When the business world slams on its brakes as the uncertainty of a worldwide pandemic sets in, why not take the opportunity to reassess your entire business? That is exactly what Goodpack CEO Eric Gregoire did when he noticed the cogs starting to slow. Since The CEO Magazine last spoke to Eric in April 2018, he has been busy overseeing a massive overhaul of the business.
The Singapore-based company, bought by private equity group KKR in 2014, operates a global network of intelligent, returnable containers, which help businesses reduce supply chain costs, inventory, waste, damages, environmental footprint and capital spend.
“We’ve globalised the business, decentralising operations in order to make quicker decisions and to be closer to the market,” Eric reveals. As part of the rethink, Goodpack’s tagline was changed from Goodpack Growing Partnerships to Network @ Work. The company culture was also refreshed with a new framework focusing on safety, quality, delivery, cash and cost, known as SQDCC. “It used to be totally focused on cost,” he explains.
“We’ve globalised the business, decentralising operations in order to make quicker decisions and to be closer to the market.”
The period has also seen the company develop new containers designed to cater to the needs of specific markets. On top of that, there has been a digital transformation that has introduced the serialisation of the fleet of containers and the use of artificial intelligence for planning, as well as a new track-and-trace capability.
Goodpack has also moved its offices in Singapore, Houston, Maastrict in the Netherlands and China. The moves gave the opportunity to make the offices more engaging. One of the ways it did this was by putting in PlayStations because it helps some people de-stress. “If they become more productive after they de-stress, then that’s good,” Eric says.
With so much of the overhaul already complete by the time the true impact of the pandemic started to be felt, the company was in a good position to weather the storm. “It was a test of resilience because we are a network company, so when China started to get out of the network, it completely unbalanced our supply,” Eric reflects. “That was the beginning of a series of events that created a network which has been in constant flux over the past 12 months. Had we not globalised the business with local decision-making and all depending on Singapore, I think we would have crashed in a big way.”
Learning how to win new business and interact with clients in a world without face-to-face meetings was a learning curve for the company. Goodpack also put in place training systems to better equip the Leadership Team for remote working.
To ensure that all of these measures were working, Eric put in place metrics, which he was confident would help the company see results. “I believe that metrics create tension,” he concedes. “But you need to be able to turn that tension into creation.”
That creative process has traditionally involved a face-to-face interaction, whether that be a meeting or going for a beer or a meal together. “I realised early on that we were going to be deprived of these mechanisms so we had to develop new tools and also training to learn how to operate completely remotely,” he recalls.
Some of the initiatives it was in the process of rolling out had to be placed on the backburner because the climate simply was not right, but this gave Goodpack a chance to concentrate on its own transformation. “I knew we didn’t want to fall into the role of a victim. I knew business was going to be difficult, so as a team we challenged ourselves to find a way to make some kind of win, some kind of difference – that’s why we basically accelerated the transformation,” Eric says.
Fortunately, the plan worked well. “We emerged from the pandemic stronger than we entered it,” he reveals. “Business has returned to a higher level than pre-COVID. We’ve massively improved our quality, our delivery performance and our cash management, and all of that came with a lower cost.”
The company’s transformation and triumph over COVID-19 has not been totally smooth sailing, however. Eric reveals the process has involved the turnover of around 50 per cent of the company’s staff over the four-year period. While this was considered a necessity, he insists that it was done in a way that was “quick and generous”. “We wanted to make sure that people understood why we were making these decisions, that it was not because of them, but because of the way the business is moving,” he says.
While employed with Goodpack, staff are offered extensive training, making them highly employable when the time comes for them to move on. “We’ve been very willing to spend on our people,” he insists. “What we’ve said to them is, ‘Look, we’re too small and the world is too unpredictable for us to ensure lifelong employment, but what we are committing to as part of our employee value proposition is that we will ensure lifelong employability. We’re not going to pigeonhole you into a job that is so specific to Goodpack that if you have to leave the organisation, you can’t redeploy yourself.’”
It is a policy that has been very well received, according to Eric. As part of the overhaul, the company has been asking questions to determine how happy its employees are, similar to a net promoter score. “That score has been rapidly rising and we’re very high at the moment,” he beams. “People are more motivated and more willing to recommend Goodpack as a workplace than they were two years ago. We’re very proud of that.”
Eric’s own leadership style has also undergone something of a shift as he has adapted to the new working conditions imposed by the pandemic. As the situation unfolded, he noticed three changes in the way he oversees the organisation. “You need to become a better listener because when you are working remotely, you don’t see the body language, you don’t see a lot of things,” he explains. “Working from home hasn’t been a great experience for everybody and you need to become much more empathetic and a better listener to pick that up.”
The second change he has observed also relates to communication. “You need to be more structured because, again, you don’t have those non-verbal communication tools at your disposal,” he says. “For example, if I have eight people around the table, I’m not going to probe them one by one to see if they agree; I can just feel it in the room. But if I am on a remote call, I have to do it one by one – maybe after the conference call – to make sure they are on board. It requires more patience and more structure at the same time.”
The third observation is that Eric has learned the importance of giving more visible signs of appreciation. “You don’t have access to non-verbal gestures like a simple tap of the shoulder – it sounds stupid, but we all need that,” he says. “But when that is not available, you have to force yourself to give more visible signs of appreciation and make sure you reward achievement, even small things, with a sign of appreciation. We are all fed by that, I think.”
As we emerge from the gloomy uncertainty of the pandemic, Eric is determined to maintain a “laser focus” on the business. “We still need to continue to manage a tight ship, as supply chains are still unstable and I think they will continue to oscillate,” he forecasts. For instance, the new containers that the company has designed need to be available. “When the demand comes, you can’t say that the supply chain is not there and you need six months to get ready.”
“We still need to continue to manage a tight ship, as supply chains are still unstable and I think they will continue to oscillate.”
Another priority will be Goodpack’s people and how they work. “We’re going to have to find a new equilibrium in the way we work because I don’t believe we will go back to the office like before. But I know that people need face-to-face interactions,” Eric shares. “You can’t do everything remotely. There are a lot of subtle things that happen when people meet – creativity sparks better and personal relationships improve.”
The company’s recent office redesign will help employees become better adapted to the “new and more fluid” ways of engaging in the workplace, Eric explains. “People have learned to structure their working day differently,” he points out. “Everyone has invented their own optimum way of managing their day and we’re going to have to build on that. We’re not going to be able to say to people, ‘You found ways to be more productive. Let’s go back to the less productive way of working.’”
Another big change for the organisation will be its approach to the overall supply chain. “We realised that in the supply chain, we were not sufficiently engaging with one end of it,” Eric admits. “We were very engaged with the customers to whom we were delivering empty containers, but we were not engaging enough with the end user.”
To remedy this, earlier this year, Goodpack unveiled a new rewards program designed to help end users earn rewards for the use, scan and return of its containers. By using the designated app, customers can request a container pick-up and earn points for the re-use of containers. Alternatively, the partner company that takes delivery of the container can scan it and then re-use it for its own purposes at a “very efficient cost”, Eric reveals. “That is something that we learned during COVID-19 – we asked ourselves, ‘How can we engage with customers without face-to-face contact because we can’t travel?’ And this was the solution we found.”
Helping companies to reduce waste and optimise space will also be a priority, with Eric highlighting a growing trend towards sustainability by big companies wanting to make savings and enhance their green credentials at the same time.
“Two to three years ago, it was tough to sell something only on the basis of sustainability,” he says. “People would be happy to take something sustainable if it was cheaper, but it was hard to sell something just on that basis. But you increasingly see that this is on the cards, although it is still an emerging trend.”
Companies remain more interested in optimising the use of space and weight as a means of reducing transportation costs and working within the capacity constraints imposed by COVID-19 restrictions. But as the movement towards environmental accountability continues, Goodpack hopes to address these concerns by increasing the density of existing warehouse spaces in order to slow the construction of new concrete warehouses that can be detrimental to the planet.
With the operating landscape starting to return to normal and with the big infrastructure changes now all complete, Goodpack will turn its attention to stabilising its revamped operations.
As part of that plan, it will continue to nurture its local partnerships with businesses both big and small that have helped it to survive these uncertain times. Strengthening these ties is an important part of the company’s maturation, according to Eric.
“Coming from an entrepreneurial background, Goodpack had to be completely focused on building and protecting its own business,” he says.
“Now that this business has successfully achieved more resilience, we are ready to engage the ecosystem. That’s going to continue and I am confident that we will continue to increase our footprint through partnerships.”
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