Hilary Devey

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It has been said that logistics is a man’s industry, but one woman who is rapidly dispelling that myth is Pall-Ex founder and CEO Hilary Devey. “It can be very hard for women, particularly in such a male dominated environment,” she says. “But it can be done and I’ve proved that.”

Devey came up with the idea for Pall-Ex while working at TNT. She realised that it was near on impossible to transport small consignments of palletised freight quickly and cost effectively, so went about investigating a way to remedy the situation and fill the gap in the market.

After researching the concept for a month she put together a business plan and went to see her bank manager – who promptly told her she was crazy. She says at that point she felt, “very much like a woman in a man’s world”, but far from being deflated or deterred she says she was so adamant the idea would work that by the time she’d got back to her car she had made up her mind to go for it regardless.

She made the brave decision as a single mother to leave her well paid job and sell her house and car to raise the £112,000 needed to establish the business. She then moved her and her son into rented accommodation and set about building her empire. At the time she says she was so consumed in what she was doing that she lost all notion of the world around her, but with much support from her parents and through sheer determination she got the company up and running and has never looked back.

That was in 1996. Since then Devey says the company has “metamorphosed”. Pall-Ex is now one of the leading palletised freight distribution networks in the UK with 103 members serving numerous blue chip customers across the country, distributing as many as 10,000 pallets each night.

However, throughout that time, and despite now being a multi-millionaire, Devey says she has not changed or lost sight of what is important. “It can be very easy to lose touch,” she says. “I’ve got the money and I live in a nice house, but I still work incredibly hard and have my feet very firmly rooted to the ground.”

She is also very keen to help those less fortunate than herself, regularly campaigning for charities, including the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, for whom she became a patron in 2007. She also recently appeared on Channel 4 TV series “The Secret Millionaire”. During the ten days of filming she downsized from her mansion in Rangemore Hall to a small flat in Rochdale where she lived undercover trying to find individuals and projects she thought deserved a cut of her fortune.

At the end of her stay Devey gave away more than £145,000 to a number of causes, including the Back Door Music Project which helps keep kids off the streets by providing them with a venue to perform and listen to music. The project is very close to Devey’s heart as her son Mev is now a recovering heroin addict and she says if there had been an outlet such as Back Door for him when he was growing up he might not have taken the route he did.

Since filming ended she has been in constant contact with the project’s founder Carol Moore, who now runs Back Door full time thanks to the donation. Devey is currently in the process of meeting with record producers in a bid to push the project forward and one day hopes to see a Back Door Music Project in every deprived area.

Devey also has big plans for the future of Pall-Ex and despite the current economic situation says that “a bit by luck and a bit by design we have positioned ourselves well and I’m using this time as a breathing space as there is lots of cash in the business.” Europe is high on the agenda with the imminent launch of the Pall-Ex Italia network set for December, as well as similar projects planned for two other European countries next year.

Pall-Ex is also set to buy an 80-acre site on which to build a 750,000 sq ft hub, three times larger than the existing site. In addition, Devey is finalising plans for a “futuristic” truck stop facility which will be open to the whole industry.

Awards seem equally high on the agenda as Devey has recently been crowned Vitalise Businesswoman of the Year 2008, the second time she has won the prize after first picking it up in 2004.

In addition, Pall-Ex has been shortlisted for the Business of the Year prize at the National Business Awards, sponsored by Orange, while Devey herself is up for Entrepreneur of the Year, the results of which will be announced later this month.

“You’ve got to have total faith and determination,” says Devey. “To succeed as a businesswoman you need to be focussed, work hard and above all else have a good sense of humour.”

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