Interview with Julian Tranter, Managing Director of Tom White

Julian Tranter

An exclusive interview with Julian Tranter, Managing Director of Tom White, the waste management company

Julian Tranter is a corporate change-maker and a pioneer of better ways to do business. He believes strongly in a ‘people first’ approach to success and has already proven this by transforming Tom White. This has led to direct impact on the bottom line and the development of a company which is now ideally prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.

In an exclusive interview, we chatted with Julian Tranter, Managing Director of waste management specialists, Julian tells us about his leadership lessons outlines tips for success, plus how he differentiates his business.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Julian Tranter: Believe it or not I actually started out as a furniture designer after graduating from art school, but later returned to education, becoming a Marine Scientist – a result of watching too many Jaques Cousteau films as a child! 

After my master’s degree, I realised I had the ability to engage people and articulate strategy that motivated and excited them to deliver. I have always been driven by sustainability and recognised the benefit this and longer term strategies had to the bottom line. Sustainability isn’t just a CSR tick box exercise, it drives real value and better market engagement. 

But it wasn’t until about 2013 that my thoughts and values crystallised, eventually becoming distilled to the (perhaps naïve) desire to make the world a better place. 

My concern was that large, listed organisations around the globe were seeking to grow (and the organisation I was in at that time wanted to double in size by 2020).  If they were going to do that then the demand for raw materials would result in depletion and future generations and the environment were both in serious trouble. 

What are some of the career challenges you have faced?

Julian Tranter: Wow, many!  One of my first jobs was in the construction industry. Not a sustainable career choice due to the economic challenges in the industry of the early 90s.  That led to redundancy and ultimately my return to education. 

But I have always loved an adventure and that has seen me accept some opportunities from being at sea on Spanish fishing trawlers in the middle of the Atlantic, to advising the Saudi Government on waste contract procurement, to creating construction products from waste plastics.

One of the biggest challenges however, was coming to the realisation that we are all different. When I recognised an opportunity to making business improvement by delivering positive EBITDA impact, I had to realise that perhaps it wasn’t as obvious to others as I thought it was. 

Having a different approach to leadership and business has often meant that I experienced resistance as I was pushing boundaries.  But I am relentless and don’t give up.  And this is why, despite working in corporates and PE backed portfolios, I have demonstrated that a value led, ethical approach works. Because people buy the narrative.

Do you have any tips for other business leaders?

Julian Tranter: I have been fortunate to have worked across a number of different organisations in a number of sectors.  You realise as part of that journey that some management and leadership practices haven’t evolved much since the industrial revolution. 

I exaggerate to make a point clearly. But the working environment evolves more quickly than leadership behaviours that often stick to the ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ model. 

Simply focusing on profit does not result in a sustainable business. It means that those businesses and organisations miss out on value and value that doesn’t require capital investment.  What is the common denominator? People!  And that is where my ‘People First’ value comes from.

So what are my tips for leaders?

  1. Really invest in people
    1. Create meaningful work such that people receive an intrinsic reward for doing good work that makes a difference.  Yes, set the strategic agenda and goals, but then empower your people to deliver.  Provide the tools, or training, to achieve the goal and set the timescale for delivery.  You do not have to have all the answers and admitting that empowers your team.
    1. Create meaningful values that people can be proud of.  They need to be felt and lived within the organisation such that everything you do is influenced and driven by them.  This drives the priorities and people are aligned to them.  This means the right decisions for the business and customers are made.
    1. People first is all about taking employees and customers on a journey where they become brand advocates, brand fans, loyal.  Committed to the cause because they believe in the narrative and what the brand stands for.
    1. Listen. Really listen. 
    1. Use your empathy.  Stuff happens in peoples lives that they can’t control.  Children never go sick at the weekend.  Stuff happens that creates tension between domestic and work priorities.  Be flexible.  Your people will value what you do for them and you will earn it back 10 times.
  2. Don’t compete, create your own market.  Differentiate what you do so you are in a market of one!  Do this through your narrative.  When you stop selling a service and your offering to market is value-led, you will attract clients that buy into what makes you special.
  3. Keep growing, as an individual.  If you do not continue to develop and challenge yourself to be better you will stunt the potential of your organisation.  As you develop, so you will pull your people with you as they grow into the space you have moved on from.

There are many others and one day I intend to publish a ‘real guide to leadership’.

What made you decide to take a value driven approach?

Julian Tranter: I have always been interested in ideas.  I am interested in the concept of having no competition and carving out your own market.  I like the idea that if people buy into your idea, your purpose, your value.  Then they will buy what you are selling. 

And this is proven to be the case.  Taking a position on something will result in others sharing your value, then aligning and buying what you are selling. 

What else makes Tom White different?

Julian Tranter: The people at Tom White really care.  We all stand behind our mission to make the world a better place and for future generations to have the same opportunities as we do.  We challenge ourselves to be our best but when we get it wrong, say so.  And then move on, having learned the lesson.

We seek new ways of doing things. And uphold our motto “Because it is the right thing to do”.  We can evidence that doing the right thing drives positive behaviours and a positive impact to the bottom line and consequently a financially sustainable business that serves its customers, employees and community. 

We want to get recycled materials back into the UK supply chain to reduce demand on virgin materials and reduce our impact on climate, thereby giving future generations the same opportunities that we have.

We are genuinely proud of what we do and what we stand for.

What is your plan for growing your business (medium/long-term)?

Julian Tranter: Keep engaging.  Keep getting our message out there so that our values touch and influence as many people as possible.  Keep being change-makers.  Keep loving the difference we make. Never stop caring. 

We believe that the market wants what we offer and therefore we want to reach a wider audience and in doing so provide an alternative option.  One that is ethical, supports our clients social and environmental agendas, and one that cares, driven by a set of values that makes the difference and helps us contribute to making the world a better place.

What might we be surprised to learn?

Julian Tranter: Crikey! Don’t know.  How about: I am the author of “Ponkio Jones and the Story of the Big-Belly Monster”, how’s that?

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