How a lean business model could help you stay competitive
Think your enterprise could run a little more efficiently? Repurpose It founder George Hatzimanolis explains how a lean business model can help.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of pressure on Australian businesses. Challenging economic conditions have forced many to find ways to cut costs and become more efficient. A lean business model can make it easier to stay competitive when times are tight. George Hatzimanolis, CEO of Melbourne industrial recycling firm Repurpose It, shares his experience and offers some tips on tightening your operations.
A long stretch working in the road construction and maintenance industry piqued George Hatzimanolis’ interest in the circular economy, which aims to eliminate waste and reuse resources rather than consigning them to landfill. In 2017, he decided to strike out for himself and, with the support of four business partners, set up Repurpose It.
Situated on a 60-hectare industrial site in Epping, in Melbourne’s north, the venture specialises in decontaminating soil and turning demolition, excavation and construction waste into raw materials for sale back to the building sector. In 2019, the publicly listed engineering giant Downer Group took a stake in the business, which today processes around a million tons of waste a year and employs a team of 60.
Victoria’s market for industrial and construction waste recycling is mature, which made cracking in and keeping up no easy feat. “I spent a few years researching ways in which materials could be recovered and reused, and travelled to Europe several times to look into some of the processes in use there,” Hatzimanolis explains. “I saw an opportunity to introduce some new soil washing technology in Australia, which would allow us to divert excavation waste, in particular, from landfill.”
The fledgling Repurpose It was up against larger and better resourced players with entrenched positions in the market, so operating smartly was a must. “We knew we needed to have a different business model if we were to compete,” Hatzimanolis says. “My goal was to find the right niche, use the best technology available and run the business very lean.”
Setting and monitoring performance targets has helped Repurpose It do just that. Its operations room contains a dozen monitors which display a wealth of information about every piece of plant and equipment on site. “We’ve set up dashboards which are visual and transparent and the first thing I do each day is check our key performance indicators (KPIs),” Hatzimanolis explains.
“We measure everything: the daily utilisation of our machines, the resources it takes to run them, such as water and power, and their yield – the volume of quality recycled materials they turn out.” It’s a lean manufacturing approach more commonly seen in big businesses but which has helped Hatzimanolis run his small business efficiently from the get-go.
“Understanding and optimising the productivity of your assets is essential in a challenging and competitive economic market,” he says. “We’ve strived to embed that in our culture. Putting that data out there, making it visual and transparent, keeps everyone accountable. Yes, it can sometimes be daunting for people, knowing their supervisor or manager has all that information at their fingertips, but the performance benefits outweigh those fears and concerns.”
Taking a data-driven approach means investing in IT solutions and technology, something Repurpose It has always been willing to do. “We try to systemise as much as we can and use technology to add value – we see that as a point of difference for us,” says Hatzimanolis.
Keeping employees focused on productivity is easier when those at the top take the lead. If you practise what you preach, across all areas of the business, your team is more likely to follow suit. That’s why everyone at Repurpose It, from Hatzimanolis down, mucks in when there’s work to be done. “Our leaders are hands-on and we all wear multiple hats,” he says. “We don’t have a lot of overheads but we do have a high performing team - that helps us to punch above our weight.”
Being true to your corporate values also sends a strong signal to employees. Repurpose It was founded on the principle that all waste can be converted to valuable resources and these are words to live by, according to Hatzimanolis. “We can’t be out there promoting the need to divert waste from landfill and not be putting into place best practice, sustainable waste management strategies in our office,” he says.
Knowing you’re running a tight ship is a satisfying feeling. But there could still be ways you can do things smarter, faster or better. Encouraging your team to come up with them can help your business stay lean and nimble as it grows and matures. “As a leader, you need to drive that process,” Hatzimanolis says. “At Repurpose It we never have a meeting where we don’t discuss ways we can improve what we’re doing. It’s a constant theme, across all our activities and operations.”
In a challenging economic climate, running your business efficiently and productively is critical. Implementing lean business practices can help you remain nimble and stay afloat when times are tough, so you can be ready to take advantage of new opportunities when things improve.
This article is a general overview and should be used as a guide only. We recommend that you seek independent professional advice about your specific circumstances before acting.