Interview with Andrew Cawthorne: Thorny but exciting path into the Cleaning Industry

Today is truly a happy day! Because we have a success of interesting talking with Andrew Cawthrone – a great expert and man, whose thoughts are positive and actions are inspiring.

Andrew Cawthrone went a long career path, trying himself as Export Manager and even as owner in the textile industry. And all this in order to be in a French cleaning company, to play a major role in Kennedy Hygiene, to create AK3PI own company, to develop in the Cleaning Industry and to make an invaluable contribution for determination of cleanliness and disinfection importance for modern society.

Andrew, you worked at Kennedy Hygiene for more than 15 years before you retired, and are especially known in the industry for your time there. Please share a brief story about the company’s creation.

John Kennedy designed and brought to market a textile roller towel cabinet, and 60 years later this continues be a Kennedy speciality. 40 years ago Kennedy became part of the Elis group, and has been able to evolve with the times by reacting quickly to changes in market trends and introducing technical innovations, with an ever growing range of quality products.

It will be interesting for our readers to discover more of Andrew Cawthorne. That’s why we would like to provide insight into your professional activity. How long have you been working in the cleaning industry? What attracts you personally in the cleaning industry?

My early professional life revolved around textiles, starting as export manager for a world renowned lace manufacturer in Calais where I worked for 5 years, with a massive territory covering  five Asian countries, Spain, Portugal, Scandinavia and South Africa! Following a buy out, I decided to start my own company, which specialised in knitwear, embroidered blouses, and jeans. 10 years later I was facing intense competition from China and was forced into closing the company. That was when I had my first experience in the cleaning industry, one of the products I sold was cabinet roller towels, made in France, which brought me into contact with the major European laundries. After almost 10 successful years there, I was looking for a new challenge, and there was an immediate connection with the laundry business and the Kennedy towel cabinet. The rest is history. I have few regrets in life, but were I to have a second bite at the cherry, I would have been 100 % involved in the washroom and cleaning sector from the start. Why? Simply because it is a dynamic, innovative sector with great people at its core, playing a key role in human (and animal) hygiene.

Andrew, we know that you worked with Kennedy for more than 15 years, and this, for a moment, is a quarter of a century! What was the company like when you joined it and how do you see it now?

The major changes at Kennedy over the time I was there were a) a focus on design and quality b) innovation in automated and connected dispensers c) expansion through bespoke products for major players internationally. More generally, the same trends towards innovation and automation can be seen throughout the cleaning sector, with specific focus on procedures. Despite movements in the right direction, a regret is still the lack of recognition of the general public towards the positive impact of the sector on their daily lives.

Of course, we would like to cover the issue of Brexit and its impact on the cleaning business in Britain, but the world is changing quickly and sometimes quite unpredictably … And, as soon as the UK left the EU, we got the news about the pandemic which had rapidly spread across the world. Therefore, we ask the question this way: how did the above and other economic and political factors that followed them affect your business?

Without getting too political, Brexit happened too fast and without sufficient planning or even sufficient insight into the economic consequences which involved all sectors of life in general, mainly for the worst. The impact on logistics both for imports and exports was massive, and this is sure to continue for several years before becoming stabilised at a sunstantially higher cost than pre-Brexit. The pandemic served only to exacerbate this situation, with panic buying and reactions on all fronts. As with all crisis situations, there were winners and losers!

Not so long ago you founded the company AK3PI, which sells not only hygiene products, but also medical. Of course, the question naturally arises: what was the impetus for founding your own AK3PI company? Did the pandemic play a decisive role in making such a decision?

The pandemic was decisive in my decision to create AK3PI, as Kennedy had already taken on someone for my position, and I could no longer work as intended as a consultant for sales development due to the draconian travel restrictions and potential risk to health at the time. Setting up my own company was an obvious solution to keeping active, keeping my many contacts alive, whilst setting my own agenda. Like many of my colleagues involved in sales, the main difference is the way business is done, face-to-face situations with customers has been impossible, and not as satisfying as conducting meetings in front of a computer screen!

Tell us about AK3PI: what was the purpose in starting your own distribution company and what products are presented?

AK3PI has two main purposes. The first is to distribute innovative niche products which are successful in their home markets but are finding difficulties with exporting. Examples would be automatic disinfection systems, air purifying systems, non aerosol ambient perfume diffusion, waterless urinals. The second is to distribute core products – PPE, paper, soap, dispensers, urinal screens – which have proven quality at prices generating significant cost savings. 

As your company is eager to evolve, keep pace with the times and expand its boundaries, we are very interested in your plans for the near future. Please share.

AK3PI is only 9 months old and still working hard on the “back office”, the main impetus (now that the supply chain is sorted) being to set up a credible website. The aim is to extend partnerships throughout Europe with like-minded people, pay the bills, whilst having fun!

As soon as the company starts to sell, I will invest in employees to generate more sales. My biggest challenge is to make people aware of the potential of my products to save them money, time, or both. I have been very fortunate in that I have proactive support from the Chamber of Commerce.

Let’s move from the more general to the particular. We heard that you know several languages. As Voltaire said, “Knowing many languages means having many keys to one lock.” What languages do you speak and what kind of lock does that open?

A question right up my street! For my generation of Brits, speaking modern languages was generally considered a waste of time, «all our customers speak English». Luckily, this attitude has evolved for the better, especially with the younger generation. Even though English will get you safely around the world, the knowledge of other languages opens up new horizons into the culture and personality of the people you are with. When I traveled to Japan with the lace company, I had learned to count and a few basic courtesies, and it was a complete ice-breaker! I will always learn a few basic phrases of any new country I visit, most people appreciate the respect behind the gesture. I speak six languages from a fluent to a level of being able to communicate sufficiently and am learning Turkish for fun and intellectual stimulation, especially as my main PPE suppliers are based there.

Andrew, at the age of 67 you decided to set up your own company! Many people are already retired at this age. Where do you draw energy, how do you relax and get inspired?

I draw great pleasure in traveling and meeting people, every person has a story. My energy and inspiration comes from walks in nature and my wonderful family. As to my age, I joke that I am 20 with 47 years of expérience, obviously energy levels diminish with the years, but on the positive side you are more focussed. My good friend Keith Baker, known to many, convinced me that I still had a positive contribution to make to the sector.

Let’s imagine a situation. You have the opportunity to become a speaker at TEDex or in front of any other huge audience with a generation of 20+. What would your report, speech be about? What topic would you like to cover?

Ted talks are totally inspiring and each one I have listened to opens up new horizons. The topic I would like to have explored, but there are many people more qualified than me to do this, would be how cleaning prevents or reduces the spread of disease, somewhat topical, I know, but such a useful contribution to the future of humanity.

We have such a tradition to pass a torch to another person. What other person from the cleaning industry would you recommend us to interview? Who would you like to hear from?

Paul Kelly, Commercial Director in Rubbermaid. I think, he being the next great Ambassador with you and interesting to your readers.

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