2014 saw a global debate on the role of culture in modern businesses, after a study from Booz & Company found that 60 per cent of executives believe culture is more important than strategy or a company’s operating model. But the two don’t necessarily have to be separated, says Chris J. Mallios, Chief Financial Officer at CFC Group.
Responsible for developing and implementing the corporate, financial and investment strategy for CFC Group, the parent company behind Centurion Transport, Chris’s job is to create the infrastructure necessary to drive the company’s operating performance, vision and compliance initiatives “for the protection and enhancement of long-term shareholder value”. He argues that creating a healthy culture is a matter of making it a focus point within the corporate values, vision, mission and strategy.
Prime Mover met him to learn more about one of the thought-leaders in WA’s trucking industry and his strategy for 2015.
Q: Chris, there has been a lot of talk in the business world in 2014 on how to best prepare businesses for the future, with culture taking the pole position over strategy. You have a leadership role in one of Australia’s most dynamic business sectors, commercial road transport. What does good leadership entail for you?
A: I don’t like jargon or MBA-speak. Put simply, good leaders in our industry never compromise on safety, talent development or service to your customers. You need to demonstrate decisive leadership and inspire people to want to work for you. Similarly, you need to provide an environment where people can innovate and engage other players in the marketplace and gain competitive advantage.
Q: So there’s no culture dispute for you?
A: Culture is definitely important, but I wouldn’t separate it from strategy. Every vibrant, healthy, inspiring, innovative and positive corporate culture I’ve witnessed has occurred not because culture has been placed ahead of strategy, but because it has been a key driver of corporate strategy.
Q: Speaking of strategy – marketing, public relations and digital strategy are slowly gaining ground in road transport. What’s your position on brand creation in a trucking context?
A: Branding is important, and positioning is important too. After all, understanding your different markets and your different segments is key to the survival of any business. These things will get you top-of-mind and a greater share-of-wallet. However, the real key to growth and longevity, as opposed to mere survival, is to deliver on your brand promise – do what you say you’re going to do, do it well every time, and do it better than anyone else in the game. Be the “path of least resistance” in helping your customers achieve their goals, and your brand will build itself.
Q: Apart from the whole culture debate, 2014 was a huge year for Australia’s commercial road transport industry, with the official opening of the NHVR and the commencement of new braking legislation. What have been the most memorable events of 2014 for you?
A: Leading up to 2014, there had been warnings of the unwinding of the resources construction boom, meaning lower company revenues and smaller dividends to shareholders. CFC Group prepared itself for this, and is meeting this challenge by engaging with its people to find better ways of doing things, be it via Lean/Kaizen programs or investing in technology.
Q: How did these events affect you as a professional? Did your leadership style change in line with economic change?
A: No, it’s still the same. Of course you never stop learning and improving, but I still prefer specific, measurable objectives that are neither too short nor too long-term. Our business demands goals that are fundamental, understandable and require people to stretch themselves in order to achieve success.
Q: Hindsight is 20/20, so let’s imagine time travel was possible and you could leave a note for your one-year-younger self. Which learning would you like to share with him?
A: That the tough decision to let go employees who are unfortunately underperforming and unable to deliver, was/will be, whilst always hard, the correct choice.
Q: Before you joined CFC, you worked in the finance industry. What attracted you to take in a role with a connection to the trucking industry?
A: CFC Group is a diversified investment and development organisation with interests in distribution, logistics, mining services, property and infrastructure. Our Centurion business has grown to become one of the largest logistics providers operating within Western Australia. The industry is special due to the important strategic role it plays in the supply chain of all sectors of the economy. It provides a fantastic opportunity to partner with customers to share ideas and solve problems that will enhance performance, drive cost-efficiencies, and ultimately, create value in the market.
Q: What would you say has been your most important professional achievement in this role?
A: I’m very pleased to have built the team responsible for developing and implementing the corporate, financial and investment strategy for CFC Group. I’m also proud of the creation of the infrastructure necessary to drive the company’s operating performance, vision and compliance initiatives to achieve long-term shareholder value.
Q: And on a more personal level, what is motivating you every day?
A: The stimulation of working with a talented team and creating positive outcomes is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
Q: In this context, which personal achievement are you proud of?
A: Being entrusted with a senior executive role at the age of 27 for a billion dollar-plus business, and then spending the naughties in Asia – mainly in China, Japan and South Korea – working with culturally and geographically diverse professionals and great mentors. This was my MBA.
Q: As a child you wanted to be like…?
A: My Father…he died when I was only 21 but he instilled the values I hold dear in me til today.
Q: Who would you award a prize to, and why?
A: To all the women who can truly speak about the challenges of working life. I am not talking about those in leadership roles who have the benefits of higher pay and nanny support structures, but those of lower social economic backgrounds who have to juggle work and family life on a restricted budget. They are real heroes.
Q: Which political project would you like to accelerate?
A: All major infrastructure projects that will enhance the ability to efficiently and reliably move goods through supply chains.