Ian Wakelin deserves much credit for agreeing to be the focus of the latest Undercover Boss TV programme.
Biffa’s chief executive learnt some harsh truths about his business but he took them on the chin gamely and the experience seemed to prompt a genuine review of parts of a business that is battling to get back on an even keel.
Wakelin’s company cannot be alone in experiencing some of the episodes portrayed and many viewers within the industry would not have been surprised at parts of the Biffa ‘coal face’: that MRFs can feel Dickensian; not all HGV drivers are knights of the road and it’s tough being a cold-calling salesman.
I suspect that any CEO could find disturbing examples of middle managers failing to treat more junior employees with due respect or consideration if they looked hard enough. Wakelin was generous in apologising and making up to two of his temporary colleagues who had been badly managed and he pledged to put greater emphasis on treating staff as people.
It was intriguing to wonder how his undercover lessons will impact on future policy. For example, would Biffa review its use of agency workers? Odder, though, was the CEO’s surprise at discovering that perfectly good products and materials - in his case children’s bikes and microwave ovens - are literally thrown away at household recycling centres. Reuse continues to be the poor relation for too many in waste management but, on this showing at least, Biffa is to change tack.
As I said at the beginning, Wakelin should be praised for rolling up his sleeves and being prepared to acknowledge concerns so publicly. And noting, as he did, that you cannot run a company by spreadsheet.
- Finally, MRW is taking a break until the 17 August issue but we will continue to update the website as usual every day.