Rene Wernli, Regional, CEO — India, ISC, Middle East & Africa, shares his insights and plans in an exclusive interview with Compass
Q A few weeks into your role at ECU Worldwide, what are your first impressions at the new assignment?
A Well, it is an interesting switchover, both in terms of business focus and company culture. Contrary to my earlier role, where the priority was to diversify into new areas and additional services, here at ECU Worldwide, the thrust is on running a solid existing business and to optimise the product offering, efficiency and service, and ultimately boost the growth and profitability of the business. At ECU Worldwide, we are currently focusing sharply on online tools and making big investments in digital technology, which will tremendously improve the customer interactions with our service offerings. We have a very dynamic management team with clear communication and relatively fast decision-making for new business implementations, which allows us to be quick and responsive in making business decisions.
Q After the difficult years of low growth, the logistics and transportation industry globally seem to be gaining momentum. What is your outlook for business in India, ISC, Middle East and Africa?
A We certainly see that the volumes around the globe have grown but the margins in our industry still remain under pressure. We are very optimistic about the key markets. The Indian subcontinent offers tremendous potential, and the logistics market here will continue to grow faster than other markets. After stabilisation of the oil price, we are seeing further build-up of confidence in the Middle East and we expect that business will pick up faster and stronger again. While Africa offers good potential, it still remains a niche rather than a high-volume market. We are optimistic about Africa and watching the market carefully. While we are pursuing growth, we need to strike the right balance between cost of conducting the business and the returns on investments. ECU Worldwide currently has a strong presence in the region; we are represented in 64 countries, providing an excellent platform to our customers and this allows us to grow our business continuously and consistently.
Q How important is the region in terms of contribution to the Group's overall operations?
A Every country in the ECU Worldwide network is important and contributes to the overall group's operation. We have four regions and all of them currently have an equal share in terms of contributing to the Group's overall operations. Having said that, ISC, Middle East & Africa, for which I am responsible, offers higher growth opportunities compared to some of the other regions with more mature markets.
Q What are your plans to consolidate ECU Worldwide's presence in India, ISC, Middle-East and Africa?
A Although it is one region, it is a complex market with different dynamics in different countries. For example, each country in Africa is different. East Africa, West Africa, North Africa and South Africa are all very different in the way business is conducted, with widely varying laws, rules, regulations and market potentials. Business in India is again different compared to the markets in the Middle East. It requires a strong management team that is acquainted with all these different markets and dynamics. We have robust plans to consolidate our presence across the region in terms of management, service offerings and organisational structure, emulating the success formula and best practices of our business processes in other parts of the world.
Q M&A has been your strength. Any plans to strengthen operations at ECU through the acquisition route?
A We are always keen to look at the right opportunities that can allow us to grow our market share or expand our footprint further. We do have a very strong appetite for growth. At ECU Worldwide, we hold excellent resources and our first aim is to always grow organically. We can establish a new office in a country ourselves without making an acquisition. We have the latest technology and systems in place and have excellent know-how and skilled employees within our organisation than can realise this very quickly. However, M&A makes more sense if the correct business or partner is found. We are open to the opportunity and keep evaluating possibilities on a continual basis.
Q How would you like to describe your management style?
A I like to be a leader with an open, direct and transparent management style. One has to work strongly with a team to achieve many things and a good leader has to trigger certain initiatives but can never do it all on his own. Throughout my career I have worked with many bosses and seen how good or bad leaders work. I have tried to adapt best practices I have seen throughout my career and it has helped me a lot to be successful myself. I like to be in touch with all staff across levels. If you have your ears to the ground, you learn and know much more than you would sitting in your ivory tower office. I am very approachable and enjoy working with the team.
Q Please tell us something about yourself; about your hobbies and preferred leisure activities
A In my current role it is unfortunately very difficult to follow my hobbies. I like to spend time with my family and friends after a hectic week or after being away from home. Being with family and friends is my preferred leisure activity and if I can combine it with being out in the nature, it's even better. I always try to be active and exercise, even if a little and ideally outdoors.
Q What work-life balance advice would you give to the readers of Compass?
A Our business and work is very demanding; clients and partners want an immediate answer and technology has us working literally round the clock. I believe that while it is important to be hard working, one must also be able to switch off the phone at a certain hour and dedicate time to family and loved ones. It is important that one spends the evenings and weekends with family and friends.