Theo de Pencier

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Even before he started work, Theo de Pencier had broken the mould at the Freight Transport Association becoming the first outsider to take on the role of chief executive for decades. And his first action was to write to new transport secretary Ruth Kelly setting out what the industry expects from her.

He called on her firstly to understand, respect and champion the role and importance of logistics and the UK supply chain. More specifically, he focused on the massive predicted growth in imports and road traffic and the resulting congestion. Financing of infrastructure is another issue along with the need for integrated and sustainable port policies and planning reform.

He also called on her to encourage, promote and nurture the ongoing contribution to both air quality improvements, carbon reduction and road safety by advanced technology. The final point was recognition of the need for access for collections and deliveries in both urban and rural environments.

Campaigning is just one side of the FTA’s activities – services to members is equally important and de Pencier has been busy on that as well. The services operation has grown dramatically and now accounts for some £20 million of the association’s £25m turnover. De Pencier sees scope for more growth in this area. Services have been focused on road transport and the FTA has seen massive growth in the tachograph analysis side, he points out.

“We have the depth of knowledge within the organisation to develop the services that members want and need,” he says.

He is currently working on strategic development plans which have yet to go to the board for approval but, he says, there is potential to double the scale of the services operation by a combination of selling existing products to more members and developing new products.

De Pencier is clear that services are intertwined with the representation and campaigning work of the association. The importance of this is highlighted by the fact that he is joined in the interview by James Hookham, the FTA’s managing director for policy and communications. In terms of the association’s campaigning activities, the priorities have changed since the beginning of the year. Then, it was expected that the most significant issue would be the review of the working time directive. De Pencier points out that while there had been considerable concern in the industry before the WTD was introduced, in practice it had all gone remarkably smoothly. “For larger companies it was business as usual… and even smaller companies have found it possible to work with it,” he says arguing that it would be wrong to complicate things now.

In practice, the danger of that appears to have receded somewhat. James Hookham says the focus has now moved to the issue of climate change which has really come to the fore since the Stern review. De Pencier points out that the issue is making itself felt throughout government. In every conversation with the Treasury and the Department for Transport, climate change comes up.”

The FTA has been developing a guidance pack for carriers and logistics buyers, “Carbonfta”, which provides a practical resource for individual companies to record, report and reduce their carbon dioxide emissions from transport. Last month, the Commission for Integrated Transport, which was set up to advise the government on transport strategy, produced a report on climate change and transport which, much to the FTA’s relief, puts a strong emphasis on behavioural change rather than increasing fuel taxes. James Hookham points out that association has been arguing the case for government to recognise the “essential-user” nature of commercial vehicles.

Another challenge for de Pencier and Hookham is a plan from the European Union to abolish the current cabotage scheme in favour of full liberalisation.

This would mean that foreign vehicles could do unlimited work in the UK. There are some big concerns: the unfair advantage of cheap fuel, the poor safety record of vehicles from some regions, and with the difficulty of bringing offenders to book.

Also coming up is the government’s comprehensive spending review at the end of October which will set out transport spending over the next three years. This will coincide with a white paper updating the government’s ten year transport strategy. Hookham points out that the ten year plan was derailed because the government had to shift spending from road to rail. The hope now is that the white paper will get it back on track.

Road pricing is another big challenge. However, says de Pencier, no-one knows what the government is actually going to offer. The determining factor will be: “are we going to be a net gainer or a net loser?”


  • Theo de Pencier became chief executive of the Freight Transport Association at the beginning of July taking over from Richard Turner.
  • Before that he was a director of Bibby Line Group and managing director of Bobby Distribution, the UK’s largest privately owned logistics specialist.
  • He joined Bobby in May 1999 from Danzas, the Swiss-based international forwarding and logistics business, now part of DHL. de Pencier was managing director of UK operations for Danzas before becoming vice-president, strategic development, based in Switzerland.
  • Earlier, he spent ten years with NFC (now DHL Excel) the UK’s largest distribution business and a leader in global logistics. AT NFC he held senior posts in the parcels group (Lynx Express), transport division.



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