Taking Cleanaway from good to great
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.