Jitha Singh, Managing Director – CBS Packaging
Article by Ninder Johal – Photos by Edwin Ladd
Video on Jitha Singh’s 3 Tips for Entrepreneurs Available HERE
Entrepreneurs by nature are risk takers and look to disrupt their marketplace but as their business models mature – certainty and the ability to plan accordingly becomes more important particularly as they look to scale.
The last 18 months for anybody operating in the UK has had two huge volcanic shifts – the pandemic and Brexit.
Anybody who meets Jitha will be instantly thrown by his smile and endless energy. He moves around his factory with speed whilst barking out orders. As a manufacturer of cardboards boxes based in the Black Country, he nods and engages easily with his heavily masked employees. There is an exchange of rapid conversation whilst he forensically inspects the quality of the boxes.
He turns to me and points me in the direction of the office. He leads the way whilst acknowledging everyone he passes on the way to the office.
As we settle for a cup of tea – its obvious that his mind is clocking at 100 miles an hour and I did wonder whether he had the patience to sit down for this interview.
‘My father was a fantastic businessman – I and my brothers learnt everything from him – he was the best negotiator that I had ever seen’.
The family business was a long-established manufacturing concern in the fashion industry, and he remembers his father negotiating with overseas suppliers for materials.
He concedes that he was not interested in education and joined the family business as soon as he could. During school holidays and weekends, he recalls cutting, packing, and sewing. He remembers that he watched and learnt so much. He remembers learning all about communication, how to negotiate and the importance of how you deal with people and especially employees.
So how did he feel working for his father?
‘He was set in his ways ‘admits Jitha‘ but we respected him and followed his rules, but he always encouraged to us grow the business which was a good place to be – working with him was better than any education’.
But it became obvious that the business was unable to scale properly because of the cyclical nature of the business.‘Because we were in the fashion business – it was largely a seasonal business and relying on our ability to predict what customers wanted. If we made the wrong decision – it would cause unsold stock and severe cash flow problems. Something had to change’.
We looked at other opportunities and wanted to do something that was not so seasonal based and something that everyone wanted. With our fathers blessings – we launched our cardboard manufacturing business in 1996. Every time we knocked on a potential customers door – we were repeatedly told that we were too late into the market and that there was no future in it as it was too competitive’.
We kept at it till we found our niche – that niche interestingly was excellence in delivering customer service which we discovered was seriously found wanting.
I remember the early days – it was difficult getting investment to scale but luckily the family believed in my vision. With hard work and relentless focus on customer service, the business blossomed – the business moved several times. Along the route, they made acquisitions.
‘For a variety of reasons – once we did not have enough money to buy equipment – it was cheaper to buy the business with that equipment already in the factory. Other times, we realised that we did not have the talent to scale the business and sometimes it was easier to buy a business which brought that talent with them’.
Was he happy with all of his acquisitions?
He answers with mixed emotions – ‘you get better at acquiring the right assets and your integration gets better with each acquisition’.
The business has grown to almost £30 million and employs 200 people.
But the last 18 months have been very testing.
‘Covid was tough – a lot of our employees were from Portugal and Italy and their appreciation of the implications of Covid was not so great. There was a definite problem with communicating to them the importance of social distancing and masking outside of the workplace’.
In June, after consultation with the public authorities, we had to shut down for 2 weeks. It was certainly painful but public health was much more important. Thankfully, we got so much support from our customers and suppliers who remained patient throughout this period and of course not forgetting the support from the health authorities too’.
The lockdowns brought a rise in the demand for cardboard boxes as everybody started to order home delivery. Whilst the business was experiencing huge demand for cardboard boxes from e-commerce businesses, there was problems with supply and accompanying rapid price rises’.
‘Material prices shot up by 50% and Brexit brought additional paperwork problems down to delays at the ports’.
And the future?
‘it is clear that our business has now tipped towards rising demand from e-commerce businesses and whilst orders from physical retailer is declining – this appears to be a permanent shift.’
And his personal goals?
He looks quizzical and answers ‘I just want to grow ‘….