Faces Behind DNDP: Michael Ross

by Allana Grant

5 months ago

In the run up to DNDP’s 5th trading anniversary on the 7th December, we are launching our ‘Faces Behind DNDP’ blog series. We will introduce you to the inspirational men or women who have played a pivotal role in making the company the success it is today.

“DNDP has the potential to be incredibly successful as an employer of disabled people and as a commercial entity; in the delivery of our courier, as well as our digital services”

First up in the hot seat, is our extremely driven and dedicated operations manager of three years, Michael Ross. He managed to find a few spare minutes earlier this week, between answering phones, taking bookings and driving, to share his DNDP story with me.

Michael the manager

I begin our chat by asking Michael to describe a typical working day for DNDP’s operations manager. I receive a rueful smile in reply, and it hits me then, just how much of a dim, and distant memory my own experiences of the pressures of running a small business has become:

“No day is the same.” He says, “as with any small business, no title or position is set in stone. Both Bruce and I have to be salesman, mentor, telephonist, bookkeeper and courier driver; all while problem solving & forward planning. Basically, we do whatever needs to get done.”

Having previously managed a technology business in the south of England, and driven a taxi for a time on his return to Scotland; working with DNDP represented a complete change of direction in Michael’s professional life. It was his first foray in to the world of social enterprise for one thing, and more specifically, his first experience of disability working.

“My wife, Kelly, who was administration manager for DNDP, introduced me to Bruce in 2014.” He explains how his appointment came about, “initially the discussion was based round digital marketing; however, it was agreed this wasn’t my forte. So in November of that year, Bruce offered a part time role as Operations Manager. This I accepted and I then started to review the business proposition and processes.”

By January 2015, with Michael having spent a mere three months in his new role, it had become abundantly clear just how much of an asset to the business he would be, and he moved to full time hours. This allowed him to concentrate his efforts on proceduralising the business processes and bringing increased focus to its service offering: with the eventual outcome being the launch of the same say courier service.

“Once we had the service ingrained into the business, we then set about securing contracts, and we were successful with J & J and the Scottish Prison Service; to name but a few”, Michael continues with more than a hint of pride in his tone.

Ever-changing responsibilities

Safe to say his role as Operations Manager, has covered a very broad remit over the last three years. Consequently, flexibility and adaptability have become his two watch words. He regards these particular qualities as being crucial to the success of a business like DNDP: the type of tasks he has to complete may well be fairly routine for the most part; however, the circumstances of each new day are unique. The challenges and pitfalls are varied, and no two decisions that management have to make are comparable. As Michael tells me, it is a situation which changes constantly, in conjunction with the demands of an expanding business:

“As the business grows, in customer base, contractual obligations, staffing & turnover, the role and responsibility changes. Considerations move from a start-up situation to a growth situation, and the priorities move in tandem.”

Working for a social enterprise

Given that Michael has managed businesses in both private and third sectors, how does he feel they compare? The key difference for him, as he explains, lies in how the decision-making process can impact employees, as well as members of a local community:

“Within a social enterprise such as DNDP, considering the social goal, the ramifications of a poor decision can be morally & unconscionably disastrous for all concerned.”

During his time with DNDP, Michael has also witnessed first-hand just how far removed from reality the preconceptions about small businesses and disabled workers actually are. The natural assumption being that large businesses are more complex, and that disabled staff are more prone to time off work or are unable to contribute to the business in the way that their non-disabled colleagues do.

He challenges these assumptions vociferously, saying:

“They couldn’t be more wrong. The small fledgling business is just as complex as a large organisation; just in different ways. The day –to- day stress levels are the same; just for different reasons. Our employee attendance rate is exceptionally high. Both short and long-term sickness occurs very occasionally. Three years on, I am still surprised, considering the mix of disabilities across the company, how little sick time is claimed.”

DNDP’s social impact

As we move on to the subject of DNDP’s social mission and how the company has impacted its employees and local community down the years, Michael reflects that measuring success in these respects is not as cut and dried as it might first seem. Especially considering that each member of the DNDP team, regardless of position, determines success differently and that the management has also had to re-assess the business model on a few occasions.

“That being said,” he continues, “DNDP has created long term meaningful employment, for many people marginalised in the labour market, within a very competitive and congested business sector. On almost every occasion, someone who has carried out their work placement with us has been offered a job. What’s not to like about that!”

With anyone who is as driven as Michael however, there will always be room for improvement, and he admits that in an ideal world, the business would have grown a little quicker. It is in this moment, as he describes the complexities of ensuring the commercial side of things stacks up with delivering the social aim, that I am reminded of just how much of a difficult and daunting undertaking, managing a social enterprise like DNDP can be:

“It is a delicate balancing act between the commercial and the social, one that both Bruce and I try to balance between us. Grinning he quips, I’ll leave it up to you to decide who is responsible for what!”

A future full of promise

The one objective both Michael and Bruce do have in common however, regardless of the social / commercial argument, is their desire for DNDP to be professionally successful. Over the last three years, they have worked, with the support of dedicated staff, to build a solid model of professional, customer focussed service, which will prove key to the company’s future success.

Speaking of the future, how does Michael see it panning out for DNDP? Ever the pragmatist at heart, his hopes centre, first and foremost, on growth:

“I would love to see the business grow to become a more widely known organisation, as well as being recognised for excellence in the provision of both service & employment opportunities. Once you witness people who have struggled to find employment, through no fault of their own, finally get a chance to show what they can do; it is hard not to want to replicate that as much as possible. I do believe that DNDP has the potential to be incredibly successful as an employer of disabled people and as a commercial entity, in the delivery of our courier, as well as our digital services. It will just take time, determination, energy & focus.”