You’re never too big to learn, says global consultancy

Buckingham-based James Ross Consulting (JRC) are a Global Packaging Management Specialist with offices in the UK, US and Australia. They work with global organisations helping them deliver cost-efficient, sustainable packaging solutions and intelligent management processes across their whole packaging supply chain.

If that sounds dry, just think about all of the plastic in the sea and the importance now being placed, worldwide, on using less packaging. What they do can have an effect not only on the environment but economically too. Since their 1993 launch, James Ross Consulting have helped clients improve their use of packaging across many sectors and global markets. In the past four years alone, they have delivered annual cost improvements to clients of over £50m.

Globe-trotting business forced to stay at home during pandemic

But when COVID hit, the consultancy part of the business was almost paralysed. Their methodology was dependent upon travelling around the world, visiting client’s factories, warehouses and offices – being able to study manufacturing processes up close so they can advise on changes and oversee trials. Factory closures and bans on travel put a temporary stop to that. 

However, behind every cloud… opportunities can still shine through and sometimes from the most unexpected places. Group Finance Manager, Tais Bonafe suddenly found herself with time on her hands. “When you’re stuck into the day-to-day workload, you don’t have time to primarily focus on improvements,” she said.

A fresh way of thinking

Tais initially joined Buckinghamshire Business First via the Peer Networks Programme, before signing up to the Growth Programme Advice Service. Both initiatives soon proved their worth. Networking with other business leaders, embracing the opportunity to share challenges and learn from other’s experiences was an extremely valuable experience. The practical advice she received from the one-to-one business support and focused masterclasses proved to be extremely helpful, giving her a fresh way of thinking about the business, and opened her eyes to the importance of reviewing inefficient and operating costs. 

“When you are busy, you often don’t think about finance re-structure,” said Tais. “But the list of opportunities is huge; suppliers such as telephone/mobile contracts, IT costs, insurances, annual subscriptions to services that we no longer need/use, revising ongoing contractor’s rates, project profitability tracking, etc. It really adds up.”

COVID had forced the business to cut its headcount in its US operations that were not supported by furlough schemes, and also flagged unaccounted waste. Tais got to work. She renegotiated all sorts of agreements, had one of the offices in the US closed, scrutinised every cost line – by the time she’d finished, she’d cut office overheads by a whopping 18% combined in all three entities, making it easier to manage and more linear to the new way of working post-COVID.

Encouragement and information-sharing through networking

“I’ve had a few lessons from smaller companies from our network meetings. Sharing information is a powerful tool for development, our network sessions were stimulating, comforting and encouraging, we were all going through unpredictable and challenging times. It was very worrying not being able to forecast due to the unknowns raised by COVID. It didn’t matter the size of the company; we were all going through the same concerns,” believes Tais.

It took JRC and its clients a few months to figure out a way around the travel problem. Necessity proved to be the mother of invention, with work-arounds like installing cameras in factories, having Microsoft Teams / Zoom meetings, having samples shipped to JRC offices for analysis, and leveraging home grown data modelling capabilities (within PackDevPro and @IF). These enabled the business and clients to adapt and develop, focusing time and resource on what mattered the most to them during the challenging period. 

“The way we work changed and I think it will be changed forever,” said Tais. “We now focus on providing services based on proven and efficient new models. Data analysis has improved massively, our ability to be agile in how we structure projects and communicate with the client have all helped in delivering successful outcomes for our projects.”

As part of Buckinghamshire Business First’s Growth Programme Advice Service, Tais received one-to-one support from an experienced Business Adviser and took part in a Strategic Planning Masterclass. She is on top of cost management for all three companies but it was time to start talking about generating new business. They looked at the JRC lead generation processes and explored the potential to create a more targeted sales message.

Tais took the initiative, instituting stronger lines of communication between the sales and marketing functions. Information that might have sat idle before was captured and used. It had an effect – an uplift in sales revenue after few months of implementation, absolutely vital under the difficult market conditions they were wrestling with.

Business support has a profound impact

A senior director and part-owner in the business also retired during this time, which meant significant changes to the management structure. The support from the Growth Advice Service helped Tais with the process of establishing the new business structure, as well as instituting management continuity and personnel development plans.

The impact on the business of all of Tais’ work with Buckinghamshire Business First has been profound, not just on JRC but also on herself.

“It was very empowering," confirmed Tais. "They planted the seed and helped me to develop the way I see myself within the business. I’m honestly thankful for the sessions and support provided and would definitely recommend Buckinghamshire Business First to every business in the county, hoping that this kind of support never ends."