 1999 and to our own building in 2005. Our small staff of four is the European sales and distribution office for parts made by our parent in the US. 95% of the power entry components that we sell come from our parent company, the remaining 5% from other British and European manufacturers.

We concentrate on providing our customers with the best and fastest service that we can. We have our own manufacturing department that is working on a one-week lead time at present and a policy of no minimum order requirements. If our customers need a small quantity of a specific part fast to satisfy their customer deliveries, then we are confident that we can support them.

Interestingly, you joined the company working in the warehouse; this is somewhat unconventional. How did your career progress from there?

I joined the company when it moved from Bognor Regis to Milton Keynes, back in 1999. I have lived in the MK area for most of my life. I often tell friends that the company moved to me. After a few years, the person responsible for the customer service role moved on and I made clear my desire to be considered for the role.

When the incumbent GM at the time gave confirmation of his retirement date, I was given the position of assistant GM and was trained to take my present position in March of 2005.

There must be some advantages to doing it this way, what are they?

In a small company such as this you do get to experience a lot of your colleagues' roles and tasks. By working in most of those roles in my early years, I have the experience of much of what goes on. That experience has benefited me but I also have a strong team here.

How important is it to have a strong and experienced team around you? Is it critical to the long-term success of a company, regardless of size?

Each company has its own identity, its own culture. As long as the experiences and the values in the team-member fit, then yes.

Has that policy been altered to deal with the current climate?

Not at all. In fact, we are concentrating on these factors more in these tough times, to satisfy our present customers' needs and to try to gain new business.

"My motivation is to make the most of each day, achieving what you have set out to do, whether it be at work or for your family."

At university you studied business studies, what led you into that particular field?

I had studied it at A-Level, enjoyed what I had learnt and it seemed a natural progression.

Were there ever any times that you wished you had, perhaps, chosen another career path?

No. I was never one to pick a specific career and devote my life to it. I went to University, received a good general education and took the opportunities that came to me. I don't tend to worry about what could have been, instead look forward to what the next chapter may be.

If you could have one day in your 'dream' job what would it be?

To run out at Upton Park, home of West Ham Utd Football Club, and play 90 minutes. However, at my age that could turn into a nightmare.

I would guess that football is a big part of your life. Did you ever play and what do you think the lessons are that can be taken from the field?

Yes, it is a big part of my life. I was the typical boy looking forward to training through the week, watching on a Saturday and playing on a Sunday. I was playing three times a week when I had to stop due to an injury.

I have met a lot of good friends from being part of a team. We all had a job to do as players but any good team will have someone to back you up if you find yourself 'out of position'. You have trust in your team mates that someone will instinctively get there to cover your mistake.

You'll get a telling-off, but only after the ball has been cleared. That's something that any good team in business should do. Deal with the situation, restore order and then question where the performance can be improved. For this to happen, you, as the individual, need to trust and be trusted by the rest of the team.

Any funny moments over the years?

One thing that always makes me laugh when I think about it is one of my colleagues, (who was quite forgetful), emptying his briefcase one morning to find his diary, his glasses case and a large container of Canderel. I wonder if the laptop was in the kitchen cupboard.

"Learn to listen well. People learn in different ways but I like to think that I can pick up the key points of a concept from listening."

What is your motivation to get up in the morning?

My son calling 'Daddy' from the space right next to my head. Usually before 7am, rarely quietly. My motivation is to make the most of each day, achieving what you have set out to do, whether it be at work or for your family.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

With my two pre-school children, they are my spare time. I love being with them, it brings you back to earth, down from the stresses of life.

Is there one particular lesson you have learned from your work that helps in your personal life?

I am a member of Vistage, a CEO organisation, and I have learnt so many skills from this forum that I have applied to my work and family life.

If I have to pick one or two specifics, I would choose time and finance management.

Finally, back to your work. If you were to meet yourself on your first day is there any advice you could offer that you think you've picked up during your career?

Learn to listen well. People learn in different ways but I like to think that I can pick up the key points of a concept from listening. You can also gauge emotion and feelings when you listen, in a better way than from an email or a text.

This will develop your response and could change the whole direction of what could be a critical conversation. Also, allow the other person to finish – you'll never know what you may have missed otherwise.