From Robert Houghton,
Former President of Redemtech, and CEO of Sage Sustainable Electronics
When we sold our old business Redemtech to Arrow (ARW), I repeated one promise to customers over and over: “nothing good will change, and you’ll enjoy many new capabilities thanks to the resources of a global public company.” When I found myself powerless to keep that promise, I resigned.
This is a stark illustration of the first rule of business success: we must keep our promises—not only to customers, but employees too. I have personally vowed never again to find myself in a position where I must violate this principal.
Things with the new owner were different from the start. My new colleagues discussed our customers as if they were suppliers. After all, we were buying their surplus IT hardware! My previous experience had been with customer relationships that blossomed through years of collaboration and value creation. At Redemtech (and now Sage) we loved our customers.
The second rule of success must surely be a commitment of service to the customer.
Our new owners took a cookie-cutter approach to providing services. One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of running Redemtech (and now Sage) was responding to new, and often demanding customer requirements. Redemtech held annual two-day Customer Advisory Board meetings which generated numerous innovations, and a much deeper understanding of our customers’ needs. Our most demanding customers made us much, much better. We are re-inventing CABs at Sage, and look forward to developing long to-do lists of great ideas.
Clearly, an important rule of success is listening, and learning the customer’s business. If Steve Jobs was right that “it’s not the customers job to know what they want,” it follows that real innovation requires deep knowledge of the customer’s needs.
At Redemtech we offered consumers an assortment of beautiful, refurbished PCs under the brand Red Rabbitt, complete with special branded packaging. After my departure, one Redemtech alumnus had taken a job running an electronics recycling operation. He reports receiving a truckload of pristine Red Rabbitt computers, in sealed boxes, destined for the shredder. Customers received a percentage of every sale, but nothing that day.
It should be an obvious rule of success that we must be good stewards of our customers’ assets. At Sage our number-one metric is Reusable Yield—we relentlessly work to increase the percentage of everything that doesn’t go to recycling.
Perhaps the most important lesson is that you can’t run a business of integrity without immutable values.
At Sage we worked on clearly defining our values before we started building the business. Many of these are embodied in our Credo, perhaps most importantly exactly—and in what order—who we’re working for.
This is who we’re working for:
- The Planet (first and foremost)
- Our communities
- Our suppliers
- Our shareholders
In response to Arrow’s abrupt cessation of services, Sage is temporarily accepting the terms and conditions of existing Arrow customer contracts, and will onboard new customers at warp speed to help them avoid a disruptive interruption of critical IT asset disposition services. However, those customers who do matriculate can expect to experience a stark shift in the treatment of their IT assets—for the better.
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