Businesses putting their sustainability credentials front and center is hardly a new phenomenon. Reflecting the increasing expectations of consumers, firms are introducing countless sustainability initiatives. Yet, without a genuine commitment from corporate leadership, these projects will fail to make a meaningful impact.
For family owned Sortimo International, a leading manufacturer of van racking systems and mobile transport solutions in Europe, innovation and sustainability go hand in hand.
“All decisions are made based on the most sustainable solution possible,” says Reinhold Braun, Managing Director at Sortimo. “Because we are not looking at one quarter or the next, we can plan for five, 10 years or even the next generation.”
To become carbon neutral and better meet customer needs, Sortimo is undergoing a massive transformation that touches all parts of the enterprise. Despite Sortimo being founded more than 50 years ago, Braun and his management team are acting as a startup to gain the flexibility needed to develop.
“Without failures, you cannot create innovation. You cannot develop innovative products and solutions, so we have to fail in order to come up with better ideas,” he says.
When decisions are made by Braun and his team, they have to be able to prove it will be sustainable in the long term. “If it is not sustainable, we say, ‘Okay, that was the wrong way.’”
By quickly identifying what choices will not serve the business, Braun can adapt and go in another direction. “The culture of making mistakes is very important for family owned companies.”
Virtually all businesses were unprepared for the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing impact it’s having on supply chains, customer behaviors and staff retention rates. For a business like Sortimo, where customer service is at the heart of all operations, the change was dramatic.
“Normally we work with customers on a one-on-one basis, so we had to change a part of our business into a digital environment,” Braun explains. “We were already on the way to digitization, but the pandemic pushed us forward even faster.”
Beyond the challenge of accelerating business transformation, Braun was faced with countless supply chain breakdowns, leading to a renewed focus on achieving vertical integration.
“The lesson we learned was to increase our vertical integration in the whole supply chain. It’s a change for good, because now we are controlling the whole supply chain, we can manage it,” he says.
Agility became the driving force behind all initiatives in the aftermath of pandemic-related disruption. Recognizing that disruption had become commonplace, Braun made the decision to learn from the challenges and move towards a more flexible supply chain, aided by digital transformation.
“We need to be more flexible in our business because disruption could happen anytime – you cannot even predict it.”
The relationships that Sortimo has developed with its partners go far beyond standard supplier agreements, with these collaborations proving to be particularly important when entering into new markets.
“We have partners like Gruau in France, as well as partners in the United States – they better understand the local needs in the market and by understanding the local needs, we can jointly develop our business for the future,” he says.
The natural integration of partners into the strategic process is the key to success, according to Braun. As the product offered by Sortimo is complementary to a range of other services, following complementary product strategies helps all stakeholders grow.
Innovation has been the key to business for Sortimo for 50 years, and five years ago, the firm began building the largest e-charging station for electric cars in Europe.
“Our e-charging stations are the core for the transformation of our whole business because we better understand how you can create an advantage by e-mobility. Being the first mover in electric mobility is a major benefit for us,” he adds.
“Without partners developing the whole strategy, it won’t work. We have partners in jointly developing the market, but we also work with strategic partners as our customers.”
Sortimo has collaborated closely with OMD Germany, a media agency that offers innovative marketing solutions, as part of the plans to boost innovation.
Close connections with international partners also allows for better forward planning, as these firms are well-placed to understand local market conditions and predict events that may cause challenges in the future.
Even before the pandemic, finding talented employees with the right skill set was a challenge for businesses across the world. Sortimo is no exception to this issue and has spent years enhancing the workplace, upskilling staff and fostering the next generation of talent.
“Getting the right people into the company is a challenge, but it’s at the core of creating a successful business. We are looking at how staff can have major development within Sortimo, because no-one is coming and doing the job for 10 or 20 years anymore,” adds Braun.
By identifying employees early on in their career journey that show management potential, Sortimo is able to develop staff from inside the company who possess both the skills and values needed to thrive in the organization.
On-the-job training is a central part of this proposition, with Sortimo maintaining an international network where staff can work from different countries and come back with new experiences and insights.
“We have a very strong network with schools and universities, so that we have the capability to pick people from these institutions who would benefit from our development program,” says Braun.
As a family owned business, Sortimo is constantly looking for the next generation that will support the business. He wants to ensure that this process is sustainable and allows employees the space to grow within the company.
With the benefits operating as a family business brings, Braun has been able to adapt quickly to market disruptions and remain flexible as times continue to change.
Just as Sortimo is undergoing a transformation to embed sustainability throughout the business, it’s also working to ensure the business remains resilient and continues to thrive for many generations to come.