Intelligent Label Solutions is a leading labelling company established in 1991. CEO Chris Currie has received two honours in the BWM 2020 CEO Awards, and he told us about the company’s successes and how it’s dealt with the challenges of COVID-19
With an impressive track record that spans four decades, ITL – Intelligent Label Solutions, specialises in helping businesses enhance their brand identities and share essential information about their products. The company, which boasts fourteen manufacturing hubs and nine sales and marketing offices around the world, is trusted by organisations of all sizes to produce best in class labelling solutions in an increasingly competitive market.
Now, the company’s CEO Chris Currie has been honoured in the Business Worldwide 2020 Awards, being named ‘Best CEO | Global Labelling and Packaging Industry’ & ‘Most Innovative CEO of the Year – South Africa’.
We spoke to Chris about the company’s successes to date, plans for the future and response to the challenges presented by Covid-19.
Congratulations on your award. What does it mean to you?
A: I am humbled to have been included in this process and feel honoured to have received recognition for the achievements we have made at the ITL Group; a business I am very proud to be a part of. I have been very fortunate to have exposure to, and work closely with, a number of talented and experienced businessmen at a senior level who have been prepared to invest their time in me over the years. I believe in integrity, having a sense of purpose, hard work, adding value and continuous improvement. I find investing in others to help them develop a sense of purpose and self-belief which assists them in achieving great things both as individuals and as teams massively rewarding. It’s great to see something I believe in and have committed to work out so well.
What first attracted you to the ITL Group?
A: The company ticked all the boxes in terms of what I was looking for in a business and was run by a team of very successful and respected businessmen with great values. It had an entrepreneurial culture, complimented by the right amount of corporate thinking and processes that allowed the business to grow in a well thought out and sustainable way. It appealed to me that ITL was an intellectually challenging growing business that makes something tangible, and is well diversified across economies, markets, customer bases and currencies.
How do you feel you have grown throughout your time at ITL?
A: I have a financial background which is where I started my career at ITL. I worked directly for the leaders of ITL who encouraged me to explore all aspects of the business as we agreed I could add more value if I truly understood it.
Being curious in nature and always seeking opportunities to develop and grow, I really enjoyed the variety and seeing how it all fitted together. I was fortunate to be given the freedom to work on improving and adding value to systems and processes across the business. My roles have grown and changed over time within the business with increasing exposure to marketing, sales, product development, technology, production and human resources. I enjoy people and working for a global business I have got to travel extensively, learn about different cultures and how best to communicate and work with them. As I progressed into the CEO role, new shareholders were introduced, and so I got to deal with a broader more diverse set of stakeholders. I have been learning to understand them and how to best meet their needs which has been an interesting and rewarding journey.
We have been on a path of sustained and sensibly managed growth in terms of scale, product range and geographic location. I have enjoyed driving this growth and being involved in introducing new technology into our products, solutions and how we run the business.
I have developed greatly as a person, building a strong sense of self-belief, whilst also gaining a greater appreciation and understanding of the importance of values, culture, people and how they work together. I have learnt to focus on surrounding myself with good smart people who want to be part of something meaningful, and so build a positive high performing culture.
How do ITL’s services and expertise offer value to customers?
Its critical to understand what your customers want above what you want to sell. Over time we have made a point of understanding the challenges our customers face in building their brands and bringing the right quantities of their products to point of sale at the right time. Our goal is to add value to our customers lives by helping them meet their challenges and simplifying these processes. Core to our business is always doing what we say we will do. We ensure our labels and packaging help our customers communicate and build their brands and are always produced seamlessly to specification on time across all our locations in the 16 countries in which we currently operate.
Prior to manufacture, our services include sharing market trends, concept development, design and branding, technical expertise on materials and construction, all focusing increasingly on sustainability. We take the time to get to know what customers want and interpret their briefs down to the smallest detail.
We produce over 4 billion labels across 10 different product lines and supply 5 solution offerings for over 100 different apparel retailers across the world. Our products are made to order across the world with each bespoke order manufactured consistently within a few days. We use technology to integrate with our customers systems into our single global platform which links to and through our entire production process to help deal with this complexity and achieve our goal. I enjoy the challenge of this complexity and solving ours’ and our customers challenges tremendously.
What are the principles that drive your business?
A: We live by a strict set of core values – Responsibility, Trust, Pride and Creativity. This enables us to provide the best possible service to our customers and play an important part in the local and global community. As well as our corporate ethical compliance policies, we regularly engage in voluntary initiatives and are committed to operating an increasingly sustainable business so we minimise our impact on the environment.
How do you consistently deliver such high-quality products?
A: We understand there is increasing pressure on supply chains and tighter lead times, so it’s essential that customers receive the correct product first time, every time. Our quality commitment is underpinned by a range of robust systems and processes, along with meticulous planning and project management.
What challenges and obstacles have you had to overcome?
A: I have enjoyed the challenge of overhauling and turning around some of our more challenging businesses and planning and starting new ones. In 2019 we revised ITL’s strategy, restructured our management team and ramped up our execution of a growth plan including investing in both acquisitive and organic growth. We were excited and well set for realising the rewards of this groundwork in 2020 after weathering subdued global economic conditions, the impact of Brexit and the trade and tariff wars between major nations. We were then struck by the global Covid-19 pandemic.
How has Covid-19 impacted on your business, and what have you learnt from the pandemic so far?
A: Covid-19 fast proved to be a 100-year event in scale, with significant health, social and economic impacts across the globe and all of our markets – as with so many other industries. The dramatic impact on the industry and our business, which is largely based upon discretionary spending by consumers out shopping, has been difficult to comprehend and accept.
Fortunately, we have strong close relationships with our shareholders, and with their support and guidance we understood the need to accept the reality, adapt and take impactful steps very early on. In the face of so much instability, uncertainty, dramatic fall-offs in demand, as well as changes in supply chains to become far more dynamic and responsive, it has been critical to consistently remember our values and what is important to us in making many far reaching decisions within such a short time frame.
How important has your team been in how the company has adapted to these unprecedented challenges?
A: Absolutely essential. We have developed a team of high performing people who have been fantastic in pulling together, accepting a new reality, and rapidly adapting the way we think and act to protect our people, and in turn protect our business.
We always take care to only introduce new people into our business that are high performing and a great fit for our culture. A great example of this is our new CFO, Eben who is exactly that and a person I have been very fortunate to have alongside me as we take ITL forwards. I am massively appreciative of all the commitment, effort, support and great teamwork shown by all our people at ITL as we are navigating these massively challenging times.
Q: What have been the most important factors that have contributed to your company’s survival during lockdown?
A: The commitment and hard work of our great aligned management team and close support and guidance of our shareholders has enabled us to adapt and restructure our entire business within 3 months. Clear strong leadership, a collaborative approach and open communication have been very effective tools for us as we also adapted to new ways of working, whilst still feeling part of something important and valuable.
Partnering with our key suppliers and customers building on close, lasting relationships has allowed us to weather the storm together and deliver optimal results for all. We have made a few mistakes and learned a great deal along the way, and I am very pleased to say that we are already transitioning from survival to recovery.
We have stuck to our core values in decision making and action following the mantras: “Protect our people and our business”, “Cash is King” and “Plan for the worst and work hard for the best”.
What does the future hold for ITL?
A: We are excited about the future as we fast build on our belief that ITL will emerge from these very challenging times as a better, stronger, wiser, closer team of people and business.
I believe the key apparel retail industry trends will be a protracted recovery period with rationalisation, consolidation, sourcing shifts, supply chain overhauls, increased use of technology and further movement to omni channel retailing. The adaptable strong businesses will survive and thrive – we believe ITL will be amongst them.
Our core strategies are increasingly relevant and we will continue to grow our business through service excellence, investing in new technologies such as digital production and smart interactive labelling and driving sustainability across our business as we strive to look after our people, profits and planet as the right thing to do.
Further information about ITL Group can be found on the company website, https://itl-group.com/