Alok Maskara, CEO of Luxfer, shares some insights on how his organization has moved from a product-centric world to a solution-centric world, and eventually to a customer-centric world. It is important to bring the customer the right solution at the right time.
Alok joined an impressive lineup at the 2019 Executive Forum as a panelist speaker. He shared some insights in this executive interview with Gary Tubridy of the Alexander Group.
Gary Tubridy: This is Gary Tubridy, senior vice president of the Alexander group at the 2019 Chief Executive Forum. I’m here with Alok Maskara the CEO of Luxfer. Welcome. Hello. Great to have you here.
Alok Maskara: Thanks, Gary. Thanks for having me here.
GT: So tell me, Luxfer is a brand new company. Tell us about that.
AM: Yeah. Luxfer is a company that’s brand new from quite a few aspects, yet traces its history back almost hundreds of years. It’s a company that specializes in advanced materials and what we do is essentially make things lighter for our customers. So whether somebody is trying to make a helicopter or a car, or firefighter equipment, our job is to make it lighter and that’s what drives our success is making the customer’s product lighter. Some of the interesting applications still are military uses MRAs or flares. Those are made by Luxfer. Our largest well-known brand is of course for firefighters. Every time you see a firefighter, especially in U.S., and they have a cylinder at the back which carries oxygen, we pretty much make all of them if you’re in the USA.
GT: Tell me more about what your customers are interested in.
AM: You know, our customers, first of all, they are always looking at new, unique, innovative solutions that make their products lighter, more energy-efficient. Give you an example. When you have buses, buses in the city of London, they need to be cleaner, they need to be lighter, and they’re using a lot of hydrogen. We would supply the systems that would essentially enable them to be hydrogen vehicles. Now they will call it an electric vehicle, not a hydrogen vehicle, just because that’s more commonly accepted by consumers. But that’s the kind of solutions we would provide. And it’s our responsibility to always be more lightweight, always be more efficient, and bring that to our customer on a repeatable, reliable basis.
GT: I notice you use the term “solutions”, you bring solutions to your customers. You’re not talking about the product, you’re talking about what the product does for them.
AM: It is important, and I think we are in a journey to move from a product-centric world to a solution-centric world, and, hopefully in the future, to a customer-centric world. I think we’re very early in that journey, but we look at it as a step-wise process. Yes, it is important. If we just sell a product we get disfranchised or we lose out to the competition. Especially because some of the technology is now easily available.
GT: Who is in charge of revenue growth at Luxfer?
AM: You know, I thought about this question because that’s a common thing, and I have to start by saying as a CEO I feel like I’m responsible for revenue growth.
GT: And not all CEOs would say that they’re responsible for revenue growth. And I think it was kind of refreshing for you to say, “The buck stops here. Revenue growth is my responsibility.”
AM: Now in my role, as I go back and look at shareholders, and if I look at the best way to generate shareholder value, it is through organic growth. It is not through M and A, it’s not through capital deployment. The best way to create shareholder value is truly through organic growth. Now, of course, I have to delegate, and of course, I have to get pockets of growth and pockets of beginner teams that drive it. But I look at it as my responsibility.
GT: I love bringing marketing, sales and service together and putting the customer at the center of everything. Can you tell me a little bit about how you’re building an ecosystem of marketing and sales and service that keeps the customer at the front?
AM: Currently the way we do it is we have small customer focus teams, so these are teams that, for the same product, would look very different because one would be selling hydrogen solutions to London buses, and the other would be selling hydrogen-based solution for forklifts at Amazon warehouses. These teams are made up of core individuals which are supported by a back office that could be sales operations, and those teams would have a sales aspect to it. They would have a customer marketing and solutions aspect to it. And then there’s somebody who is responsible for service to that customer, even if they’re not organizationally responsible for the service organization.
GT: So it’s very organic. It’s at the point of contact with the customer.
AM: It is, and our goal is to try and keep them core located, and if not core located at least in constant touch.
GT: Yeah. I noted that you said not everybody is solid line reporting, and yet in a cultural sense, they all feel the responsibility to one another and to the customer.
AM: Right. It is because I think there’s always a balance between pure efficiency, which sometimes the solid lines drive, and that’s important in organizations like manufacturing. So it can break my plant into multiple organizations. At the same time, the customer doesn’t care and the customer really just wants their own experience to be seamless without any boundaries in between.
GT: Any tools or processes that you use to have the maximum impact on culture that you just referred to?
AM: We do. We are in the early stages of salesforce.com implementation. That is working well. It has its pluses and minuses. We are avoiding tool proliferation right now. So that’s one of the things we have been very careful with, to implement one tool at a time. I think the other thing that we have had very good success with something called growth scorecard. So it’s a very simple concept. It’s got a set of five metrics. One is going to be about the customer, which could be simple things such as net promoter score. Then it’s about a service metrics. For our world, it’s the lead time. How fast are we responsive to the customer in an accurate and perfect way? Then it’s about innovation. How are we delivering them the most innovative product and substituting or obsoleting our own products from the past? And finally, it’s about truly going and serving them in what’s important to the customer’s growth area. So how do we make them more successful in their area? So those are the four factors that are in every growth scorecard. I will personally review it with my sales team. My business unit leaders would review it. And that is driving a lot of cultural change and behavior. Now I would probably use a different word than scorecard because that’s sort of old fashioned, but it works. It works really well.
GT: In our conversation here, you’ve clearly put the customer at the center of everything you do. So that’s not a coincidence, is it?
AM: We are trying. I think we have a long way to go. So I think that’s what we aspire to be. We still have our challenges. It’s not coincidence. Recently every person in the organization is going through a training session or a cultural awareness session, where we talk about lead by example. So how do I lead by example and say putting the customer first is critical? Every communication that I send to the organization always ends with, “Please continue putting the customer first.”
GT: Well, I was speaking with an executive yesterday that said, “I’ve come to realize that we’re never going to be done. We’re always going to be striving for something and that probably is a good thing. Keeps us agile.”
AM: One of the things that I appreciate about forums like this, or coming to this, is gives us an opportunity to see other best practices because just this morning I was looking at things saying, “Oh, that’s a great idea.” We thought we are good, but this just shows us what better could look like. So that’s one of the things I really enjoy about meeting other executives who are trying or are ahead of us in a similar journey.
GT: Alok, any issues that you have planned to enhance revenue in 2020?
AM: For us, culture and talent is probably our number one. We are working through a lot of succession planning. In today’s environment with low unemployment, culture and talent is probably our number one initiative in that. It’s a lot about recruiting. Commercial excellence would be our number two. And we may not use the exact same terminology that others are using, but for us, it’s a lot about never giving a customer a reason to leave. Some of our customers have been with us for many, many years, and we want to make sure that it remains that way, especially as the customer is going through a generational shift as well. And finally very specific to us is an innovative new product, which I touched on earlier. Yes. How do we get innovative products and solutions to the customer before any of our competitors do?
GT: Well look, thank you for sharing your insights with us today and for joining us at the 2019 forum.
AM: Thank you for having me, Gary. I appreciate it.
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