How CEO Vik Bansal ushered in a new era for Australia’s largest waste management company

The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 tested companies both large and small in ways that many never could have anticipated. Navigating the murky waters of a global catastrophe such as Covid-19 required resilience from the world, as once simple tasks such as grocery shopping suddenly became filled with unknown variables.

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However, it can be said with certainty that pandemic or not human beings will inevitably produce waste. That’s why it was imperative early in 2020 when New South Wales and other eastern states were still battling bushfires and governments across Australia were just beginning to set up lockdown plans that Cleanaway, the largest waste management company in the continent, have a strong plan in place for working through the situation.

Thankfully Vik Bansal, Cleanaway’s CEO and Managing Director, quickly laid out three top priorities for the company. Number one and top priority was the protection and safety of Cleanaway’s 6,000 plus employees, many of whom would remain on the front line as essential workers. Secondly, although seldom talked about, waste management remains a vital aspect of modern society, and Bansal placed a high level of importance on maintaining collection services and processing operations throughout the pandemic. Finally, he signified the importance of the business itself, operating in light of the new developments with long-term success still at the forefront, maintaining job security for the thousands who rely on it.

Just as nobody could have predicted the pandemic itself, Covid-19 has continually thrown curveball after curveball, but thanks to Bansal’s strong management Cleanaway begins the new year poised to recover from any adversity placed in its path, whether that be providing for customers and communities, continuing to expand its resource recovery capabilities, or strongly emphasizing the importance of a circular economy. However, even just five short years ago that may not have been the case.

Bansal became CEO of Cleanaway in July of 2015, after a successful stint in the United States as president and chief commercial officer of the manufacturing company Valmont Industries. Desiring to move back to his home country, he seriously vetted three career opportunities and although Cleanaway (then known as Transpacific) posed significant challenges, he was struck by the fact that although the company was underperforming heavily for investors and management turnover was high, it had remained resilient, telling him that the people and the core of the company was good. Against the advice of some of his most trusted friends, he took the job at Cleanaway, and immediately set to work.

One of Bansal’s first steps in taking the business “from good to great” was giving the entire brand a refresh, meaning a new name, stronger and more consistent operational guidelines, and improved capital discipline. Just six short months after his arrival on the scene Transpacific had become Cleanaway Waste Management, clearly identifying the company’s core strength, and along with the name change came a new mission statement: making a sustainable future possible. Thanks to Bansal’s clearly defined medium and long-term strategies along with an achievable action plan, by the end of 2016 revenue and earnings were showing growth for the first time in three years. His strategies around accelerating and refocusing growth initiatives, customer service, and ensuring clear accountabilities for senior leadership peaked the interest of both the industry at large and the markets, and that year Cleanaway was awarded the Turnaround Management Association’s (TMA) “Turnaround of the Year Award” in the large company category.

Internally, the company also made great strides in clarity. With the introduction of “Our Cleanaway Way,” those within the company had an one-page strategy that clearly defined the company’s values to be used as a guide for prioritization and decision-making while also outlining what can be expected of each other. Through the launching of Our Cleanaway Way, employees and management alike were for the first time aligned towards a single mission.

Thanks to these initiatives, 2017 saw Cleanaway with investor relations on the up-and-up and thriving company culture, making them well poised for the industry disruptions such as China’s National Sword policy and growing populations that would bring waste management to the forefront of many conversations. Thankfully, Bansal was already planning on how to drive Australia’s circular economy, and launched Footprint 2025, a roadmap to ensure the country would have the proper infrastructure to meet the growing needs communities would have in managing their waste while also continuing to improve resource recovery. The roadmap looks to long-term and sustainable solutions that can allow for the recovery of more from waste, as well as processing more recyclables to ensure that the least amount of residual waste is left to be disposed of.