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Fabrice Clerc-Renaud: packaging entrepreneurship within a wider organisation

Fabrice Clerc-Renaud has had a varied career in the packaging space – and developed a product, ePack, almost as a startup within the organisation he was working for (DS Smith). Tim Hartnell, our Senior Sustainable Packaging Consultant, caught up with Fabrice on the Venari Podcast; you can find the full transcript of their interview here.

Read on for more on Fabrice’s experience, how he launched ePack, and his advice for other packaging professionals with entrepreneurial mindsets!

 


 

Welcome to the Venari Podcast. I'm Tim Hartnell, and in this episode, I'll be speaking with Fabrice Clerc-Renaud. I've known Fabrice for quite a while now. Throughout his career, he's worked with some fantastic brands, including HP, Citroen, and LEK. More recently, he's worked with DS Smith, where he spent six-and-a-half years as Managing Director. He worked with the CEO and launched a new division called ePack, which we're going to be talking about a little bit later in the podcast.


Fabrice, welcome. Thank you for joining me.


Thank you, Tim. It's an honour to be here today.


Excellent.


So, Fabrice, let's kick off the podcast. Do you want to start by maybe giving us a little bit of an introduction to ePack and the division that you set up at DS Smith?

Of course.


So, ePack was a division that was created in 2018. The reason why we created it was essentially to capture the growth of the e-commerce industry at the time of double-digit figures in the UK. And what we realised is that we didn't possess an operating model capable of selling packaging for the small and medium-sized companies, which account for between 40-60% of the e-commerce segment, according to the country and each country's level of maturity. Hence why we decided to create a new division that was operating slightly differently from the mainstream business, so we could offer sustainable packaging to our customers in small sizes and delivered next day.


Brilliant. I mean, I’ve heard about it a lot through our conversations. It sounds like a fantastic project and obviously really speaks to the entrepreneurial character that obviously you have. I wondered what challenges maybe you faced along the way; maybe you could speak to our listeners about that.


Well, one of the major challenges, I think, in creating a small business like this within a major organisation is obviously having strong governance around it. In a small business like this, we need to be able to make mistakes, we need to be able to try, we need to be able to react quickly and change the course of action and make decisions quite rapidly. And it creates pressure in the rest of the organisation if the structure is not well thought-out. I experienced this firsthand because at the beginning of ePack, we were actually sitting under the packaging division. Because we needed this time to basically find our product fit in the market and define our go-to-market strategy, we essentially changed that governance and we went under the Group Head of Strategy, which was very near the top, reporting to the CEO of the group. This allowed us to essentially get this dynamism and speed to make decisions without losing compliance.


You mentioned in your answer that the go-to-market strategy was a focus. I'm wondering, did your time in LEK stand you in good stead for that?


Definitely, I think my period working in strategy consulting certainly helped me since the beginning of this project. I needed one year of planning before launching ePack and being able to get all the strategic frameworks to analyse that industry. Certainly, my time at LEK helped with all the commercial due diligence I did during my time there.


I thought that might be the case.


Going back to ePack, have you got any advice for anyone listening to this who may be thinking, ‘I could do an entrepreneurial project internally.’ Do you have any advice for those people?


Oh, plenty of learnings and advice.


Starting an entrepreneurship project like this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I think it's very interesting because you have the benefit of essentially a major corporation supporting you, so you don't actually have cash flow issues, or you don't need to be thinking about all the rounds of funding, e.g., Series A, Series B, etc. But, on the other hand, you have also some constraints. Actually, the other side of not being able to get external investment is that you don't benefit from a lot of resources to start away. So, you need to grow in an organic way, which, I think, in the end looking back, is also good because it really forces you to get things right. And to spend some time – to spend a lot of time, actually – thinking about the right way of doing things instead of just trying to get results quickly because your cash is burning and you need to go through your next rounds of funding.


I think in terms of advice, what I would say is, as I said before, that I think governance is a key element. You need to be setting a framework in your organisation where you can make mistakes and make decisions quickly. ‘Fail fast’ I think is the expression here, and I think there is also a very strong component of change management – especially if the business that you are creating disrupts, or changes, or is significantly different from the main activity of the company. I faced this first-hand, since ePack was all about selling digitally through an online website, through a stock-and-search model, whereas DS Smith, as a company, is more oriented through big key accounts and no stock at all. So, essentially on-demand production. A lot of people, a lot of stakeholders in the organisation didn't understand or didn't see why we were doing this. Although I had the support from the very top of the organisation, I had to spend a lot of time speaking with the local top management teams in different countries and different areas to get their engagement and support to make the business work.


From the talent perspective, how did you find that in terms of team responsibility dynamics – maybe you even did some hiring? Just talk us through that.


When we started, we were just two people; at the end, we were around a team of 30 people, so the team had quite a big growth throughout those years. At ePack, we were a startup, so we had this upside that we were going to grow fast – but, at the same time, we were in an industry that is, let's be honest, not very attractive to younger talent. However, one of the key elements for us to capture talent was our mission. And, in our case, we really were working under a purpose of promoting and selling sustainable packaging in the market. There was a big component of CSR and changing the way things are done, and obviously selling sustainable packaging instead of plastics.


I felt that this certainly resonated with me. So I was very passionate about it, and most of my team actually decided to join ePack after they spoke with me and saw this passion; they decided to come on board.


I think that brings us to the end of the podcast. It’s been great to get your insights and to hear more about your journey and experiences along the way. A lot of what you've said, our listeners will definitely find interesting. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.


Thank you, Tim. I’m happy to have some questions offline, and if anyone wants to reach out and get a little bit more advice, I'm happy to help.


This interview has been lightly edited for conciseness and clarity.


If you need help finding the right talent for your sustainable packaging business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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