A CEO entrance interview

Insider: Ravi Saligram


Ravi Saligram: The new CEO of Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers discusses his hiring and how he'll be spending his first 100 days

Who Ravi Saligram, chief executive officer and director of Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers Inc. (TSX:RBA), the world’s largest industrial auctioneer, based in Burnaby, B.C., with operations in 25 countries and 44 auction sites worldwide, and 2013 revenue of $467 million.

Involvement On July 7, Saligram started his new job, as the third CEO in Ritchie Bros.’ 50-year history. A week later, he spoke to Listed about why he wanted the role and how, as a seasoned CEO, he approaches a new position. Saligram, previously president and CEO of OfficeMax and a senior executive at Aramark, Intercontinental Hotels Group and SC Johnson before that, also laid out how he planned to spend the first 100 days at Ritchie Bros.—on his “100- day listening tour”—meeting and visiting with staff, customers, investors and other stakeholders, before setting his strategic course.

Listed Ritchie Bros. has a high profile in its sector, but isn’t well known beyond it. What made it appeal to you?

Ravi Saligram Number one was the uniqueness of the model, the model of unreserved auctions. Also, the fact that the company had a 50-year history of success, and that everything I could see was that it was quite entrepreneurial. Secondly, just the market cap of the company related to its size, which really shows what investors see in us. Third, I was impressed by the culture of the company. It is a very customer-focused company, very customer-service driven. The last piece would be that the company has a global footprint and I consider myself to be a global executive having lived in five countries and worked on five continents.

Listed Why is the unreserved auction concept important?

Ravi Saligram That is the core business of Ritchie, what [founder] Dave Ritchie created as a model. And it is still very viable. It, that model, really speaks ultimately in terms of saying our customers really put their trust in us. And I’ve seen that people here take very seriously the idea of the unreserved auction and the integrity that follows. I was very im- pressed when I heard stories during the interview process that, in fact, Dave had put his yacht on an unreserved auction, and then later on a condo. That really says, hey, people believe in this model.

Listed Have you attended a live Ritchie auction?

Ravi Saligram Actually, I did that before I accepted the role. I thought it was very important for me to understand our product. It was very exciting. I went to an auction in California. Other than our regional VP, no one knew that I was even a candidate, so I was really incognito if you will. And I was actually hugely impressed with our operational compe- tence. As an outsider, and having run a lot of businesses with multi-unit operations, I was impressed not only by the efficiency, but by the seamless integration of the physical auction and the online bidding.

One can just look at the equipment and say it’s not really sexy, but our people made this come alive…and then when I walked out into the yard, when the van was moving with the auctioneer, getting the bids and all that. I just thought it was world class.

Listed In a transitional period do you have short-term goals, like a 100-day plan, that kind of thing?

Ravi Saligram I have designed my first 100 days as what I call my ‘100- day listening tour.’ I did that at OfficeMax as well. I want to hear from different constituents: firstly different employees in different areas of the business, both in our headquarters here and also in the field. [But also customers, investors and the board.] It is a 360-degree view of our company from multiple, multiple stakeholders. So that I get these inputs, then, that will inform me as to how to move forward.

Listed You’ve been a public company CEO before. Can you elaborate on how you see CEO-board dynamics, working with the board?

Ravi Saligram For me, one of the critical things that attracted me to his role, along with the facets of the company, was our board.

We have, I think, a tremendous board. There’s the right mixture of newer members, longevity, people with direct experience in the equipment industry but different skill sets being represented. And what struck me when I interviewed was a good alignment between the board members, and a board that really understood the culture of Ritchie, understood the dynamics and the key success factors, and I think when they evaluated me, they had the right set of criteria in terms of making sure the cultural fit was okay.

A board’s job is to de-risk the company. And one of the most important jobs they’ll ever do is hiring the CEO. And I’m not saying that in a self-serving way because I was selected, but I saw great alignment and understanding of where the company is and where to take it to the next level. That was a very critical decision. Because if I had felt even a slight worry about that, or that there was a divided board or anything like that, I wouldn’t have touched it because that’s a recipe for disaster.

Interview by Listed staff

Photography: Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers Inc.

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