Western Australian ideas expert Rod Evans is a big believer in the power of marginal gains – small improvements that collectively have a big impact.
It is a concept that drove him across the finish line as a world champion cyclist and to become a successful business leader.
Rod is now applying his formula to heavy lifting in his role as Chairman of one of the State’s fastest-growing mobile crane companies, Cranecorp Australia.
Like most industries in transition, crane companies are looking for big ideas that will set them up for the next 10 years and beyond. While game-changing innovations are always the holy grail, Rod also believes in the potential to achieve major change by making a large number of smaller improvements across a business.
”It is surprising how quickly these gains add up and how impactful they can be when stacked together,”Rod said. “In the words of Jan Calzon, who famously turned around the SAS Airline business in the early 1980s, ’to succeed in business and differentiate yourself from competitors, you do not have to be a thousand percent better at one thing; you have to be one percent better at a thousand things’.”
The strategy of ‘aggregating marginal gains’ is one Rod discovered during his sporting career. As a 14 year-old, he dreamt of becoming a world cycling champion but his hopes were dashed as injury, chronic fatigue and glandular fever took their toll. After over a decade away from sport, Rod returned to competitive cycling in his early 30s.
His best years of cycling were behind him, so he looked at all the facets of training, diet, and equipment to identify opportunities for marginal gains that might help him achieve world records. He wasn’t afraid to experiment. He completed regular training rides from Perth to Geelong, in Victoria, and hard 100 kilometre all-out efforts on the morning before races.
His theory of marginal gains proved successful and, in 1989, he set an around-Australia cycling record, smashing the standing record of 80 days by 30 days. After time out with a broken leg, Rod got back on the bike and, in 1994, became only the second cyclist after Sir Hubert Opperman to hold all world track cycling records from 100 miles to 1000 kilometres. To do it, he cycled 1000 kilometres in just over 29 hours.
The use of aggregating marginal gains is now well accepted in sport. Over the past 10 years, Sir Dave Brailsford used this approach to produce multiple winners of the Tour de France and transform the British National Cycling team into a powerhouse of international cycling.
Rod sees Cranecorp, with its fleet of more than 200 assets, its strong position in the Goldfields, Mid-West, Pilbara and South West mining centres, and the recent addition of a major investor, as ideally placed to find and leverage marginal gains.
Cranecorp’s plan however is not solely focused on opportunities for incremental improvement. A focus on people is another vital part of its strategy for success.
“While the attention is often on the equipment side of the crane industry the essence of the industry is the people that work in it,” Rod said.
“Cranecorp has a track record for attracting quality people. The outstanding reliability and initiative of these employees is a critical part of the company’s future.
“As an outsider coming into the crane industry I have been struck by the genuine nature of people across the industry. While we compete hard in the market, there is a deep respect between operators. Clients uniquely benefit from the co-operation and goodwill that exists between the crane companies.”
Rod sees significant changes ahead and expects a very different crane industry in 10 years’ time.
“Trends in other industries indicate that clients will place growing emphasis on the overall efficiency of project completion, rather than the pricing of individual crane lifts. That will increase the demand for real-time and secure information and data and will drive new thinking around how tasks are performed.
“As an industry that has tended to run on ‘gut feel’, evidence-based analytics are likely to become more important in the future. Crane companies will need to be able to support sophisticated systems. The excitement for us in Cranecorp is working with clients to achieve these outcomes.”
In addition to his role as Chairman of Cranecorp Rod is also the principal of innovation consultancy The Ideas Factory, a director on other company boards, a lecturer in strategy and creativity in the Curtin University MBA program, and is completing a PhD on the role of boards in the ideation front end of innovation.