I clocked up ten years as CEO of Relicomp at the beginning of January. Looking back, I feel that the world has completely changed and nothing is the same. Or is it?
When I started as CEO in January 2009, there was a global recession, which had a huge impact on us at Relicomp. My first job was to drastically reduce staff numbers and make major cost cuts across the board.
Strategy, a prerequisite for success
The recession led to more systematic reflection on the company’s strategy and how to survive the storms buffeting the global economy. We began work on a rolling five-year strategy at Relicomp in 2009.
The word ‘strategy’ made some people anxious, while others were perplexed. As an engineer, I thought it was like the first encounter with algebra in secondary school: some people get it right away, whereas others need time to get to grips with it.
We have been holding annual joint strategy meetings between the Board of Directors and Management Team for a decade. The executive management gives its opinions, and provides report-based information, through which we and the Board decide on a plan for moving towards our goals. Each year, we slightly adjust our objective to take account of events and external changes that have occurred during the last year.
Relicomp’s strategy has always involved getting its own hands on every sheet metal technology available. In addition, having our own paint shop has always been a strategic choice. Of course, customer-orientation has been the driving force behind our strategy work at all times. Over the last few years, we have refined our strategy to serve customers who are developing their own brand and seeking surface-treated finished assemblies.
Telling a story is the best way to implement a strategy. We have written our strategy on a single A4-sheet, which gives us an easy story to tell. Our strategy has been virtually the same for several years, but as a subcontractor we have lacked the capacity and courage to fulfil certain aspects of it. Major deals made in 2017 and 2018, and significant growth in our customer base, finally enabled us to make big investments in both deep drawing and facility expansion. For the first time, we were also faced with having to think about our customer selection and strategy.
Saying goodbye to customers
Ending our relationship with significant customers is the most difficult thing I have done at Relicomp. Deciding to exit a customer relationship is a long process, even if the account is not a direct fit with your strategy. During my 20 years at Relicomp, I had thought that we would keep every customer we gained, because you never know about tomorrow. However, such an approach tends to slow down your own development and the company’s transformation. When decoupling from customers, you need to consider the risks from the perspective of both the company and your customer base; of course, you can’t help wondering about the impact this will have on your corporate image.
We are now living out our strategy as it is worded: “the best sheet metal service for selected customers.” As a subcontractor, we are in a fantastic position to provide selected clients with an unrivalled service.
Big changes are often perceived as risks by subcontractors and suppliers, but they can also snowball into big risks for the customer. Change is always an opportunity; it can open up major opportunities for realising your own ideas.
The current idea of steadily implementing Relicomp’s strategy is highly positive. The courage to take big decisions has brought fresh thinking throughout our activities, and strengthened our understanding of Relicomp’s potential and market opportunities. Our selected customers will benefit above all.
So, what’s new? Well, at least my own mindset on entrepreneurship and leadership. We’ve gained the courage to do and achieve big things. Not every task that has to be done is easy or pleasant. However, some things remain the same in our changing world: the customer is number one and the key to success is skilled and thriving staff.
It feels like being on a world-class hockey team, where courage has turned luck in our favour.