Having been CEO of Sealed Air Corp - one of the world’s largest conglomerates for the food, hygiene and packaging industry - since the past four years, Jerome Peribere recently visited the UAE for the third time. As he said at the start of our interview, this indicates just how important this market is to the company’s overall business plans. As it is, Sealed Air Diversey Care is by far a leader in the cleaning and hygiene business outside of the US, and especially in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey region. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Jerome, one evening during his trip to the UAE. Some excerpts….
From the agricultural chemicals business to the world of packaging, cleaning and hygiene – how has the transition been?
While the businesses were very different, I am of the opinion that at the end of the day, it is not that important to be a sector specialist. What is important is to have the will and desire to take a company and make it better. That is what we have done as a team in Sealed Air with our 23,000 employees. We took a step back, figured out that our strategy was not working, but we have extraordinary leadership positions and therefore reflected on how we can help our customers create more value. Through all of our divisions – protein packaging in food; hygiene and product care, our aim is to eliminate waste – this planet is choking, and I believe we are doing great things for improving sustainability to create a better way of life for our customers and people.
Soon after you came on board in 2012 as the President and CEO of Sealed Air, you announced the consolidation of the company’s various segments at Charlotte, USA. What inspired this move – and how has it worked out since then for the business?
Up until recently, our three main divisions were located in South Carolina, Amsterdam (Netherlands), Wisconsin and New Jersey. Then our global headquarters was in yet another place, also in New Jersey, and our R&D was scattered around the world. This was preventing collaboration and cross-fertilization amongst our staff; we needed to regroup. The problem with the R&D labs was that they were too small, sub-optimised and didn’t have the critical mass for proper research. We are now building a central lab in Charlotte with a few centres of excellence around the world – in Mumbai, India; Utrecht, Holland; and one in the USA. This is about an obsession with creating new value for customers, making them more productive and eliminating waste. With our Charlotte headquarters, our aim is to force collaboration amongst the three divisions which would eventually benefit our customers.
Diversey was a huge acquisition for Sealed Air back in 2011. How did this deal strengthen both brands and scale the business? Also, tell us about the strategy behind the acquisition of Intellibot. How has it changed business for Sealed Air Diversey?
For one, the Diversey acquisition strengthened our business within the F&B industry with a combination of hygiene and packaging solutions providing a greater, unmatched offering in food safety and waste. In order to move employees from saying they worked for Diversey to saying, without being prompted, they are Sealed Air employees, we modernized the Sealed Air brand for the entire company, not just Diversey, and launched new mission, vision and values. We believe in strengthening through technology. Today, we are the only company to produce robots in cleaning. We also pioneered the concept of Internet of Clean in the market.
Our Intellibot business is a start-up, and we wanted to be the first ones because we already have very high quality equipment – the Taski machines. So, combining this with the next generation of equipment was but a natural transition. Robots are not immediate replacements for these machines or people, but they can help and be extremely productive. This is the future. With Sealed Air, it is here today.
Currently, the cleaning industry is abuzz with the Internet of Clean – a concept pretty much spearheaded by Sealed Air Diversey. What are your thoughts on how this will shape up in the future?
Today, we’re witnessing the creation and implementation of an abundance of technologies that are helping people accomplish ordinary things in extraordinary ways. Internet of Clean is a new platform that connects machines, dispensers, sensors, beacons, and other smart devices. The ability to maintain connectivity with these devices will allow businesses to monitor their equipment remotely to improve employee productivity, safety and operational performance. We also, a little more than a year ago, acquired Intellibot - a maker of game-changing robotic cleaning machines. And, while the market is still in the early stages of development, we already have over three hundred Intellibot machines operating in the field today. At one customer location, the use of these machines saved them 46,000 gallons of water, 3,000 hours of cleaning, and $40,000 of labour savings!
Overall, what kind of expertise has the Sealed Air division brought to Diversey’s existing portfolio?
Our Diversey Care business focuses on three key areas, all of which need changes to our portfolio and core competencies. All the three divisions, Diversey Care, Food Care and Product Care provide great value to our customers, and our goal is to become a knowledge-based company no longer selling just hygiene products, but creating real value in terms of resources and savings – whether they be water, energy, labour or monetary savings. One of our recent examples is Walmart, with whom we are working in the e-commerce business, store hygiene, and meat and fish packaging. After all, we are all about adding value!
What is your opinion of the global economy currently?
While I do not hold the doomsday view that the economy is collapsing – from a financial quantitative easing perspective, there are lots of red lights. This is the first time ever that 8 years after a crisis started we are still grappling with it. Most crises have the shape of a V or a U, this is the first time a crisis has the shape of an L. The only way around the current economy is to constantly reinvent different modules of growth, different models of wealth creation and save costs. I believe that we should take things as they are and navigate with only one obsession – to create value for our customers.
What is your perspective on the Middle East & Africa region?
Like the world, the MENA region has lived through better times, and the UAE is one of the prosperous, if not the most, countries in this region. I think the UAE and GCC countries in general are doing well and working hard in an environment that is not easy. Plus, they have a vision. The UAE decided long ago that it will and cannot be dependent on oil and therefore has decided to be the country that it is, which is admirable. Yes, the reduction in oil prices has created instability; moreover, the escalating terrorism and sustained market instabilities in Egypt and Turkey, which are two markets where we have a very dominant share, has affected us. Yet, we continue to win new customers and compensate the market decline with new customer acquisitions or new portfolio introduction to existing customers.
The volatile market conditions all around MEA offers opportunities for our total cost of ownership and productivity improvement programmes, which we accelerate as customers are more conscious of their costs at the moment. Having said this, in the long term, with a number of activities lined up in the GCC region, like the KSA 2030 vision or the World Cup in Qatar or the World Expo 2020 in the UAE, I believe the MEA region will continue to be at the heart of our growth strategy; we will continue to lead by our innovations and solutions to improve our customers’ sustainability and total operating costs, and we will invest into talent to expand our reach in the Middle East and Africa.
What are your future plans for Sealed Air Corp?
We are moving along a continuum from being a products company, to a solutions provider, to a knowledge-based leader. It is common to think that customers choose their suppliers. I tell my personnel to choose their customers. We want to work with organisations that want to grow with partners, are interested in surprising their customers with new value, in development and in improving the quality of what they do within the constraints of their possibilities. This will only create and increase employee value, shareholder value, customer value and sustainability value.
We will continue to invest in disruptive new technologies and new business models that bring value to our customers, and we will continue to be a leader in sustainability.