Top industry award for young Teessider

A  young Teessider who was still in the classroom two years ago is already negotiating international deals for his employer and has just been presented with a top industry award. 

Twenty-year-old Alfie Owen joined Absolute Antibody – based at the Wilton Centre near Redcar – in 2021 as a Supply Chain Management Apprentice and has excelled in both his work and studies.

He completed his first professional A Level comparable qualification inside six months and is on track to finish his three-year degree equivalent course within a year-and-a-half.

Despite still being an apprentice, Alfie – who lives in Eaglescliffe with his parents – has already been promoted and was named Young Achiever of the Year at the Institute of Supply Chain Management’s 2023 national awards ceremony in Newcastle.

The Institute – the UK’s professional body which delivers accredited professional qualifications – was so impressed with his work that it nominated him for the award.

“I had three missed calls from a number I didn’t recognise and then a text message asking me to come to the awards,” said Alfie.  “It was totally out of the blue.  It’s not really sunk in yet. I didn’t have time to buy something new, so had to wear my prom suit.”

Before going on stage to receive his award, Alfie and his proud dad heard the reasons why he had been chosen ahead of the other nominees.  The judges said: “His career focus, extraordinary commitment, and ability to apply his new knowledge to his role set him apart and points towards a bright future which we look forward to supporting.”

That sentiment was echoed by Absolute Antibody’s Director of Operations Carolyn Flanigan who has mentored Alfie during his time with the company.  “He is absolutely amazing and I don’t think he realises how good he is and how proud we are of him,” she said.

Wanted to start work straight after school 

Alfie said he was always interested in a career in business and wanted to start work straight after school rather than go to university.  He had worked at Eaglescliffe’s Waiting Room restaurant with chef Mark Ruddick who left to run Absolute Antibody’s warehouse.  Mark knew Alfie would be interested in the vacant logistics role there and he has never looked back.

Despite his age and lack of experience he has played a key part in the success of the company which was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade in 2020.

Absolute Antibody has customers in more than 60 countries and works with many of the top global pharmaceutical companies.  During the pandemic it played a major role in the development of Covid testing kits.

Alfie deals with suppliers from all over the world, sourcing and testing the products and materials which Absolute Antibody needs for its scientists and technicians.

“I look for the companies we use already to see if they can offer anything, because usually you’ve already got a relationship with them and try and negotiate good terms,” he explained. “If it’s a product we’ve never used before that’s when you have to start looking for different suppliers and building relationships with them to be able to agree good terms.”

Great communicator and self-confidence beyond his years 

Dr Catherine Bladen, Absolute Antibody’s Chief Operating Officer, said Alfie’s contribution to the business is invaluable.  “It’s absolutely critical, because keeping costs down for a company is almost as important as keeping revenue up,” she said.  “He’s a great communicator and he has self-confidence way beyond his years.

“Opportunity is key to success.  We are really keen on apprenticeships and the opportunities they offer both to students and us as an employer. Alfie is the embodiment of a successful apprenticeship and hopefully will be with us long-term.”

He has just been promoted to Procurement Lead and Dr Bladen says he is representative of the culture Absolute Antibody tries to cultivate: if you work hard you will be rewarded.

She said he is also a shining example of how both the business and its employees have seized their chances – and he is not alone.  One of Alfie’s colleagues is 34-year-old Stacey Walker. She worked as a cleaner for 10 years, emptying Dr Bladen’s bin, before asking if there were any job vacancies.  Stacey was recruited in 2016 and after a number of promotions is now a Senior Scientist and Team Leader.