What leaders think
Paul Forman, CEO, Essentra plc & SID, Tate & Lyle plc
What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?
We, as an executive team, completed a budget discussion for 2021. We are clearly trying to balance playing offence with defence. It’s difficult to try and predict what will happen next year. How do you recognise the need to conserve cash and also, that this battle will be eventually be won? It is the nexus between dealing with the now and building for the future. A budget is not a dry document but in fact, an anticipation of what we think will happen – which affects headcount, investment and decisions for the first quarter plus speaks to investor expectations.
Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?
We’ve been going through this dance for eight months now. I am thinking about how I instil confidence, positivity and keep 8000 people focused and motivated with the prospect of a very long winter in front of them – albeit with a ‘vaccine inspired light’ at the end of the tunnel. The focus is on sustaining this positivity and morale for the next 3 to 4 months of hard slog ahead.
In retrospect what would you have done differently in the first lockdown and therefore, how may this shape your thinking for the current and any future lockdown (local or national)?
When we started this journey of lockdown, we as a senior leadership team agreed three things – safeguarding our people, serving our customers and conserving cash. In this new normal, we have now added a fourth, which is building for the future. Looking at people’s physical well-being in the workplace is fairly straightforward but early on, we knew the importance of people’s emotional well-being. We worked fast but we could’ve been faster in terms of understanding that people’s emotional wellbeing is as important as their physical wellbeing for morale.
Given the reliance on technology during lockdowns, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/ workforce transformation in the short-medium term?
In terms of digital innovation, it is fairly difficult to see how this can be done differently in factories and warehouses in the short term, other than be more flexible and accommodating in terms of when people actually do the physical part of their jobs. I think we will end up with a hybrid model for office working. That is evolving as we embark upon digital transformation.
What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?
Whether they be intense debates or strategic discussions, there is a clear advantage in the face-to-face so, post lockdown, I see a mixture of home working but being together physically for these debates and brainstorming.
There is a dramatic reduction in carbon footprints during lockdowns, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward?
We’ve completed the budget and in August, we created a set of sustainability related targets and commitments. These are a 25% reduction by 2025 and to be neutral by 2040. We have also set targets for zero waste to landfill for all 70 factories and warehouses.
What changes personally will you keep from the lockdown periods going forward?
I will personally keep a blend of home working and travel. When I can, it will be very important to resume the travel, particularly as visible leadership has become even more important. I’m better at cooking than I was six months ago so I think I’ll survive! One of the lessons that I have learnt is, being very busy is sometimes an excuse not to stay in touch with people as much as you should. So, going forward, I will ensure I continue to stay in touch with my 91- year-old father on a regular basis. I have always been a walker but in these times, I’ve managed more miles and I’ll keep this going too.
Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)
In order to inject positivity and energy into the business, we’ve been trying new things. One of these things is, twice a week, I have a 90 minute virtual coffee with a cross-section of people at various sites. Recently, this was with our team in the Czech Republic. They inspired me in terms of how positive they remain and how they were emphasising the good things in their life. It was quite humbling.
Did you manage a holiday this year and if so where / how did you spend it and what are your plans for Christmas?
I did not manage a holiday this year but I did move house in August which felt like a holiday! For Christmas, I am going to spend time with my children and my father.
Any words of wisdom?
In the same way they tell you, in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others, you must look after yourself in order to be able to look after others.