RPA’s Debus Looks to Leverage Expertise of Members to Deliver Value and Move the Needle on Industry Growth

tim debusFresh on the heels of Tim Debus being named the new President and CEO of the Reusable Packaging Association (see that story here), we connected for a quick call. Being the intrepid blogger/journalist that I am, I cut right to the chase to ask him point blank – is it a big ‘B’ in Debus or a little ‘b’. In the course of my research, I had seen it scribed both ways. (Full disclosure, I am somewhat of an expert in this nuance. Being a big ‘B’ myself- LeBlanc – I have experienced a lifetime of lowercase and uppercase confusion.)  “Great question,” Debus responds diplomatically, “and I’m glad you’re part of the club who can empathize.   Debus is lower case ‘b’.” In answer to a follow-up about pronunciation, he elaborates that there is no particular emphasis on the ‘De’. “I usually say it quickly, and often pronounce the ‘u’ like an ‘i’,” he explains.

With the crucial issues of capitalization and pronunciation put to rest, we go on to talk about other business – namely his thoughts about the new role at RPA. “We don’t have all of the resources in the world so we have to be smart,” Debus offers. “We need to make sure that members feel their time and commitment given to the association is giving them a return – giving them them value. I want members to feel that we (RPA) are a critical part of the success of their business. And I want non-members to feel that by not belonging, they are missing out on something really valuable.

“I am excited to be able to tap into the vast knowledge resource and the expertise we have,” Debus continues. “It is going to make us stronger. The availability of great people and great leaders available for us to collaborate with, is exciting to me. The power of the whole to drive it forward – diverse skills, backgrounds and geographical locations. These perspectives from different angles are powerful.”

Debus describes himself as bringing a healthy mix of insider perspective, given his years of experience at IFCO and A. R. Arena Products – with an emphasis on product and market development roles for the likes of RPCs for bananas and eggs, as well as “outside the industry” experience in trade association management. For six years he worked for the United Fresh Produce Association, serving as executive director of the International Banana Association, a trade group advocating the common business interests of banana suppliers and marketers in North America.  He also managed regulatory compliance for Mycogen Corporation, which was developing crop protection products utilizing biotechnology processes. He has a Master’s Degree in Political Management from George Washington University and an undergraduate degree in Political Science and Public Affairs from Indiana University.

“I like to get into the trenches and roll up my sleeves,” Debus continues. “I believe in first hand experiences.” He emphasizes the importance of having a great strategy and the importance of execution, including being able to articulate very precisely what the objectives are. “I feel that clarity is essential to moving things forward. That is a perspective I want to bring to RPA.”

“He reflects on his experience in working with more complex supply chains like bananas. Bananas, for example, he says, can be challenging to work with in global trade. “They have been in cardboard boxes for 50 years, and they travel a long way to sell at retail for 60 cents per pound,” he explains. “It takes time and innovation to create change and break down old paradigms.”

Debus underscores the amount of complexity and legacy paradigms found in supply chains, but he believes the creative use of reusables in overcoming of such obstacles can provide opportunity. He describes a 3-dimensional perspective, not only involving a cheaper cost from A to B, but also the value-added opportunities that take place along the supply chain which add the 3rd dimension, whether product protection, enabling automation, or providing data that help transform businesses. “We are looking at how reusables can drive change.”

So how do vendors convince buyers of the value of reusable packaging offerings? He says that sustainability for years has been a “lead-in” and continues to be critical, however the demonstration of cost reduction and other benefits such as product protection are also very important to industry growth. “The demonstration of economics is an ongoing effort for members as well as for RPA – to promote how an investment will provide a return,” he states, noting that the RPA and the industry have already taken an active role in this area. “These are going to be critical tasks for us to support going forward.”

Debus emphasizes the importance of having a strategy, clear communications, as well as actionable objectives- and a dose of patience. “Huge growth isn’t going to come overnight,” he says. “We are looking to move continually down the field.”

“I don’t see a ceiling,” Debus concludes, in describing the potential for growth. Watch for Tim at the upcoming Reusable Packaging Pavilion at PACK EXPO Las Vegas.