Candle Maker’s CEO Gets Lean Ideas at Dakar

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Where can managers get ideas for business improvement? Gintautas Igaris, owner and CEO of the candle manufacturer Geralda, shared his Dakar Rally experience and insights with the top managers at the annual Lean2015 conference in Vilnius on 29 April.

Gintautas Igaris, Dakar motorcycle rider and CEO of Geralda, a candle manufacturer

Gintautas Igaris, Dakar motorcycle rider and CEO of Geralda, a candle manufacturer

I understood that I would never be able to reach the finish with a large backpack. The same applies to the business - to succeed in the supply chain a manufacturer needs to assure reliability with significantly less inventory.

"Every rally helps to understand the Lean management philosophy much better," says Mr. Igaris, who has been going motorcycling for the recent eight years and has been at the Dakar for two times. The core idea of Lean is to maximize the customer value while minimizing the waste. To put it simply, Lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources. Geralda has been using the Lean methodology since 2008.

As Mr. Igaris notes, all racers have to solve a puzzle: how many items they have to take to the track. Spare parts and tools can help in case of the equipment failure; however, a heavy backpack takes its toll – wearies a motorcyclist and slows her or him down. "Earlier I hauled a large backpack, but soon I realized that the leaders race with almost no load. I understood that I would never be able to reach the finish line with a large backpack," adds Mr. Igaris, at the same time giving a recommendation to managers to check the sizes of their "backpacks" - to calibrate business thinking. The plant operations or even the entire supply chain could do with less inventory. Mr. Igaris explains that excess inventory will always hide inefficiencies of the processes. However, once the inventory is decreased, the inefficiencies will become apparent.

More than just a simple question of racing and speed, the Dakar requires the off-road navigation skills and consistency. In the off-road races, endurance prevails, and the slightest mistake costs dearly. "Races require a driver’s complete focus on the direction, following the road book; you cannot waste your attention to anything except indicators that matter. Beginners lose hours due to the lack of the instant concentration. When back to the plant, I keep building a measurement system that would better focus the management’s attention on the root causes that affect company's effectiveness," explains Mr. Igaris. He noticed that the race beginners are keen on overloading their notes with excessive markups and highlights, while the leaders tend to keep their road books as simple as possible, denoting only the most important points.

One more lesson, which Mr. Igaris learned in the Dakar, was coping with variability and uncertainty. Any business faces variations in supply, demand, seasonality, and operations. However, rare company could survive such huge variations that are common in the Dakar. "Some days, to remain in the race you need to adapt yourself to plus 50 degrees C and the next day you experience minus 5 degrees C at the 4,500 meter heights. The contrasts are so unpredictable that unless prepared you or your bike are condemned to break down. Forecasting will not help. What can help is a developed ability to quickly react to reality that is uncertain by default,” explains Mr. Igaris.

The most important attribute of the Dakar’s leaders, according to the speaker, is their courage to share the experience and at the same time to recognize that they do not know everything. The beginners, in contrast, seem to know everything about bikes, technology, route, and psychology. Some of them think that they know all the answers because they spent years in web forums, while others fear to ask or share. "However, none of the Dakar’s leaders would ever refuse help from a coach or a mentor. Thanks to the Dakar, I learned to never say, 'I know'. Such an attitude leads to significant improvements in any organization," said Mr. Igaris of Geralda.

Geralda manufactures candles and delivers its wholesale customers superior inventory turns in this FMCG product group. The company aims to be the best at delivering better candle product availability coupled with substantially reduced inventories. The plant is located in Klaipeda region, Lithuania.

The Lean2015 conference was organized by the Lithuanian business daily Verslo Žinios.

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Jurgita Grigaitytė-Kubilė
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