DS Smith’s Miles Roberts on 2020 & Beyond

DS Smith Supremo MILES ROBERTS reflects on the year that was, within his company, the industry, and the world…

It’s been said time and again, but 2020 has been a year unlike any other in our lifetimes. And as we’ve been hit by further news and restrictions recently, I reflected on the past year following conversations with the City around our financial results.

What’s clear is that no-one could have foreseen the current situation as we prepared for Christmas just a year ago. The world has dramatically changed and it strikes me that the purpose we have been working hard to embed over the past two years has never been more apt. ‘Redefining Packaging for a Changing World’ is not just a series of words, it represents today’s reality more than I could have ever imagined.

Our priority through this pandemic has been and continues to be the safety and wellbeing of our people and I’m incredibly proud of how we have been able to respond together to ensure that everyone has stayed safe throughout the past year. We’ve worked hand in hand with governments to ensure that our factories could remain open and continue to keep goods moving, including vital supplies like medicines and food.

Putting people first

From Kemsley to Krusevac, Tampere to Timisoara, and in over 300 locations across the world, our employees are embodying our values and helping others. Whether it’s by donating time and expertise or by raising money to support local causes, they’ve done their best to support the local communities in which we are based. They’ve been supporting foodbanks and hospitals, caring for our retired colleagues to ensure they have food throughout and even sewing face masks for the NHS.

One of my proudest moments was as a result of the hard work of our packaging team in Sheerness, a small town in North Kent, who played a vital role in the distribution of the first vaccine delivery. Their efforts will touch millions as it is rolled out across the UK and beyond.

We’ve also worked closely with our customers, who have in some cases dramatically changed to the current situation. They’ve modified factory lines to change from producing gin to hand sanitiser, rolled out new products like stack and drop boxes to cater for the most vulnerable or turned bricks and mortar stores into emergency distribution centres when Covid-19 restrictions prevented them from welcoming customers inside. Hearteningly, as is often the case, adversity encourages innovation and many companies saw real opportunity.

DS Smith’s Sheerness team have been key in getting the Covid vaccine rolled out

For many millions, myself included, this will be the first Christmas delivered to our doors, with an estimated 224 million more presents ordered online this year, taking the total to over four billion presents in Europe bought through the internet. And the humble cardboard box has played its part in helping to deliver it this year.

But it isn’t just about Christmas; since the summer, more than 85,000 European businesses including farms and restaurants have launched online stores selling directly to their local communities and beyond. Initially it was a necessity, but this online offer is bringing their goods and services to consumers they previously might not have been able to serve.

All in all, it has been a year that has demonstrated not only the resilience of our people, our communities and our customers, but also of the wider human spirit. We have persevered in times of great adversity and we will continue to adapt and remain resilient in the face of new changes. We will continue to redefine what we do in the face of this ever-changing world.

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