Noor Ali is UK & Ireland Commercial and Customer Experience Manager, Air Products who have an office based in Crewe business park and he has over 22 years experience in the sector.
What’s the secret to your success?
Building effective and motivated teams. I’ve been with Air Products for seven years now and am lucky to have more than a 200-strong team of dedicated individuals working with me to ensure we can really add value to manufacturing and engineering businesses, both here in the North West and across the UK. I strongly believe that a successful and aligned team can achieve anything!
Who in your life has influenced you most and why?
My wife Emma. We’ve been married for 27 years and are very different personalities – a real case of opposites attract. Being so different to one another has helped me to view life from the perspective of others. At work, the ability to put myself in the shoes of a variety of different customers and really understand the challenges and concerns they face has been key in developing long-term relationships that move beyond the traditional client-supplier role.
What do you do for fun?
An area that my wife and I are very aligned on is motorsport. We both participate in the Classic Marques Speed Championship, which is a UK-wide hill climb and sprint championship. We compete against each other, which is highly amusing for us and our fellow competitors. We are also the charity managers for the Championship, raising funds for our nominated charity (this year it’s Prostate Cancer UK) from competitors and supporters.
What’s the best bit of business advice you’ve been given?
That it’s acceptable to make mistakes in business so long as you don’t make them twice. Often, people are afraid to push themselves in case they get it wrong. I believe in creating a culture where people work collaboratively to really push the boundaries and explore what is possible. I love a ‘can-do’ approach and it’s a culture that we encourage at Air Products. The focus is on making extra, ordinary – it’s a great mission to live and work by!
If you could have a one-to-one with anyone past or present who would it be with and why?
That would be Ari Vatenen, who is in my view the greatest ever rally driver. What I admire is that, at his peak, he combined a high level of personal discipline but pushed himself beyond the limit at every event.
What is the biggest challenge in your industry right now?
The industrial gas sector supplies a very diverse market which in many ways is a real advantage. It does mean however that there is always work to do in understanding and predicting which markets will grow, decline or emerge and where best to direct focus and energy at any given time.
The industry also faces a perception challenge – both among customers and potential recruits. All too often, industrial gas businesses are viewed simply as suppliers and relationships become very transactional.
Our focus is on establishing long-term partnerships with our customers that support their drive for greater efficiency and profitability. That’s not always an easy proposition for potential recruits either. Industrial gas can seem like a very dry topic – the reality is that it touches every aspect of modern life – from medical oxygen to the automotive sector, frozen food, the space program, hydrogen fuel and sports performance. It really is the unsung lynch pin of British business.
Tell us about the most memorable client or customer that you have interacted with during your years in business?
There have been so many! What I love about this business is the diverse nature of the companies and individuals we engage with – from start-ups and SMEs right through to global businesses, no one day is ever the same.
These relationships really matter and I will never forget one of my early interactions with a customer that proved just that. I had inadvertently sold them a product that wasn’t suitable for their application. I was hugely apologetic and made amends with a prompt supply of the right product at no cost penalty to the customer. That resolution built a real bond and they have remained loyal to this day, twenty years after that initial mistake. It taught me that no one is perfect, but it’s the way you handle challenges and issues that makes the difference.
How is Brexit affecting/going to affect your business?
That’s a difficult question to answer! We have a very diverse customer base and so far, we hear a lot of uncertainty but not negativity. Many customers are continuing with their investment and growth plans which is encouraging. Of course, we have put in comprehensive plans regarding our production and sourcing of products to safeguard supply to our customers – reliability, in our sector, is king
Where do you believe are the biggest opportunities right now for your business and in your sector?
I think there are several. Bringing the digital experience that we have as consumers into the business to business world is one and certainly many of our customers are looking for guidance and support in making Industry 4.0, otherwise known as the fourth industrial revolution, a reality. Scanning the horizon for new applications where industrial gases can bring value to our lives through greater safety, enhanced productivity or improving the environment is another key area for me.
How do you motivate your staff?
I always aim to be approachable, fair and encouraging. A positive and consistent attitude goes a long way and is infectious! I also love to see people’s careers develop within the business – a positive culture is something we really focus on here.
What do you most enjoy about running your business?
We often say in Air Products “every day is a school day” – hardly a new expression but it’s so poignant for our industry and business. The people around me are passionate, committed and hugely knowledgeable. After 22 years in the sector I still learn something new every day and that’s a very motivational thing.