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7 Questions with Chris Spanjaard

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Jonno White

7 Questions with Chris Spanjaard

Name: Chris Spanjaard

Current title: Senior Vice President & COO

Current organisation: Purolator Inc

Chris Spanjaard is Senior Vice President & Chief Operations Officer responsible for all aspects of Purolator’s Operations business since September 2017.
Chris has spent the past 20 years working as an International Senior Executive in the Global Express & Logistics industry with extensive experience in building and transforming operations across Asia & Europe. Chris holds an MSc in Business Administration from National University of Groningen (RuG), Netherlands
As Chief Operations Officer, Chris oversees all networks and end-to-end operations of Purolator for the domestic and international courier, freight and logistics market. As the leading provider of transportation and delivery of time-sensitive shipments, Chris leads the expansion and development of Purolator’s operations with a workforce of 14,000 employees across Canada and US.

7 Questions with Chris Spanjaard

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1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

Leading a company through uncertain times and in unchartered territories is one of the most challenging but also rewarding aspect of my role. As COO, you are always balancing between moving fast enough into new markets, technologies or opportunities and staying close to your current customer needs, capabilities, and commitments. It is finding that sweet spot, as I call it, where “leading in the now” overlaps with “leaning-in to the new”.

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

In short, I would say, start small, think big, go deep and end well. In every job, I begin with, short sprints using the talents, opportunities and strengths within my team. In doing that I keep a long-term and strategic perspective, go all in, get out of my comfort zone when needed, have fun and be fully committed. Finally, I aim to make it sustainable and meaningful for everyone involved. I have had the privilege to live and work in several countries across Asia, Europe and now in North America. The larger the size or scope of the companies I have been leading, the more important is to understand how small changes or events can have big impact. What started as a business orientation trip to Shanghai ended up in a 4 year adventure of building a domestic mail and parcel network. A successful small hub operation in Singapore expanded into a new global network efficiency program for TNT. Recently in Purolator, a few managers came up with the idea of refurbishing a “retired” delivery truck into a shipment pick-up point for a residential area. This has now expanded into Mobile Quick Stop services for all large urban cities across Canada. Not all small changes have high impact for all people. However, high impact always start with people leading a small change within a bigger world.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

My mornings start with prayer, a short workout and family breakfast at home. Since the lockdowns, the rest of the days are mostly filled with online meetings and calls. I have regular meetings on key topics, 1-on-1 meetings with my direct reports and daily interactions on evolving or unplanned issues. These are mostly related to safety, customers, operations or strategic investments. Besides that, I like to do spontaneous check-in with our frontline people and customers on their personal situation and work related insights. Normally I travel a lot and I certainly miss the personal interaction with people. I now enjoy being home for dinner with the family and spend more time reading or watching tv.

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Most recent, during this pandemic, I have seen why people do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Leading people through major transformations and in challenging situations requires trust, direct engagement and empowerment. Before the pandemic I have put a lot of focus on leading as a team, having common goals and help each other out in times of need. We have been able to increase our employee engagement to record levels and build a highly committed cross-functional leadership team in an open, collaborative and safe culture. This has proven a strong foundation in 2020 when we were confronted with the largest health crisis and volume increase in our company's history.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

My best book on leadership and life in general is the bible. This has been my greatest source of truth, purpose and learning as a person, husband, father, and leader. Over the last 15 years, as I faced many different situations, I have seen the hand of God in so many aspects of my professional, personal and spiritual life. In business, I have become less worried about how to execute, good or bad decisions or the results I need for my own success. More important for me is the who and why. Who are the people around me and how can I lead, support and connect, to grow and be part of a transformational journey with active faith?

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

From my experience there are three important aspects of building leadership capacity both in business excellence and change. First is collaboration and partnerships at all levels in the organization. A lot of time, money and motivation gets lost due to lack of internal and external collaboration. When people are directly informed, engaged and empowered more focus is put on the customer and common priorities. Secondly, leadership is build through courage. Making mistakes and learn from it, challenge assumptions or successes from the past and build the road as you walk. Taking the first steps are always the hardest because it needs courage, particular at the top, to let go of the past and move in a new direction. Finally, there needs to be a clear conviction that leadership is not just about kpi’s, budget and profits. Leadership is about making a difference in customer experience, people development and sustainable growth. This gives energy to go the extra mile and drive value for all stakeholders.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?

For several years, Purolator has a “Tackle Hunger” program where food is collected through local campaigns and voluntary activities. When I started in Purolator a few years ago, I was surprised to learn how this has increased over time. This did not start as corporate CSR or sponsorship but has been initiated by the frontline employees themselves. Many of them have neighbors, friends or relatives who are not able to make ends meet at the end of the month. Some employees even told me their childhood experiences when there was not enough food for their whole family. Across all terminals, employees spend a lot of time outside their regular work organizing community events and local fairs to collect food for the Canadian food bank. As leadership team we have decided to adopt this and support this as our national Purolator Tackle Hunger mission. We are now collecting millions of pounds every year through many local community programs, regional “red bag” food collection programs and partnerships with major sport events. A great story and testimony by Purolator’s employees and their purpose: making Canada stronger by delivering promises, every day.