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We asked Sean to give us his insight into our recent Panel Meeting

We asked Sean to give us his insight into our recent Panel Meeting

In fact, I'm going to give you several days in the life of this Panel Member. Select has been one hell of a roller coaster ride, I've been fortunate enough to be involved with a few of the ups and downs.

The little insights I have gained over the years has made me believe on the whole Dulux/AkzoNobel as a company tries to operate as a friendly family business. Sadly, once accountancy becomes involved often good intentions do get diverted and its often the Select scheme that has suffered. We must understand Select is only a minuscule marketing exercise in AkzNobel's huge portfolio. Also, we have rarely had anyone who fully understands how our scheme could benefit the decorator, the homeowner and of course AkzoNobel. As all of us are small owner operators of decorating businesses we often forget this world doesn't really revolve around us, it should yes, but it doesn't, although it's always been my mission to change this.

History lesson over, onwards, I was first asked about a potential Panel Meeting through the Select office about a month ago, once dates were arranged, as Panel Members it's our responsibility to gather some information, usually either by speaking with members or in my case I email quite a few. Along with emailing members, apparently my post meeting e-mail to whoever was running the Select scheme at the time has somewhat of a fabled story within AkzoNobel circles, I'm not sure if its because its usually several pages long, or that it's sent at some ungodly hour, but my emails have been talked about and successive managers of the scheme appear to have been made aware of them. Hence, I was approached to write this "ere blog" !

Suitably armed with questions, I arranged my travel arrangements. Typically, it's a matter of driving 30ish miles, jumping on a train to Euston, travelling across the city to Paddington before going onwards to Slough and whichever hotel we have been installed in. In recent years its usually been a Premier Inn, clean and functional, although rather uninspiring more on this shortly.

This time because my eldest is moving to London we decided to execute a daring plan. The Sunday we would drive my van to London, my son would stay in the East end with family, I would continue via public transport to Slough and the pre-meeting dinner.

Well that was the plan, of course we had looked at expected timings of the journey and factored in comfort breaks, but despite careful preparation things went a bit pear shaped. Various road works via the M6 meant our progress was delayed, even travelling across London became a challenge due to slow running underground and the Slough train.

I knew I was going to be fashionably late for the start of the meal at 7.15pm, the other Panel Members would have already met in the bar for pre-meal drinks and introductions. I messaged one of my fellow Panel Members to tell everyone not to wait for me and asked if at least he would be kind enough to order my meal for my late arrival.

There have always been some negative comments regarding this and I'd like to give you my thoughts. As a Panel Member I'm not disputing we gain free membership, but in exchange for this we do spend a bit of our own time working for the schemes benefit. As mentioned, there is information to collect and I know several Panel Members often receive more messages and phone calls asking for assistance than I personally do. Then there is giving up a day's work for each meeting and the travelling time involved usually the day before on this occasion a Sunday.

With that in mind despite free membership, I don't make a profit from standing on the Panel, I do so as I'm passionate about my trade and this scheme. So, it's nice when Dulux do look after us a little when we are away from home, a nice meal is appreciated, as is a little socialising the night before. I've found when we are valued, we do end up in a nice hotel such as this occasion, which is appreciated.

I arrived at Slough just after 8pm after leaving home at 9.30am, fortunately my timing was good enough that main meals where just being served, and we all sat to eat together. It's a good ice breaker to catch up with old friends and colleagues on this journey, along with meeting new ones from either the Select office or within Akzo itself. It was also great to be joined by two of AkzoNobel’s Directors who were there to meet and get to know us over dinner.

While I try and prevent talking about work at the evening meal, inevitably it often does get mentioned, although there were no spoilers given from the AkzoNobel/Select Office camp, despite us talking late into the evening.

Following morning after a good breakfast we headed of to Dulux Academy in Slough for the meeting, I have always said there should be closer links between the Academy and Select as predominantly we are working towards the same goals, raising the awareness of quality decorating. I do have hopes that this is the start of a new direction and AkzoNobel doing something positive with the scheme for the benefit of all. Firstly, I'm impressed that on this occasion Select has been given to Vickie Mather who has been the manager of the Dulux Academy since its inception and hopefully now has the necessary authority to steer us into the coming years.

The meeting was quite involved and there was a lot of information to take in, after all "we are nowt but simple penters", as in previous meetings we shared information we'd gained from our regions and were given insights into the recent survey members had done, statistics of the scheme were discussed, then a revelation that there would have to be serious changes.

As members we have generally known there needed to be changes, but obviously these were of low priority to the scheme owners. From insights we have seen during this meeting and a discussion with Alistair McAuley, who took time out to talk with us, and share the new 2020 strategy it reinforced that at long last AkzoNobel is going to do something with the longest running scheme of its type that no one has ever heard of.

Now I'm not saying its going to happen overnight, vouchers have recently been distributed to members, should have been out a week earlier, so there is going to be teething issues. There is a plan in place to make minor changes in a relatively short timescale and then further changes will come be phased in as we move forward. A bonus point for me again was that AkzoNobel have finally realised they could do much more with the scheme.

Yes I know I may have been up beat about improvements in the past, but I do believe having a senior manager in charge now we will see some changes over the coming year.