Vik Bansal

Tak­ing Clean­away from good to great

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Vik Bansal saw great po­ten­tial when he moved back home to Aus­tralia af­ter a suc­cess­ful stint as Pres­i­dent & COO of a US listed en­tity to take on the lead­er­ship role at Clean­away. The in­dus­trial na­ture of the busi­ness and its room for growth proved to be a lure that he couldn’t re­sist.

His first chal­lenge was to un­der­stand how to meet stake­holder needs, while at the same time re­shap­ing the com­pany to en­sure it re­alises its full po­ten­tial.

To meet the chal­lenge, he set out to unite the solid waste ser­vices, and liq­uids and in­dus­trial ser­vices un­der a sin­gle, re­freshed and rein­vig­o­rated Clean­away brand. This new brand and a clearer un­der­ly­ing op­er­at­ing model be­came ef­fec­tive from Fe­bru­ary 1, 2016, un­der the new com­pany name Clean­away Waste Man­age­ment Lim­ited.

The im­por­tance of the change of com­pany name and re­freshed brand is driven by a fo­cus on stake­holder man­age­ment.

“We have to meet the needs and ex­pec­ta­tions of our in­vestors, our cus­tomers, our em­ploy­ees and so­ci­ety. I am a big be­liever in our re­spon­si­bil­ity as a so­cial cit­i­zen. So to me, those are the four key stake­hold­ers that we should be look­ing at.”

Yet, bal­anc­ing stake­holder re­quire­ments can be tricky.

“There is no use mak­ing clear plans if your stake­hold­ers don’t un­der­stand the why, how and what of your plans or agenda you are try­ing to achieve.

“I spend a fair amount of time com­mu­ni­cat­ing our plans up and down the stake­holder chain”.

How­ever, he says a good leader should be care­ful to not fo­cus on one stake­holder over another.

“What I find some­times is if you are not care­ful, you could end up fo­cus­ing on one stake­holder more than another and that im­bal­ance al­ways causes an is­sue. As a leader, pro­vid­ing clar­ity and en­sur­ing align­ment is your job and a key de­liv­er­able.”

Vik’s phi­los­o­phy comes from years of work­ing in man­age­ment po­si­tions both in Aus­tralia and over­seas. Over that time he has de­vel­oped the skill set that he feels all man­agers re­quire: hav­ing em­pa­thy to­wards the peo­ple who count on you. “Hav­ing em­pa­thy and ac­count­abil­ity is not mu­tu­ally exclusive, which is some­thing lead­ers quite of­ten get con­fused with,” Vik says.

Fur­ther­more, dur­ing this time he has con­tin­ued to grow as a leader and to learn from oth­ers. In busi­ness that is an im­por­tant mes­sage.

“You must learn from peo­ple. It’s about watch­ing them. I am a keen ob­server of hu­mans in gen­eral and a con­sis­tent stu­dent of lead­er­ship. I en­joy watch­ing peo­ple do amaz­ing things ev­ery­day with pas­sion and self­less­ness. I en­joy watch­ing lead­ers in ac­tion – how they think, how they in­ter­act and why they do what they do. It doesn’t mat­ter what level one is – ev­ery­body pro­vides lead­er­ship at some level, ev­ery day.”

His abil­ity to watch peo­ple and learn from them has been one of the keys to his suc­cess in im­prov­ing Clean­away’s busi­ness model. How­ever, he recog­nises that to ful­fil the goals he has set for him­self in driv­ing the busi­ness for­ward, he must run this race as if it is a marathon and take a long-term, holis­tic view of the busi­ness, while achiev­ing short-term ob­jec­tives.

One short-term ob­jec­tive that has long-term ram­i­fi­ca­tions is to make the Clean­away brand iconic once again.

“Clean­away has al­ways been a strong brand. We have very good peo­ple. We have a very good foot­print with prized as­sets across the coun­try. And we have good mar­ket share. The next phase of the busi­ness for us is to con­nect those points of strength and lever­age them to grow the busi­ness.” Hence the change in name. “In do­ing so (chang­ing the name), we have re­freshed the brand which has been very well re­ceived by all stake­hold­ers. There are some iconic brands in the coun­try and for many years, Clean­away had been one of those brands, but it had lost some of its strength. It should be the first brand you think of when you think about waste man­age­ment.”

Clean­away has a long his­tory,

be­gin­ning more than 50 years ago. In 2005 the com­pany was ac­quired by Tran­spa­cific, and was al­most lost un­der their um­brella and the fi­nan­cial is­sues the com­pany faced fol­low­ing the GFC. Over the past few years it has had to re­build it­self as the premier solid waste man­age­ment com­pany in the coun­try.

“We were con­sid­ered best in class by far. Now we are bring­ing that pride and that her­itage back. This is a very pow­er­ful mes­sage for us and for the mar­ket. Our team, our em­ploy­ees are pretty happy about that.”

The pride and pas­sion of Clean­away’s em­ploy­ees has played a big part in Clean­away’s his­tory.

“I give credit to all our past and present lead­ers at dif­fer­ent lev­els. They have an un­der­stand­ing of what good looks like. We need to be­lieve our own story and de­liver with pas­sion. I travel a lot and there are peo­ple in nu­mer­ous places across Aus­tralia who have been work­ing for the com­pany since the 1970s and ’80s and still have a pic­ture on the wall of the first truck they drove or the first run they worked on. It is that pas­sion which makes our com­pany very, very spe­cial. And what is pleas­ing is, that in spite of some of our peaks and troughs, we never lost that pas­sion. We are now just bring­ing it back to the sur­face.”

Vik is de­vel­op­ing a clear strate­gic path, al­lo­cat­ing re­sources, cre­at­ing ac­count­abil­ity and align­ing all his stake­hold­ers, which, he in­sists again, is one of the key de­liv­er­ables for any leader.

Although Vik says el­e­ments of his pre­de­ces­sors’ vi­sion was ‘spot on’, he feels the ex­e­cu­tion was off.

It is now Vik’s job to lay a new foun­da­tion, al­low­ing the busi­ness to re­alise its po­ten­tial for greatness – and it is this op­por­tu­nity that en­er­gises him.

The next phase of growth is more ex­ter­nally fo­cused in terms of how the in­dus­try, and Clean­away as part of that, works and per­forms.

“What are the big prob­lems the in­dus­try faces? Is the in­dus­try stag­nated or in con­sol­i­da­tion? And then of course there is a fo­cus on tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion, which I think we need to ad­dress,” Vik says.

“Our en­tire sec­tor needs to drive the tech­nol­ogy agenda. This is an in­dus­trial ser­vices busi­ness and there is a lot of good to be done us­ing tech­nol­ogy: in trans­port and sys­tems. We need to bring back a cul­ture of in­no­va­tion to the busi­ness. Clean­away al­ways had a strong cul­ture of in­no­va­tion, but it is an area where we need to be stronger if we are to be best in class and lead the in­dus­try.”

For Vik, like most things in the busi­ness, it is about tak­ing what al­ready ex­ists and bring­ing the best el­e­ments to the sur­face. It is about get­ting the team to recog­nise that a best in class cul­ture fo­cused on in­no­va­tion has ex­isted across Clean­away’s his­tory and that the busi­ness needs to fully lever­age that strength and that her­itage in or­der to con­tinue to lead the mar­ket.

And it will be through the har­ness­ing of the com­pany’s peo­ple, ex­pe­ri­ence and her­itage, cou­pled with a rein­vig­o­rated fo­cus on tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion, that will see the busi­ness suc­cess­fully build on good to achieve great, and maybe re­claim an icon along the way.

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