What leaders think
Andy Ransom, CEO, Rentokil Initial plc
What challenges did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?
Cheeky answer is – it’s Tuesday afternoon, so the list is relatively short. By Friday, the list is long!
Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?
It’s October and I’m knee deep in next year’s budget. This will be the most challenging environment in which to set a meaningful budget. Everything is moving quickly and there’s uncertainty on many fronts. It’s hard enough to determine the numbers for next month let alone setting an annual operating plan across 83 countries encompassing 43,500 people. However, I have confidence we will get it right.
Historically, we do a lot of M&A. Initially we suspended the M&A programme during the pandemic and just kept the pipeline going. If you want to keep doing deals you have to learn how to do to it in a virtual world and still deliver. Happy to say we’ve made great progress and the team has risen to the challenge.
In retrospect what would you have done differently in lockdown, and how may this shape thinking for any future lockdown (local or national)?
Like many, my career has been accentuated by a series of crises. I’ve either been very lucky or very unlucky! Therefore, when lockdown arose in March we moved very quickly and defined 3 phases. ‘Crisis management’ – I believe companies which act quickly and take aggressive action are the ones that come out fastest and best. Those who act slowly pay the price for it. We are now in ‘recovery phase’ and planning for the ‘Strategic Opportunities’.
Up to March, I was running the Group based on four face-to-face executive team meetings a year. Thereafter, we quickly changed to three virtual meetings a week and expanded participant numbers, with a shortened agenda. We trifurcated the meetings into Monday: we will only talk about crisis management, Wednesday: the focus is solely on recovery and Thursday: the strategic response.
This pre-defining of what we were going to talk about added focus. Without the luxury of minuting the meetings and going ‘live’ on immediate actions, was the best thing we did and that’s something we’ll continue with.
Consequently, when the next crisis comes along, we’re already in a much more fluid, high energy, dynamic mindset.
Given the reliance on technology during lockdown, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/ workforce transformation in the short-term medium term?
It’s probably a little-known fact, we are a very tech savvy organisation and have been heavily investing in technology for a decade. Therefore, we see this as a continuation of the journey that we’ve been on and an acceleration.
The broader question is for industry and society – the world is already moving towards AI, robotics, machine learning and using algorithms to inform decision-making and this will accelerate. More job losses are a likely consequence – how do we manage this? That’s something the world will have to face up to and it will be incumbent of Governments and Employers alike to create new jobs around the World.
What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?
We’ve surveyed our people a few times on how they see working in the future, either from home, from the office or a more agile and office/home blended approach. The blended approach is what most people want. Fundamentally, you either trust people or you don’t. If you do, then you’ve created a more pleasant environment to work in without the burden of the commute and it’s a flexible and liberating approach.
However, I worry about having spent a decade trying to create a culture, how do you embed that culture with people sitting at home? How do you really work out who’s a high performer or not, how do you support and train new joiners into the organisation, especially the younger ones? How do we replicate the help and support?
I’m sure we’ll go to a more agile structure but there are some fundamental questions to be answered.
There was a dramatic reduction in our carbon footprint during lockdown, what is your business planning to help continue this going forward?
In my 35 years in business I don’t think I’ve seen a single issue as important and as universally acknowledged by business leaders as sustainability and the environment.
As a company we are participating in COP 26 and have signed up to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2040. We have 6 different workstreams across the organisation to drive the reduction in emissions and our wider environmental action plan. What we’re trying to do is use our commitments as a genuine differentiator for the sake of the planet and be the industry leaders in what we do. We know that employees want to work for companies that are committed to the environment.
What changes personally will you keep from the lockdown period going forward?
I have spent a large proportion of my life flying and haven’t missed it at all, nor the business dinners. These have been replaced by more exercise and a better diet.
Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)
I work with a charity called Street League, which is about lifting people, aged between 16 and 25, out of long-term unemployment. It’s a charity that’s never been more needed than now and to see what they’re doing through COVID, makes you feel encouraged and inspired. There are lots of good people there. We need to support all the charities that are working so hard right now.
Did you manage a holiday this summer and if so where / how did you spend it?
Like many people, I have not been able to take a vacation this year so I’m really look forward to going to Portugal with the family. The plan is no more complicated than deciding which restaurant to go to or book to read.
Any words of wisdom?
There is an expression that soldiers returning from wars would be asked; “Did you have a good war?” Similarly, I’ve told my team that there’s one question to ask themselves at the end of this pandemic: “Did you have a good crisis?” Did you do all that you could have done, with respect to your people?
We faced two choices: either are we going to make significant job reductions in the business or try and share the pain across the organisation and trade our way out of this. We decided to do the latter and hopefully our people understand we are trying to do the right thing – that’s the real test.