FROM THE ARCHIVES: Grimsby's port stalwart's great innings in profile

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 17 Nov 2017

To celebrate GBA Group managing director Captain Sam Judah MBE’s outstanding achievement accolade delivered by the Automotive Global Supply Chain Awards, has raided the archives. Here is the profile interview with him, published as Grimsby River Terminal started to emerge, in July 2012.

He used to sail vessels into Grimsby, now Sam Judah MBE is at the helm of GBA Group of Companies, and is playing an integral role in furthering the port’s specialist car handling capabilities. With Associated British Port’s £25-million riverside terminal now under construction in the shadow of the Dock Tower, infrastructure that should ensure a strong future for the sector, business editor David Laister caught up with him.

SAM Judah knows a thing or two about deliveries. A keen cricketer since he was the height of a bat, he has also worked across the ports and logistics industry for his entire career.

It is a career divided across sea and land, spanning the decks of ocean-crossing ships, the bridge of car carriers coming into Alexandra Dock, terminal management as an employee, and culminating in leading one of the most successful stories to emerge from the port community in recent times. Such is his knowledge and commitment, he was awarded an MBE in 2009.

Since that joyous occasion, key client Volkswagen and working partner ABP have signed an agreement to build facilities that will make sure Grimsby remains a key player in the vehicle logistics industry. Mr Judah, representing GBA, completed the tripartite celebration when contractor Graham smashed the first pile through the estuary bed in May, a cork-popping moment at a special time for the company, as it passes the 25-year milestone.

“I was the sixth member of staff,” he recalled, having joined as operations director back in 1991 and going on shortly afterwards to acquire the company.

Now it employs 600, with Alan Dalton remaining as chairman to this day.

“When I joined the company, with my background in ports and terminals, I thought it was right to diversify from being pure ships agents to terminal management and automotive logistics,” he said.

“The timing was just right. Toyota was looking for an export port on the Humber for the new factory in Derby. We were successful in wining that contract, so we started to manage and operate the Toyota export terminal.

“That first diversification gave us the springboard to expand our logistics services as we knew it would, and we grew the company from there.”

Caricature of Sam Judah, managing director of GBA Group of Companies.

In 1997 the company moved from Hull’s King George Dock to its current head office in Grimsby, having added Volkswagen Group to the customer portfolio in 1995.

“Volumes from both Toyota and Volkswagen dictated us being in Grimsby,” he said. “From there we spread our wings to other UK ports.”

The list now includes Newcastle, Teesport, Killingholme, Immingham, Grimsby, Sheerness, Southampton and Bristol, running both import/export and distribution centres, including transport operations at Sandtoft.

“We have ensured we have had steady, but sustained, growth – that was my main focus. Organic growth has been the main strategy, and it is based on having a good relationship with our customers.”

Freight forwarding was added in the late Nineties, and in 2003 GBA expanded further to include vehicle technical services, with work shop and body shop elements.

“We could offer a complete service to our customers,” he said.

In 2005 opportunities in India with Tata, were explored, and in 2007 in Turkey, with Honda. Both continue to operate.

Just before the recession began in 2008, a trucking company was acquired, with a 16-car transporter fleet adding to the service that now stretches from production line to showroom. That has expanded to 48 car transporters – during a double dip.

“The supply chain has certainly become shorter. A one-stop-shop is what the customers prefer, which is what we now provide on the automotive side,” said Mr Judah.

The renewables sector has now been embarked on, building on the comparison drawn between turbine and car assembly lines.

“We are hoping that takes off and that we can utilise our car logistics skills to serve renewables. It is very niche, and they are allied to each other. It is a perfect fit and suits our skill base,” he said.

High value, high volume, precision handling, secure storage. Bullet points that become key delivery targets, whether the cargo is an Audi TT or a nacelle, and Mr Judah sees no reason why the global firms cannot be served like their automotive counterparts.

The key parties in the enabling of the development of the £25-million Grimsby River Terminal take a closer look at the first pile being driven into the estuary bed from the existing jetty, just outside the entrance to Grimsby’s Royal Dock.  They are, from left, John Fitzgerald, ABP port director for Grimsby and Immingham; Alistair Shields, group services director for Volkswagen Group, and Capt Sam Judah MBE, managing director of Grimsby-based automotive logistics business GBA Group.

Before the recession struck, GBA handled 1.7 million vehicles, that figure dropped drastically as people simply stopped buying. The scrappage scheme launched by Government underlined how serious the issue was.

“We had to make some extremely tough decisions, including making 100 people in the company redundant. I’m happy to say we have now managed to re-employ far more employees since then,” he said. “They were tough times, but we worked with our customers and now we are at a stage where volumes are coming back. The industry is growing again.”

Latest figures for vehicles handled are at 1.4 million, and the company has a keen eye on what is happening in Europe, not just the UK.

“At the end of the day, we provide a service, and as such our staff are our biggest asset,” he said, reflecting on the fact there is little he can do from his desk at Meridian House to influence purchases.

“We have excellent staff, some of whom have been with us for 25 years. We train and develop staff ,with NVQs, diplomas and degrees as well as apprenticeship schemes. It is very important to drive staff development, and through the recession it was important not to stop that.”

Celebrating success is key, too, as a series of gala dinners held at key locations around Britain demonstrate, so too a commitment to raise enough money to send 25 sick children to Lapland at Christmas through northern Lincolnshire charity When You Wish Upon a Star.

“It is important to celebrate an important milestone and 25 years of business is one. When staff perform well, when we have operations that deliver zero damage, these are all important, and it is right we should make something of them.”

Making something of himself was clearly a mindset that he picked up early.

Born and educated in Bombay, India, he first came to the UK to embark on his maritime career, and while at sea completed a degree in business studies, attending college on a part time basis when back on land.

“It was extremely hard. I was at sea for six weeks and had to catch up when I came ashore. I spent most of my time in the library,” he said.

He did find time to meet wife Maureen though, who was completing her teacher training nearby. They have now been married for 37 years. It is clear he values the effort she put in while he was at sea, bringing up a young family in their early years together, and her support when the household income was slashed when he eventually came ashore.

While still out there and able to take his wife with him in the initial years, he loved the west coast of Canada, and Japan.

“It was good to go back to India, too, having been born there,” he said.

“The biggest highlight for anyone at sea is when you get first command of a ship.”

For Mr Judah this came at the age of 31, and was the vessel Autoweg, bringing VWs across the North Sea. He worked up from third to chief officer and then master, serving Anchor Line, Canadian Pacific and Ugland.

“I sailed on all types of ships, and for the last five years on car vessels. That’s when I first came into contact with cars professionally. I sailed to the Humber and the North East coast, from the continent, Scandinavia, Iberica and the Mediterranean to the UK, and for the last three years I was in command.”

Managing Director of GBA, Captain Sam Judah MBE; Secretary of State for Transport Mike Penning MP; and ABP Port Director Grimsby & Immingham, John Fitzgerald, when the announcement was made for the go-ahead for the £25 million Grimsby River Terminal.

That was a quarter of a century ago. He regained his land legs as port captain for OT Africa Line, working as operations manager in Immingham, then as a port manager in Teesport.

“I knew the Humber very well and returned as manager of Hull Container Terminal when that first reopened, working for Humberside Sea & Land Services, which became PD Ports. I lived on the North Bank, I still do, and commuting to Teesport was quite difficult with young children at home. When the job came up in Hull I grasped it.”

Two of his children now work at GBA, and should see the fruits of the major works in Grimsby.

“The lock has served us extremely well during the past 35 to 40 years, but if the roll-on, roll-off trade was to survive in Grimsby it was essential to have a solution for larger vessels,” said Mr Judah, who has worked on a solution with ABP for several years. “This means we can now look at growing Grimsby further in the future, rather than staying still and declining. It will create more jobs, be more attractive to the industry and better for the economy.

“From a GBA perspective it is important to join up what we have in Killingholme and Immingham to Grimsby as well. It is important to have a group of ports working together. Between them we should be able to deliver everything required for the automotive industry’s growth in the next 25 to 30 years.”

At the time of receiving his MBE, Mr Judah told of his gratitude to his family that extends throughout GBA.

“It was a tremendous honour, and a total surprise to me and my family,” he said. “I was very proud to receive the award, and extremely humbled by the whole occasion. I saw that as an award for my company and my staff as well.”

It would be fair to say it hit him for six to use parlance that has dominated his spare time.

“I love cricket and I have been playing cricket since I was seven or eight years old, maybe even younger than that,” he said. “I played for Hull YPI, now in the Yorkshire League, my boys have grown up with cricket and it runs right the way through my blood stream. Nowadays I like to stay outside the boundary rope and collect the balls that my boys have hit there.”

A Middlesbrough football fan, through his wife’s roots, his eldest of four sons, Nathan, works for ESPN in America as a sports journalist. Twins Yaniv and Cale both work for GBA, with Micah, who is part of the senior management at Marks & Spencer in London.

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