When the British people voted to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016, the team at Europa Worldwide Group, knew they would need to work incredibly hard to ensure their operations delivered when Brexit finally happened.
In a series of articles, based on interviews with staff across the company, Europa’s team talk about their experiences and how working together turned a potential challenge into an opportunity that will benefit customers for years to come.
Lieven Hendrickx, Head of Customs, Europa Road, is a customs veteran who was parachuted in from Deloitte in August 2020 to bring his expertise to Europa.
Lieven was the perfect man for the job. He has more than 30 years’ experience of customs, 28 of those years spent at DHL. He had then moved on to Deloitte where he was advising the firm’s blue-chip clients about all things customs-related.
When Lieven heard that Europa Road was looking to appoint a Head of Customs, he was really keen to get involved.
He recalls: “I thought, this is a fantastic challenge. I’ll have to start from scratch because until the UK leaves the EU nothing has to be done in terms of customs clearance. And the big unknown, back in August 2020, was the lack of trade agreement between the UK and the EU. In fact, it wasn’t agreed until Christmas Eve and published on 27 December. So, we had four days to read 1,200 pages of legislation and then implement everything we’d been planning.”
From the day Lieven joined Europa he embarked on the biggest customs planning challenge of his career.
He said: “We did a lot of IT preparation and processing – but it was all based on assumptions. We also had to work hard to recruit a 40-strong team of customs experts to help our customers for when the transition happened. We now have customs managers in France, Belgium and the UK and they all have many, many years of experience. So, we have a good team and they work very well together with the IT and operational teams.”
Lieven believes that it is this spirit of co-operation that helped Europa prepare for Britain leaving the EU in a way that would have the least impact possible on its customers.
He said: “It was a steep learning curve for customers, so to help them we put in place a very good communications plan. We made it clear that we were people who wouldn’t run away from customs problems. Instead, we grabbed it by the horns and made it happen.”
Lieven is convinced that the creation of Europa Flow has been pivotal to Europa’s post-Brexit success.
Europa invested more than £5m preparing for Brexit, including the launch of a dedicated customs product Europa Flow.
It was designed to ease the flow of goods between the UK and Europe after the end of the Brexit transition period.
Europa Flow was launched on the 1 January this year after 12 months development, designed to facilitate exports to the EU on DDP terms – removing the hassle for EU importers, by negating their need to appoint a customs broker or pay import duties, whilst zero rating the import VAT.
Under DDP the seller takes total responsibility for the export and import formalities, transport, duties and taxes – meaning that the buyer doesn’t need to worry about managing any of those things. This removes barriers to trade – making it just as easy for the EU customer to buy from the UK exporter as before Brexit.
Operating the UK’s largest European groupage hub. Europa Road’s network of 13 UK branches trunk into Europa’s Dartford 1Hub, from where freight connects with daily, direct services to 30 continental hubs. Each month Europa transports over 45,000 consignments through its road network, making over 2,000 collections and deliveries every day.
So, it was vital the company knew how to navigate the post-Brexit customs rules.
Lieven said: “Europa Flow is the differentiator for Europa Road. It makes a big difference for UK companies exporting to the EU. By the time I joined Europa, the concept was already there and we spent the next few months working out how to set it up and implement it. It is fairly complicated because we use a combination of customs processes to do Flow. And it is continually being improved and fine-tuned to create the best outcome for customers.”
Although Lieven recalls days and weeks of no sleep in the first two months of this year, he said the whole journey has been a lot of fun. And he has no regrets about the jump from Deloitte to Europa.
He said: “Every department did many, many extra hours and people put in extra efforts – all of which has been recognised by management. I’ve been impressed by that and have never seen it before. They really want to understand the detail of the business and of their customers’ operations – and the issues they face. This is what has contributed to the company’s success.”