Transpacific Cleanaway’s recently-installed CEO, Vik Bansal, talks about his ambitions for strengthening the company’s market-leading position, while working more closely with competitors to take the entire industry forward.
Transpacific Cleanaway CEO Vik Bansal wastes no time getting on with a job, as his first three months in post have proved.
Since taking the helm of Australia’s largest waste management and environmental solutions company, Vik has attended his first AGM as CEO, received shareholder support to rename the business, and announced plans for a strategic review of the company to cut operating costs.
Vik is the first to admit that “it’s been full on” since his appointment was announced in July.
At that point, he had recently returned to Melbourne after leaving his position as President/COO of Valmont Industries based in the US state of Nebraska. He spent the next fortnight around the business.
“I made a mistake of saying I’ll take a break and start a couple of weeks later,” says Vik. “In hindsight, I should have just joined straight away because I was reading so much and bothering people.”
After getting up to speed on the annual report and other company information, Vik “dropped in” to attend an Executive Committee meeting a week before he had officially started on 3 August.
Vik’s may have been a whirlwind return to work in Melbourne, but not an unmeasured one. After working internationally and flying around the world for several years, his decision to leave Valmont came because “my family said enough”, and the search started for the right role.
Vik was looking to lead a major national company without the complexities of volatile exchange rates and global supply chain challenges faced by international organisations.
“When you come back to Australia, you want to work for a company that is free from all of that, which has attributes that are linked to the local economy and has potential,” says Vik “From that perspective, Transpacific ticked all the boxes.”
Vik did his homework and found the business had huge appeal: the largest waste management company in Australia, the strongest in liquids and solid waste, having world-class licences for its liquids businesses, and an extensive national footprint.
“I came in with an open mind but not an empty mind,” says Vik. “The benefit of not coming from the waste industry was that I had no preconceived ideas. But I do come from an industrials background and the same principles apply.”
Rebranding and restructure
Vik explains that Transpacific doesn’t need a turnaround or transformation, but that there is a lot of good in place that simply needs an incremental improvement.
“This business is ready for its good-to-great journey. I feel good about taking the business on that journey, and I’ve done it before,” says Vik.
The focus remains in Australia for the foreseeable future, where he believes there is still a lot of opportunity for Transpacific and its competitors. He states that there are no current plans to divest any parts
of the business, and that his remit is to grow, not shrink, the business. One of the first areas for Vik’s attention has been the company’s brand. At the company AGM on 30 October, shareholders voted in favour of changing the company name to Cleanaway Waste Management Limited from 1 February 2016.
This signalled the start of work not only to rebrand, but also to streamline the business. On the same day, Vik announced plans for a cost reduction program, which will involve an organisational restructure.
Vik explains the thought process behind the name change as very simple. Transpacific was originally an umbrella name over a number of companies, but the Cleanaway name entered the business in 2007 through acquisition. As the non-waste-related businesses have been sold over time, fundamentally the company is left with Cleanaway and the industrials business.
“It doesn’t make any sense to have two brand names. It confuses our offer and confuses our market,” explains Vik. “It creates duplication within our organisation of cost and how we run it. It is low-hanging fruit for change and our employees are absolutely ready for it.”
Vik says the business has a lot of work underway and ahead of it, but he wants it to be in position to be agile to consolidate on its market leader position.
“I expect to use the rebranding exercise as a pivot to simplify the organisational structure, which will result in benefits to customer service, business growth and operating costs,” says Vik.
By moving away from two brands and restructuring the business, Vik says this will empower employees and reduce management layers, thereby creating more value to shareholders.
The plan involves reducing corporate and administrative costs in specific areas, while retaining employees in customer facing areas, as they are seen as pivotal to driving revenue growth. The target is to achieve a $30 million cost saving by June 2017.
Separate to financial and operational reasons for rebranding, Vik is keenly aware of the need to reinstate employee pride in the company. Its reputation was dented in August 2014 following a major road traffic accident in Adelaide, after which it grounded its 2,800-strong fleet.
“I am happy and proud about the company, but I feel sad in a sense that there are good people who are trapped in that historical legacy,” explains Vik. “One of my jobs is to dust off that legacy and move it forward.
“Apart from solid, strategic reasons behind changing name, another driver was that it would give us a fresh start, without compromising the strength of the name, Cleanaway. And I think people are looking forward to that.”
The new CEO is also keen to improve employee engagement across the business. He says that he isn’t particularly happy about where Transpacific is currently with employee engagement, albeit that his view is based on year-old survey results. He sees staff involvement as key in its anticipated “good-to-great journey”.
“A lot of bad engagement stems from an organisation trying to bring change without clarity,” says Vik. “One of the major deliverables we have as leaders is to provide clarity.”
Vik appreciates the hard work and loyalty of Transpacific’s workforce and believes that it’s the leaders’ jobs to give them space to work while marking clear boundaries, and taking them in the right direction to benefit the company, while seeking their feedback on it.
“If you have made a decision, you owe it to people to tell them what it is and why it is,” Vik says. “People may not like what they hear at the time, but they’ll hopefully understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. For me, that goes to the heart of engagement.”
Since he joined the company, he mentions spending time with employees on sites and coming away feeling energised because of their passion for their work.
To help the company and industry grow, Vik believes it would be useful to bring in people with skills outside waste management, which would complement the knowledge and abilities of those within it.
“I think this industry needs more people from outside it. I don’t have waste management experience. I don’t feel challenged by that. In fact, I’m glad I don’t,” states Vik. “I think there are a lot of good, experienced people in it already, but it’s a good idea to get a fresh perspective on things, while keeping that intellectual memory intact and building on that with new principles.”
Vik censures the industry for its lack of graduate programs or apprenticeships, but sees a growing opportunity to attract people from outside the industry, whatever their age.
What’s more, Vik thinks waste management will become a higher profile employment sector in Australia, as the need for its services grows. He envisages a domino effect of waste management businesses, industry associations, government, and educational institutions attracting a new generation of professionals to it.
“It’s not just about collecting a bin on a morning, but there’s an amazing amount of work after that that highly sophisticated and engineered, and I think it’s our job to tell people and graduates that story,” says Vik.
“I can guarantee you that if we went to a graduate program at any university and explained to them what we did, they’d be astonished with the complexity of the business.”
For Vik, promoting the industry as a career option, in a similar vein to other professions, is a “missing link” in what industry associations currently deliver.
A new association
Despite a relatively short time in post, Vik already surmises that there is work to do in promoting the industry, as well as promoting its interests, its aims, and the benefits of these to wider society.
Vik says that there are some “big strategic discussions” to have with the federal government, but in the absence of the industry representing itself well, the government cannot be blamed for unpopular actions.
“I am quite surprised and a little bit disappointed that we don’t have a coherent industry association,” says Vik. “So, in a vacuum of leadership provided by all of us, including myself and us as Transpacific, what I see is a garden of associations, small to medium, who are trying to represent a very sophisticated, essential industry to society.”
Educating wider society about their duties around more responsible resources management and recycling, and the need for processing facilities near communities is something he believes should fall to a stronger industry association.
“The industry associations should not only talk to the government and regulators, but able to influence right decisions for the industry and citizens,” Vik says.
With this in mind, Vik is considering the merits of setting up a new industry association to address what he describes as “missing pieces” in the current approach to representative groups. And as CEO of Transpacific, he thinks it is his duty to start the ball rolling.
“As the largest waste management company in Australia, our shareholders and stakeholders, including our employees and the board, expect us to behave like an industry leader,” Vik says.
He plans to speak to the leaders of the industry’s largest companies to discuss starting an industry association, with the aim of providing one voice to the government and to the public.
“We need to bring together the five or six businesses that own 85 per cent of the market, and tell the government what we believe the strategic issues to be and how we need its help,” asserts Vik. “There’s a role to be done, and we’re under delivering that right now.”
Although Vik envisages the industry’s largest businesses driving a new association, he is committed to representing the whole market and encouraging participation that crosses business size and sector.
“Whatever we’re going to do, we’re going to do it for the industry as a whole, so small, medium and every size will benefit from that.”
Vik acknowledges that he isn’t aware of the operating dynamics of the Waste Management Association of Australia (WMAA), but says he would be confused if its board of directors was not made up of leaders of the major industry players and the state and sector groups.
Vik says he hopes that WMAA “steps up” under its CEO, Martin Tolar, who also started in his post recently. He states that he has “a whole host of issues and concerns” about its current operating model and that it would need to change for Vik to see himself working in partnership with it to achieve his vision.
“They’ve got to truly represent the industry. I’m not wedded to any single body. My only desire is to have a very effective industry association and right now it doesn’t exist,” he says.
Prospects and partnerships
It’s clear that Vik has a refreshing approach to making Transpacific and the wider waste management industry successful in this country. His aspirations for productive working relationships with his peers do not end with plans for a new industry association.
Efficiency of operations is important to Vik. He emphasises that Transpacific is committed to serving the country’s waste management needs and investing in new facilities in the future as needed.
Nonetheless, he sees the case for building relationships between competitors so they can leverage the facilities they have for their customers.
“I’m very keen to do airspace swaps with competitors. So rather than all of us buying expensive landfills, we sit across the table from each other and see if there is a smarter way to do swaps and optimise each other’s assets,” he says.
Vik believes the industry has an opportunity to grow in the years ahead. He agrees with other resource recovery advocates that the potential exists for setting up hubs for extracting and manufacturing with recovered products. “The manufacturing environment
has gone through a massive number of challenges of the last 10 years, especially in Australia, with a stronger dollar and Asian economies booming. There is an element of what I call ‘crisis thinking’ in manufacturing that I think could benefit the waste industry to an extent,” Vik explains.
Ethical and legal collaboration between waste solutions providers and recyclers is something Vik thinks could be valuable for servicing their market and all their stakeholders better. When twinned with the development of technology and more automation in processing recyclables, he envisages a future resource recovery landscape that provides greater operating efficiencies to companies such as Transpacific.
“The idea with the resource revolution is that we will need to recycle more, that recycled product will become the raw material for something. That’s the future of the economy we’ll live in,” says Vik.
“There’s an opportunity for all of us players to think about what 10 years’ time could look like and the potential for collaboration, rather than each of us spending on expensive assets.”
In the meantime, Vik’s focus remains firmly on positioning the company he leads for growth.
He states that he would like to see Cleanaway as the strongest brand name and company in its market sectors, whether that be collections, resource recovery or waste to energy.
As it works to strengthen its position in the marketplace, Transpacific continues its work on innovative projects and to win industry recognition, such as the Inkermann Landfill winning the WMAA Landfill Excellence Award earlier this year.
The problem for Vik is that Transpacific has been somewhat understated in promoting its achievements and good news, internally with employees as much as externally.
Describing unleashing the potential within the business, he compares being at the helm of Transpacific to being a pilot in the cockpit of a Boeing 787, where making slight adjustments to multiple dials and controls will enable the aircraft to perform at its optimum.
“That’s what excites me,” Vik enthuses. “By tweaking a few things, you can achieve positive results and people growing in all areas, like operations, sales, marketing and finance. I’m looking forward to seeing that.”