The winner of the Young Business Person of the Year in the Oxfordshire Business Awards has landed another major prize. James Woollard, founder and managing director of Britain’s largest polythene broker, Polythene UK of Witney, has now carried off the Institute of Directors’ (IoD) accolade for the New Business Director in the London and South East Director of the Year Awards.

Mr Woollard, 33, who started the company in July 2007, was nominated by IoD Oxfordshire representative Ian Wenman, who said: “He deserves his success. He has got his profit levels right and involved his team well, working hard in an unsexy area.”

That area, of course, is polythene. Not the most exciting product in the world, some might say, but one that has wrapped up Mr Woollard’s career ever since he began his working life at 18 as a shrink-gun repairer with United Polythene, Carterton.

Indeed, the product is so exciting that although most of us use it often, when unwrapping our shopping, say, we hardly notice it, being so busy to rip it off and get at the contents of the package.

But then, as an early 20th century millionaire soap manufacturer once remarked: to make a fortune, think of something that everyone needs, doesn’t last, and is cheap. Polythene fits the criteria.

Mr Woollard certainly has the entrepreneurial spirit. Even before starting at United Polythene, he was working, aged 14, making appointments for double glazing companies and selling holiday insurance over the telephone.

He said: “When we did work experience, most of the lads just took a couple of weeks off. I earned £500 from sales.”

Perhaps that motivated him at the start, but in any case he is one of those people who love what they do.

He told In Business: “I love coming to work. It is an absolute joy to do be able to do this job.”

And he understands the value of winning awards, too. When he won the Oxfordshire Business Award he said: “I reckon we have generated about £50,000-100,000 worth of publicity as a result of it. It has been a fantastic experience.”

But since those early days his career has been far from easy — chequered would probably be the kindest description for it.

The United Polythene operation at Carterton was closed down after a takeover in 2003. Mr Woollard then decided to set up a new company, Polyplast, based in Witney. He recruited the sales team from the Carterton operation and quickly built up the business by developing the original client base.

Polyplast was a polythene broker and was supplied by the Polythene Industries factory in Liverpool. When Mr Woollard heard the plant was struggling, he and his co-directors made the radical decision to take it over.

He explained: “Liverpool was operating four days a week, and we made the catastrophic decision in the first month to increase the shift pattern to seven-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day.

“We took the order book from £4m a year to £12m, but once we hit capacity we could not keep going.

“The cash had been available as we were growing, but as soon as we plateaued, the bills started catching up with us.”

But bad experience was put to good use when Mr Woollard saw the green light and realised it was possible to run a perfectly profitable operation without the millstone of a manufacturing operation around his neck.

And Polythene UK, working from the same offices from which he had run Polyplast, came into being.

Talking of green, most of the constraints on the packaging industry these days are environmental.

But here profit and green go hand-in-hand to some extent, since prices have risen dramatically — thanks mainly to rising oil prices — so Mr Woollard has sourced a thinner material called Poly-lite which can stretch over products using less polythene, while also costing less.

He has also developed a range of compostable bags which were showcased at the Ecopak trade fair in February.

Once the bags have come to the end of their useful life, they can decompose in just a week.

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