• Madeleine Bonser

Spotlight on - Cris Stephenson

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

We put the spotlight on Cris Stephenson, CEO of Environcom. Cris talks to us about going for ‘progress, not perfection.’ and managing people by bringing them with you.

A background into you and your business?

Environcom is the largest dedicated e-waste reuse and recycler in the UK. I joined the business 5 years ago when it was losing millions and was close to closure. We have now turned the business around and we’re set for a great future.

I have worked in logistics all my life up until this appointment, from running a highly successful division of a large corporate company to running a small automotive business. The principles of running a successful business are the same large or small and require the same dedication, hard work and business sense and a little luck. Although as my dad used to say, you make your own luck.

What has been your biggest challenge or setback during your career?

Mentally my biggest setback was straight from Durham University. I was appointed as a Trainee Manager for BRS and on completion of the course became Assistant Manager of the Barnsley depot. The Depot Manager resented my appointment over his preferred candidate, the Depot Engineer. I lasted 10 months making plenty of psychological and relationship mistakes under unpleasant circumstances before being moved to the Teesside depot by HQ. I subsequently left BRS and became a driver with TNT and 12 years later had become Managing Director of TNT Retail Express working up through every level of the business and gaining valuable knowledge and experience.

If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?

It was a huge blow to my confidence and my perception of my abilities, so I decided to go back to driving a lorry and work my way up by being the best at all I did, be that sweeping the warehouse floor or running a successful business. I had to suffer some incompetent and lazy managers on the way but helping them improve provided valuable lessons for me. Also being so determined and hardworking helped me a great deal. I took the time to understand the mistakes I had made and how to become better at managing situations and people, whether above me or part of my team.

What is it that gives you the drive and determination to succeed?

I think I am naturally driven, my great sporting passion is motorcycle racing and in all the years I have done this from club to European championships my motivation is not necessarily to win but to do better than I’ve ever done before. So, winning is nice but better still is

beating my personal best time for the lap or race. My main competitor is myself and that’s a tough person to beat, there are never any excuses. Be it bike racing or business, winning is a byproduct of getting better and better, I’m sure sports psychologists and business gurus will say I’ve got it the wrong way round but it works for me.

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?

“Strive for progression, not perfection” you cannot effect lasting cultural change overnight, it’s a gradual step by step process as this type of change needs a solid foundation on which to build.

When working for a corporate company remember that a successful career is not all about achieving results but also making sure you are recognised for this. You need to be sure your bosses and their bosses know who you are and how good you are, it’s often called “playing politics” but it’s vital for a successful career in such organisations and something I failed to recognise until way too late. Although I didn’t do too bad I could have done way better.

Good leadership is all about surrounding yourself with good people, these people help you and incidentally, you help them. Success isn’t only down to you, I know it’s corny but it takes a great team to be successful what makes Napoleon and Nelson stand out as the very best commanders was not their ability to organise, prepare or indeed motivate their men but their skill in selecting Generals or Captains to win their individual battles making decisive decisions within the general battle plan laid out by the leader.

What three tips would you give to those starting their careers?

  1. Find something that satisfies your soul, by that I mean you need to feel something for whatever it is you do.

  2. If something appears too good to be true then it probably is.

  3. Be confident in your own abilities, stick at it and look to improve in everything you do.

What advice do you have for people aiming for leadership positions?

I’d advise those who can, to study the really great leaders of history and get under their skin. A good leader needs to use their own unique personality traits but however, you dress it up they need the ability to influence people to do what the leader wants but to get them to think it’s what they want. There are hundreds of business books on how you do this and like everything in life the more you practice or dedicate your time to this process the better you will get. Like everything, there are techniques you can learn but like maths, some people find it easier to grasp than others, but everyone can do it for sure. However, to be really great you need the right aptitude and if leading people doesn’t feel right for you don’t do it. There are lots of other great careers out there and good leadership doesn’t always involve management.

What would your advice be to someone managing a team?

Don’t think if you have been promoted to a manager role you are therefore a manager. Managing people as well as leading people should be done by bringing them with you and not always pushing them.

To what do you attribute your success?

My drive and passion to always do better than I’ve done before.

What does the future look like for your business?

Very good; the environment is becoming centre stage politically and socially. With e-waste becoming the fastest growing waste stream in the world and the drive to reuse more, our business is perfectly placed to be in the vanguard of this surge.

What would you say to your teenage self?

I’d say keep the faith, don’t chase the girls, there is plenty of time for that and become the best motorcycle racer you can be and thereby win multiple World championships. But knowing me I’d nod my head and completely ignore that advice even though it came from myself.

Anything else you want to add to your story:

I think it is a huge mistake to regret or castigate yourself for the things you’ve done wrong, learn from your mistakes and move on. I strive to never regret the things I’ve done only the things I haven’t done.

Covid 19 questions

What has been your strategy for your business during corona?

We are one of the key industries so we stayed open throughout although we did furlough some of our staff until inbound volumes returned to more normal levels. I felt it important to keep all staff engaged with what we were doing on-site during furlough and to provide as much reassurance as possible that their work is valued and that their job would still be here post-furlough. Regular emails to our staff were, I understand, valued by many so I’m continuing to provide updates. Keeping staff and customers safe has also been a key priority.

What top tips do you have for businesses struggling with remote working?

It’s not something we have either encouraged or indeed can do except our sales and commercial staff who have sales targets; regular communication and focus are important.

How has your business adapted to deal with such uncertain times?

I think we have been lucky and the issues have been staff not able to work due to children at home etc., that has been our issue. Once we made our sites and working practices (for those working off-site) Covid-19 safe that was about it but of course, we need to ensure we maintain that safety. It’s surprising that we all now adhere to the new way of working very easily.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us, Cris. We’ve loved reading Cris’ story, and there are some great leadership tips that everyone should take on board. If you want to read more advice like Cris’, take a look at our other blogs, here. You can find Cris and Environcom, here.

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