UKWA’s new CEO Clare Bottle talks to The Mover

Oct 15 | 2022

The UK Warehousing Association (UKWA) is Britain’s leading trade association for the warehousing and logistics industry.

Deputy Editor David Jordan caught up with its recently appointed CEO, Clare Bottle, to find out more about the Association and her journey to one of the industry’s top jobs.

I’d arranged to meet Clare at the Institute of Directors in London’s Pall Mall at 3:00PM for a one-hour meeting; one of many in her busy schedule that day. I arrived early and took a comfy seat amidst the IoD’s opulent surroundings where important-looking people sat at tables in twos and threes drinking coffee and planning their next big deal.

Clare came to collect me on the dot of three. We found our own table, ordered a coffee, and began our meeting.

I’d met Clare a few weeks earlier at the everywoman in Transport Awards and was immediately impressed by her engaging personality, intelligence, and enquiring conversation. It’s easy to see why she is so successful.

I began by asking why a young woman, fresh from university with a degree in the history of art, decide to make a career in logistics?

“It really happened by chance,” said Clare. “While at university I got pregnant by accident, so after graduating I needed to get a 9 to 5 job that was compatible with childcare. I was living in Manchester and spotted an ad in the paper for a secretary with British Road Services and they took me on. About the time of my son Alex’s second birthday, I applied to join the company’s Graduate Training Programme and although my degree was in art, I was accepted. I really loved it and since then I’ve never looked back.”

That was in 1994 and Clare has been in logistics ever since, working for a number of prestigious companies including Lafarge Tarmac, where she was national logistics manager before joining Coca-Cola as associate director of warehousing in 2015, and later being headhunted in 2021 for the UKWA job. “I wasn’t looking to move at the time and initially I turned the offer down, because Coca-Cola was such a good employer and I was reluctant to leave,” said Clare. “But the more I thought about it the more I thought it might be really interesting and quite fun, and I decided to make the move.”

Clare now lives in Market Harborough with her schoolteacher husband - coincidentally also called Alex – and I asked her how she copes with being a high-flyer (she laughs) and looking after a family. “In the early days I had a lot of support from my family and friends, both with the practical things like the school run, but also with moral support. They all expected me to go out and work, so I didn’t feel as though I was doing anything wrong. I think that’s very important for women trying to juggle family responsibilities with a career,” said Clare.

So, what is it about logistics and warehousing that’s so appealing? I asked. “I think it’s because it’s ubiquitous,” said Clare. “Whatever business you’re in you have stuff and it needs to be stored and transported. Getting that right can be very complicated: How to structure a supply chain? What’s the best inventory policy? Where’s your centre of gravity? The challenges are enormous, both practically and intellectually, and it’s only logistics if it works. I just find it fascinating.”

The forerunner to the UK Warehousing Association was formed in 1944 and was then known as The National Association of Inland Warehouse Keepers. The idea was to provide warehousing for food following the destruction of facilities at ports during the Second World War. In 1994, on its 50th anniversary, it was renamed UKWA and now represents all sectors of the UK’s warehousing industry, currently estimated to be worth around £100 billion a year.

UKWA - Clare prefers to pronounce it U K W A - now has over 900 members and I was keen to learn more about what the organisation does and the benefits it offers.

“I think I’d have to put it under four different headings,” said Clare. “Firstly, we’re a voice for the industry, we talk to policy makers, the government and the media about things that affect warehousing, so in that sense we are a political organisation.”

“The second point is about raising standards. For example, we have a risk analysis tool that allows our members to identify risks in their businesses and helps them deal with them. It covers things like health and safety, but also financial risks, environmental policies and promotes best practice.”

Clare Bottle UKWA“Creating a sense of community is also a very important part of what we do. This is a big industry and it’s easy to get a bit lost. We want people to feel they are part of a family, that their careers are valued and secure and that their work is vital to the economy. It’s more about heart than head, but it’s important to me and our Board as a strategic intent.”

“Lastly, we are here to help our members with any kind of enquiry or complaint. Whatever it is, we’ll try and find a way to help them,” said Clare.

In the last few minutes of our meeting we talked about some of the challenges facing the industry including recruitment, the impact of Brexit, planning permission for new warehousing and how UKWA is campaigning to get more solar panels installed on warehouse roofs.  The Association has also recently partnered with Tempus NOVO, an organisation that helps low-risk offenders rebuild their lives after leaving prison.

My time was up. The hour had passed very quickly and I had learned a lot about UKWA and its new CEO. It’s just over a year since Clare took on her new role, but with her 25 years’ experience, charisma and winning ways, she is clearly ready and able to meet the challenges ahead. Warehousing and logistics may have traditionally been a male dominated industry, but not anymore. Sometimes things do change for the better.

Photo: Clare Bottle.