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Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, with the theme: ‘Equality for Women is Progress for All’.

The logistics sector has been cited as an industry lacking in gender diversity.Hundreds of thousands of people are employed within the UK’s transport and logistics market; yet only around 20 per cent of these workers are women.

The sector is all too often associated with manual lifting and carrying, grime, freezing conditions, heavy graft and unsociable hours: a rough and tough man’s world; where high-visibility clothing is more appropriate work attire than heels.

Female applicants for warehouse positions are virtually non-existent; and while the number of female truck drivers transporting freight for Pall-Ex’s member hauliers is growing, women presently represent only around five per cent of lorry drivers.

However, when it comes to driving business forward, multi-talented women play a keyrole in Pall-Ex’s UK and European operations. Logistics is intrinsic to virtually every sector in the world’s vast marketplace, and Pall-Ex sets the standard when it comes to inspirational and talented female leadership.

Fearless, skilled, and visible: Meet Pall-Ex’s international female CEOs.

Hilary Devey CBE

Figurehead, chairman and CEO of the Pall-Ex Group, Hilary Devey is the award-winning businesswoman and entrepreneur who established Pall-Ex in the UK in 1996.

Hilary’s palletised freight distribution network, a membership collective of 200 of Europe’s leading hauliers, has grown phenomenally and launched partner networks spanning the continent.  The Pall-Ex Group now commands revenues of £100 million, and continues to revolutionise the pallet distribution industry.

Hilary learned at an early age that fortunes and business can be risky. Raised in Bolton, Lancashire, she attended 13 different schools as her family moved around in order to manage various hotels and public houses.

She watched bailiffs empty the family home following the bankruptcy of her father’s central heating business.  It was at this point in her childhood that Hilary decided she would strive for the security of self-empowerment.

After leaving school at the age of 16, Hilary served in the Women's Royal Air Force, before forging a career in the distribution sector. She worked for Littlewoods, Tibbett and Britten, and Scorpio (part of the United Carrier network). She spent seven years in the retail distribution sector at TNT before taking the decision to found her own company.

I am living proof that if you set your mind to doing something, anyone can achieve amazing results.
Hilary Devey CBE

Hilary’s vision was a collaborative network of member hauliers, specialising in the fast and cost-effective transportation of small consignments of palletised freight.When bankers failed to appreciate the potential of her proposal, single mother Hilary sold her house and car to obtain the start-up capital necessary to launch Pall-Ex.

On its first night of operations 117 pallets were distributed through the fledgling network: a fantastic start; but a stark contrast to the 15,000 pallets which are now regularly distributed by the Pall-Ex Group every night.

Pall-Ex now has access to more than 7,500 trucks, 5 million square feet of warehousing and 100 depot locations throughout the UK. The Group aspires to be the first pan-European freight distribution network and, with partner operations established in Italy, Iberia, Romania, France and Poland, is well on the way to achieving its goal.

Immaculate on four hours’ sleep a night, Hilary has always campaigned for worthy causes. After suffering a stroke in 2009, she became vice president of the Carers Trust in 2012,for whom she launched Pall-Ex’s Penny-A-Pallet scheme, which sees a charitable contribution made for every pallet processed by the Pall-Ex network.

Hilary has become a much-loved public figure through her appearance on British TV. Known for her roles in shows including Dragons Den, The Intern, The Secret Millionaire, and The Business Inspector, Hilary is passionate in her support of ambition, entrepreneurship, and community spirit.

She has received various awards and accolades, including an Honorary Doctorate of Laws by the University of Leicester in 2010 for her services to industry; the Sir Robert Lawrence Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in 2009, and Personality of the Year in the 2010 International Freight Weekly Awards.

Hilary, who was awarded a CBE in 2013, in recognition of her work for both charity and the logistics sector, is proud to be a role model for women everywhere, and advises budding entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams, commenting: “I am living proof that if you set your mind to doing something, anyone can achieve amazing results.”

Melissa Alberti

Described as ‘an iron fist inside a velvet glove’, Melissa Alberti is managing director of Pall-Ex Italia, and maintains that women at the top can ‘have it all’ if they are prepared to innovate as well as striking the right balance.

As well as running a multi-million euro logistics business, Melissa is mother to eight year-old Rebecca and six year-old Lavinia. Dedicating herself to business matters from Monday to Friday, she immerses herself completely in family life at the weekends, enjoying horse-riding and long walks with her pet dogs.

Born in Fiorenzuolad’Arda, Melissa’s family has played a part in Italy’s transport business for almost a century.

Melissa studied economics at the Bocconi University of Milan, where she developed her knowledge of business. Melissa explains: “I was particularly enthralled by the international flavor and endless possibilities of transport, and realized how huge and wide-reaching a career in logistics could be.”

Upon graduation, Melissa entered her family’s international business, working between Italy and England.  Her first role was in operations; but she gained experience in every department, from administration to IT, finance and warehousing, studying the business in great detail and learning as much as she could.

Melissa recalls: “Because I have always believed in the importance of being at the forefront of technology, my first objective was to increase the efficiency of our IT systems and processes. I wanted to ensure that all data coming into the company was processed just once and that everything flowed from a single source of information.

There is nothing more frustrating than inefficient information-handling! My staff and I prefer to work hard and add value elsewhere, to the benefit of our clients.
Melissa Alberti

Melissa discovered the concept of the pallet network while working in the UK, and was immediately struck by the simplicity of the business model, with its capacity to radically cut costs and improve service, while creating cooperative synergies between companies who had previously been competitors. 

She recalls, “After studying various networks I knew that the Pall-Ex model and management style were very much in line with my own way of thinking and doing things. I had faith in Pall-Ex’s vision and am convinced that Pall-Ex’s operations will be further rolled out to successfully form the first pan-European pallet network.”

A determined and driven individual; Melissa puts great emphasis on communication and mediation, being careful to listen and understand the needs and opinions of others when doing business.  She recognises the importance of people in business and derives great satisfaction from working with her trusted and reliable staff.

Melissa is never afraid to acknowledge her own instincts; commenting, “Final decisions and their consequences will ultimately be attributed to me; therefore, after weighing up the views of others, I always consult myself last of all.

“I always have my mind on the future. I always have goals in sight: for myself, my staff, and my company. But I am always ready to adjust my thinking.  I don’t believe there is any goal which cannot be achieved.”