The International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) has a new CEO. Peter Douglas takes the reins of the training and safety association, after former CEO Tim Whiteman stepped down earlier this year. In his first interview in the role, he speaks to Euan Youdale about his past and plans.
Peter Douglas’ 28 years of experience in the access industry is more than the lifetime of many, if not most, MEWP markets around the world. Combine that with a pioneering role in IPAF’s arguably most active and influential country council, the UK, and you have, what Douglas modestly describes as a ‘good fit’ - namely his new position as CEO and managing director of the Federation.
His career started in late 1990 at the UK’s Instant Zip Up, before moving across to Access Rental, where he was an area sales manager. The company was soon acquired by Nationwide Access, which had plans to build a comprehensive countrywide business. Indeed, it did, and is now the owner of the UK’s largest fleet of MEWPs - around 15,000 units.
Nationwide was floated on the stock market in 1996 and used the cash injection to expand further, including a new truck mount depot in Yorkshire that Douglas took on as manager. By 2001 he was running Skylift – the vehicle mount division of Nationwide at the time. In 2003 he was additionally charged with heading up sales for the group and went on to become commercial director, as the company, now owned by Lavendon Group, continued to grow through acquisition. His final promotion was to UK operations director and head of the specialist vehicle division, before he resigned from the company in 2018, the year after Lavendon was acquired by Loxam Group.
Since then Douglas has been at the helm of Pullman Fleet Services, part of the UK’s Wincanton Group, as its managing director. However, the opportunity to return to the access industry, this time in a global role, closely aligned to safety and training, was one that he couldn’t resist.
Having pipped around 50 other candidates to the post of CEO of IPAF, a role he officially started on 1 December, Douglas now plans to use his experience to take the Federation to the next level.
His first involvement with IPAF came about back in 2007, “because I was a frustrated member. I was unhappy at certain changes that had been made over training categories, particularly.”
He spoke to IPAF about his concerns and was told, ‘if you want to make a difference then get involved’. With no further ado Douglas joined the UK’s then Hirers Committee and went on to organise regional meetings and provide presentations. He was asked to join the IPAF council in 2011 and the Federation’s board in 2013. He then went on to form the UK Country Council, and became its inaugural chairman in 2012. “At the time I thought the UK was getting a bit of a rough deal, as IPAF became more internationalised.”
The UK still accounts for around 35% of IPAF’s membership, and while that percentage is reducing each year as it expands globally, the UK remains at the heart of the organisation. “The UK industry is one of the most advanced in the world and the people on that council are some of the most active and innovative,” Douglas explains.
“Internationally, IPAF can take a lead from the UK. At IPAF board meetings we always look at what’s going on in the country councils, and generally call on the UK as they have some of the most advanced initiatives, to the highest levels of safety and governance, and we want to recreate that in other parts of the world.”
His links to IPAF ended Christmas 2018, following his resignation from Nationwide Platforms. Under IPAF rules, everyone on its councils or board must be employed by a full IPAF member company.
“It was a massive wrench,” says Douglas, “I had been at the same company for almost 27 years, and what that made it more difficult was the connection to IPAF, which I enjoyed and got a lot out of personally.”
The opportunity to rejoin the industry and IPAF, this time as its CEO, came as an unexpected, yet very welcome opportunity, after former CEO Tim Whiteman stepped down. He was replaced by interim CEO and a past IPAF president Andy Studdert, while the association looked for a new leader. “I found out that Tim Whiteman had gone,” says Douglas, “I thought about it for about 48 hours and sent my CV to the board.”
IPAF has grown substantially since its formation in 1983 to become a truly global organisation. Nevertheless, there is still plenty to do as it attempts to get a real foothold in North America and take advantage of the incredible expansion of powered access equipment in Asia, to name just two markets
IPAF’s core offering is training and the PAL Card, which it issues to those who pass its operator training course. “I think people across the world are waking up to access. And a lot of countries are at different stages of development. Twenty years ago, in the UK, there was no such thing as an IPAF PAL Card, now you cannot get on a building site without the card,” he adds, “I remember when Germany really took off, only a few years ago, and now it’s huge from an IPAF point of view.
“We haven’t got that in all other parts of the world but it’s snowballing. The Middle East is catching on quickly, and Asia is starting - everyone there wants to be a member, although the level of training is not there yet, and the number of cards is minimal, but expect that to follow.”
One of the association’s greatest challenges comes in conquering the US. As the oldest access equipment market in the world, it pre-dates IPAF and offers a vast array of training via the manufacturers and major rental companies based in the country. Unlike Asia, where IPAF has been present from the very start and is seen as synonymous with the industry, the North American Regional Council faces stiff competition. And, as Douglas says, it has been difficult to build momentum. “The IPAF team over there is doing a great job. We have plenty of membership and a really active council but in terms of the training regime, which is only a part of what IPAF does, it doesn’t seem to have struck home.
In the US, he adds, “It tends to be large manufacturers with their own standards or rental companies creating their own courses to fill the void. They could really do with a common standard there.”
Douglas’ intention is to focus on the market first-hand and find out what is blocking progress. “I have had a few people reach out to me with offers of support from the US and from different parts of world. So, I am keen to listen and I will be doing a lot of listening in my first few weeks and months.”
… on associations
Douglas is also keen to work with other associations around the world. “Historically, I don’t think that IPAF has been brilliant at collaborating and cooperating with other organisations.
“IPAF doesn’t have all the best ideas. We have some great ideas and we do many great things. But other organisations have some good initiatives too. It should not just be about: ‘it is only good if it is invented here’ - let’s share those ideas, let’s cooperatively get involved in things that we all need and maybe save some money as well.”
… on auditing
IPAF also prides itself on its extensive global auditing system. “It’s massively important to ensure we are all working to the same standards. It’s a difficult thing if you think your competitors have the advantage because they are not doing things properly. IPAF is there to police that, to ensure that everyone is doing it correctly, not just legally but to the IPAF standard. IPAF has expelled members for not doing things properly in the past.”
… on the UK
If there has been any criticism of IPAF, it has come from the likes of the UK membership, which has felt in the past that the UK generates more revenue than any other country but does not see a return on that investment in equal measure. Although, Douglas believes, such concerns were mostly allayed by the formation of the UK Country Council.
He adds, “I am really clear on it, but I think some people have not been; they feel we spend all the money the UK makes in trying to break into the US. I suppose, to a degree, I can understand that but they do benefit from the training revenue, and we use some of the surplus to spread the word and promote the safe use of powered access, and I think that the UK membership should be proud of that.”
Expanding on IPAF’s role as a not-for-profit entity, Douglas says, “IPAF provides the knowledge, materials and framework to provide a common standard of training. That’s what we are doing. Any surplus that IPAF makes each year goes back into the safety initiatives and promotional work we do that hopefully makes the industry a safer place.”
For the full interview, with further insights into accident reporting and the future of technology in the access industry, view the November/December issue, available on the AI website.