Chris Rickaby talks to Accrol CEO Gareth Jenkins about his ‘record-breaking’ rugby career, ‘letting people fail,’ and the invaluable lessons he learned about the tissue business whilst thinking about boats.
Name: Gareth Jenkins
Company: Accrol PLC, publicly listed company in the paper and tissue category
Previous experience: MD, DS Smith
Key Characteristic: Makes good businesses great ones
Challenge: Bring Accrol’s business back from the brink
Drayton Consultant: Rob Seery
Results: Turnaround complete – 2020 costs halved, gross profit margin up by 49%
Gareth Jenkins used to play rugby for Nottingham. And, he tells me, still holds the record for ‘Missing the most kicks, seven out of seven, in one premiership game.’ That honest assessment of his own performance does, perhaps, partly explain the sound job the man who describes himself as an individual who makes good businesses great ones,’ has done in transforming Accrol. In the last twelve months, the major tissue supplier’s adjusted gross profit margin has leapt from 14.7% to 21.9%. It’s clear he takes the experience of being a sportsman into his day-to-day management of the company. But in a slightly unexpected way.
‘I really believe in giving people the space to fail safely’, says Jenkins, ‘individuals have to feel they can make their own decisions and if they do make a mistake it’s about learning for the next choice.’
Lining up the next kick
In Jenkin’s world then, even if you miss one kick you still get a chance to line up another. As long as you keep learning through the process.
‘When Rob Seery approached me with the Accrol CEO position, I'd already been offered a CEO role at a European packaging business but I suppose it was the challenge that really appealed to me. Rob’s character – the sense I had of Drayton’s integrity – also played a key part in my interest in the role.’
The Accrol CEO grins, ‘Within two weeks of starting, I’d discovered that the business was not going to make its 2018 numbers and that it might actually run out of cash altogether. I've done a lot of turnaround work in my career and I have all the necessary skills you need. Straightaway, I could see every single problem the business had. They were all ones I’d fixed somewhere before. It was just that I'd never seen them all in one place together! But I could also tell Accrol had all the elements of a great business.’
‘What are the key character traits you need to take on the challenge of a failing business?’ I ask.
Identifying the challenges
Jenkins's answer is an assured one. ‘When you're dealing with a business that’s suffering from a number of issues it's easy to become overwhelmed. The way my mind works is to identify the challenges and put each one of them in a box. This is the biggest skill you need in a turnaround – the ability to compartmentalise.’
‘Simplicity, and simplifying’ he says are vital components of his strategic approach. ‘The company was trying to service two different channels – both Away-from-home and Retail. We decided to exit the Away-from-home market and concentrate on Retail. It’s all about simplicity – concentrating on what you are good at. For example, we used to use 75 different tissue types, now we have six.’ We had over 600 different specification now we have less than 100.’
Will it make Accrol a better business?
As our interview ends, Jenkins mentions a book – “Will it Make the Boat Go Faster?” by the gold-medal-winning Olympic oarsman Ben Hunt-Davis – as one he really admires. ‘Ben and his team lost at the 1996 Olympics and then spent the next four years repeatedly asking themselves that question. That’s what I do at Accrol – get people to focus on the things that matter and improve one thing every day.’
‘Will it make Accrol a better business?’ That is obviously a question Jenkins demands he and his team answer each day. But he remains happy to let them miss the odd kick. Although, I suspect, not as many as seven.