Meet Alan Brown, Rentokil Initial’s Chief Executive Officer. We were lucky enough to catch him on a sunny Tuesday afternoon (I say we, but Caroline managed to avoid being included in the photo because she took it!) where we asked a few probing questions about work (play will be covered in part two of the interview)… So, to find out a bit more about the CEO of the largest multi-national pest control company, read on!
CM: 18 Months into the job, how do you feel Rentokil Initial are doing in relation to the 5 year strategy?
AB: Well, after the initial shock of City Link, I am pleased the Group is now back on track. The North America business is doing well despite the recession, Europe is doing ok, and the UK under the new leadership of Phill Wood is doing much better too. The UK’s “Proud to wear the shirt – always” campaign has gone down well, although I am not suggesting that everyone should wear short sleeves as a cost-cutting measure! We have made good progress on customer service. The relationship between a customer and a service technician is critical. We need to be pro-active and schedule visits at the customer’s convenience rather than ours.
CM: By talking about service, relationships and teamwork, it sounds like you are going back to basics, to an ethos from the past. Is that right?
AB: I don’t have the benefit of having met Clive Thompson (CE for 20 years to 2002), but excellent customer service and solid customer-technician relationships seem a vital part of us getting it right. I am on a personal mission to ensure we provide a service that I would be proud of receiving myself.
DJ: What drew you to Rentokil Initial?
AB: John McAdam, Andy Ransom and I wanted to do something special that we could work on together for our next challenge after having sold ICI. Rentokil Initial came along at just the right time. It was an easy, intuitive decision that we made really quickly.
CM: How are Rentokil doing around the world and what part do you see Rentokil has to play in the fortunes of the Group?
AB: I see pest control as the jewel in the crown. Nothing captures the public imagination quite like rats – it’s a unique service business isn’t it? For our customers it’s a matter of life and death, and we need to solve their problems… fast.
CM: What particular challenges do you consider pest control around the world faces in the coming year?
AB: Well, I see them as two-fold. Firstly, we need to provide good old fashioned service that delights the customer. This means we need to have better scheduling, even offering an approximate appointment time to the customer via SMS or perhaps when they book in on-line. Secondly, we need to extend our business into other markets, the Middle East and Latin America for example.
CM: Which neatly brings me onto our next question: Rentokil’s contract with the Libyan government has attracted much interest from the media, do you think that this is a one off or the start of a new area of expertise for us?
AB: Oh, it’s definitely not a one-off. I will be going back to Libya in 2 weeks time to attend a reception with the British Ambassador. We have been preparing a documentary of our work in Libya and it’s the premier screening. I mean, how many other companies can supply 32 volunteers at the drop of a hat to help rid a country of major infestations? We will be taking this Libyan model to other markets. For example, there are big opportunities for our technical capabilities in the control of vector borne diseases. Early detection seems to be the key to this and is something that Pete (from the ETC) is currently very much focussing on.
CM: Do you see Rentokil playing a role in shaping and leading global pest control in the future particularly in relation to the Global Public Health agenda and the control of vector borne diseases?
AB: I think as a business we must learn to share and develop best practice more effectively. For example in Singapore we have worked on small, confined islands where the Singaporean troops are based. For large areas, it is clearly impractical to use fogging across large areas, so early detection is important. We have to be able to detect the larval stages of various insect species to give us advance warning about developing infestations. I honestly don’t think anyone else can do this across developing markets except for Rentokil. This is mainly because other major players in the industry don’t have the cultural flexibility that comes from operating, as we do, in 54 countries.
CM: Of personal interest to me as head of rentokil.com is the role of the web site, intranets and extranets and the contribution you see these making to the business?
AB: Of course they’re vitally important, but we need to go beyond communication and offer transactional facilities. For smaller and residential customers the process of booking a visit is too complicated. They want to make appointments online. We want to get ahead of the competition – and we do have the service offering and therefore the capability.
Part two of the interview to follow…