“Communication is key”, says Karen Hester, Operations Director at Adnams PlC and winner of the prestigious “First Women” 2013 business award, reflecting on the book “Creating a Lean and Green Business System”.



About Karen Hester

Karen Hester has always been destined for big things. At the tender age of 16, leaving Suffolk for the first time, she signed up for military life and became the youngest girl in the UK to get her HGV licence. Karen progressed quickly, gaining best recruit and best mechanic in training and was promoted in just 10 months to Corporal where she was put in charge of a military transport section. Karen was happy in the army; she married a fellow service man and lived in forces accommodation. However, a few years later Karen found herself facing a brutal and almost unthinkable decision. She fell pregnant and the army told her she had a choice: either have an abortion or leave. Karen, who had already proven her fighting spirit, opted for the latter and travelled with her husband to Germany. She began importing goods from the UK and hosting parties in the homes of service wives. Changing her offers with seasons. Her attempt at setting up her own business was a success and saw her employing eight women on a regular basis.

1986 saw Karen return to her home county of Suffolk. At first she continued as she had in Germany, running her own business selling seasonal goods on market stalls. She also spent time caring for the elderly. In 1988, Karen was attracted to Adnams from the excellent reputation the company had throughout Suffolk. She is the first to admit that she did not initially join the company with the intention of climbing the ranks, it hadn’t even occurred to her when she first took the role as a part-time office cleaner. Today Karen is the Operations Director at Adnams and her role is to oversee 400 members of staff, ensuring the smooth running of all day-to-day operations at Adnams Brewery, hotels, pubs and Cellar & Kitchen Stores. She has come a long way since her first position at the company as an office cleaner.

It is certainly an honour to be reviewed by Karen Hester, one of the most inspiring operations directors I have known”, says Keivan Zokaei, co-author of “Creating a Lean and green Business System”.


The Blog

Reflecting on the book ‘Creating a Lean and Green Business Systems: Techniques for Improving Profits and Sustainability’ describing how Mr Ford and Mr Toyoda came up with the original idea of “LEAN management”, to improve manufacturing processes, it is apparent that the systems have gone far beyond the original concept now reflecting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) that extends to sustainability and environmental awareness. Regardless what size organisation you work in today, every individual, either wittingly or unwittingly, has a sense of corporate responsibility and has been touched by these principles. Due to economic changes LEAN has been adjusted to suit the current times we live in. Not only does LEAN cover all the aforementioned things it also aids cost efficiencies. Simple things mentioned in the book such as turning lights off have been embedded deep into the culture of organisations across time. What began as the core principles to ensure best business practice into processes for manufacturing has now progressed into the heart of organisations requiring employee engagement at every level.


This means hierarchical organisations will not be as effective as those that work from the bottom up. Organisations need to have an open door management culture where people feel not only that their ideas may be put into practice but there is a no blame culture. Otherwise stalemate will be reached due to people feeling not only undervalued but scared to suggest new ways of doing things. LEAN is about measuring process rather than people.


Organisations that want to see the real effects that LEAN can bring need to work harder at relationships, not only with their employees and suppliers but the end customers and consumers. For LEAN to expand more globally there needs to be trust and faith in who we are dealing with. Larger organisations will find this more of a challenge than small to mid sized businesses.


There are challenges that come when all ‘small wins’ have been put into place, i.e. most organisations are now turning lights off when not needed and recycling office paper, etc. This is when communication and engagement with employees becomes even more critical and we need to ask what is the next big thing that would make a substantial difference to an organisation. Every organisation is different meaning different things for different people. Another challenge comes if once organisations have best practice in place they become complacent, missing the need to self audit. This is when LEAN champions appointed in organisations come unto their own to identify the next value stream and target these for continuous improvement.



Whilst the book goes someway to explore the success of different cultures within organisations and touches on a “values led” approach, it is here that the real gains can be made. The book goes beyond theoretical principles giving us a discussion platform for integrating continuous improvement.


One of the tools as an organisation we found most helpful and indeed motivated people to get involved was a ‘red tag day’ we recently held. Red tag is one of the tools used to get employees engaged. Every employee in Adnams was asked to take ownership of their own work area with a view to ensuring there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.


Whilst in the early stages of introducing LEAN across the organisation we have found huge benefits including costs, efficiencies, processes and engagement of all employees. We will strive to ensure our journey of continuous improvement is sustained through the identification of new technologies, self auditing and self awareness, being truly aware of the impact we have for all stakeholders in the business.


Communication is key!


Karen Hester

Operations Director, Adnams Plc

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