For C-J Green, it’s always been about the people. Not a huge surprise really, when you consider her history in HR – she’s more about building people than processes. Even so, you’d be forgiven for assuming her focus may have altered slightly when she slid into the CEO seat from her role as Group Chief People Officer at Atalian Servest. But clearly it hasn’t. As head of the facilities management (FM) company in the UK and Ireland, C-J says her aspiration remains the same: to bring the best out of her people.
“That’s my biggest challenge as CEO,” she says. “But I guess you’d expect me to say that, with my intensely people-focused background. After all, I came into the organisation and progressed via the people function. But this is a people industry in every sense of the word. We’re not selling widgets and we’re not manufacturing stuff, we’re providing services reliant on the quality of our people, who in turn must engage with our clients.
“So, how do we help our people perform at their best, and how do we help our clients perform at their best? How do we connect people, offer more services and a greater diversity of services? We have to connect internally, connect with our clients and connect with our industry.”
C-J launched her career in HR more than a decade ago at the Norfolk Constabulary. She went on to a role as an HR consultant with Norwich Union, and Regional HR Officer for Frontier Agriculture before joining the Servest group as Assistant HR Manager in 2009. Just three years later, she was promoted to Group Chief People Officer, and last October was appointed CEO of the UK operations.
Ireland was included in her portfolio after Servest merged with Atalian in May this year. The merger created one of the world’s largest FM outsourcing companies, employing 125,000 people worldwide in 33 countries across four continents. Servest is headquartered in Suffolk, while Atalian remains in Paris. Both offer a full range of facilities services, including cleaning, catering, security, building services, energy management and compliance, front of house, landscaping, waste management and pest control to clients in the private and public sectors.
C-J acknowledges that her promotion to CEO was a rare move, considering her career path differed from that of most other CEOs. She also admits she didn’t expect to be asked to step up. However, her natural penchant for pushing boundaries encouraged her to accept the role.
Describing the landscape for FM in the UK as incredibly exciting, C-J marvels at the company’s growth since she joined in 2009 when Servest employed just 2,000 people. Today, the company employs 24,500 working across 7,000 client sites.
“It’s been phenomenal. We haven’t had a lot of sleep in the past nine years,” she laughs. “But, we’re the type of organisation that does what we say we’re going to do. I know, that sounds like such a trite statement. But, there’s something very different about this business. We’re not intransigent, we’re more of an ‘anything’s possible’ culture.
“There’s something very different about this business. We’re not intransigent, we’re more of an ‘anything’s possible’ culture.”
“It’s an incredibly exciting and dynamic environment,” she adds. “I think Servest stands out as being unique. I knew when I stepped into this industry there was going to be a lot of change and I think with the right customer focus, there’s a significant chance for us to really shake up the industry.”
C-J admits the company’s organic expansion has been strengthened by “quite aggressive” acquisitions, but shrugs these off as another example of the company believing in itself.
“We grew with cleaning as our dominant service,” she says. “But our acquisitions since I’ve been here have enabled us to branch out into different service areas. Our ambition now is to have best-in-class services, which means that whatever choices a client makes about the blend of services they need to support their business, we will deliver them. We’ll guide our clients on the best fit that suits whatever they’re trying to achieve.”
C-J observes that a unified delivery of services, offering multiple skills, expertise and collaboration, is needed in an industry habitually reliant on just one point of contact and one invoice.
“FM is so much more than that,” she says. “There’s a real opportunity to build a business where people have strengths in working together and providing an amazing service to a client. With everyone working together, the customer doesn’t feel like they have 10 different businesses on their site.
“Some of our more recent wins with major clients, have included them saying ‘This really feels different as a business’. I get so excited by that, because I think if we can nail that, which is something I don’t think our industry has done yet, we will be able to go after some pretty interesting work.”
C-J is confident the company’s commitment to diversifying its services platforms, rather than being a single-service player, will ensure continued growth and further value.
“I don’t think we’ve peaked,” she says. “When you see the size of the market in the UK, we still have quite a small market share and there’s still a lot for us to do. “While we’ve now got a great set of core services, it’s about strengthening them and bringing in acquisitions that can help us cement services in different sectors and areas in the UK. Because that’s when acquisition is successful.
“I don’t want us to be an FM businesses that claims it does a lot, but actually doesn’t. It would be amazing if people said, ‘work with Servest because they are something quite different’. “Finding a way that you can have a genuinely collaborative service model is a huge challenge, but exciting. I think it’s a differentiator if you can make it work.”
“I don’t want us to be one of those FM businesses that claim they do a lot of things, but actually don’t.”
C-J’s passion for the FM industry and its people is matched only by her company’s commitment to its partnerships with dedicated suppliers. It’s a relationship she describes as crucial and steady, despite the firm’s phenomenal growth. It’s also a relationship that has been forced to change appropriately, due to a backdrop of unsustainable procurement practices.
“Obviously, it’s changed over the years. Again, it’s clichéd but true that our better delivery model has created a proper partnership and a strong commitment. It’s not about a race to the bottom in terms of price. We want genuine value for what we’re looking for and how that translates to our customers.
“You can’t just say, ‘Procurement, please go and find the best price’. The procurement side of things has transitioned over the years, it’s stopped being about the best bottom line. “As a supplier of services ourselves, we ensure we talk to our suppliers, it’s something we feel strongly about as a business, and it’s an easier conversation to have these days. The worst thing you can be is the type of organisation that just beats up your suppliers all the time.”
C-J ensures excellence in procurement is maintained from both an ethical and a sustainable standpoint, even if that sometimes means disappointing a client demanding ‘gold-service products at bronze-service prices’. “You often get such cases, particularly on the catering side, and it’s not always possible to deliver. But that’s where we go to our supply chain. High quality, ethically procured produce is significantly important to us, and really doing what we say we’re going to do from an ethical standpoint is important.
“There is a lot of inauthenticity with some corporations. And even if everything we say about ourselves isn’t brilliant, I’d rather be authentic than just gloss over things.” Meanwhile, still focusing on relationships with people, C-J wants to improve communications with clients and become more customer centric. She wants a better understanding of what works for everyone. And what doesn’t.
“That isn’t the notion of ‘the customer is always right’, it’s taking things a step further,” she explains. “Having a valuable supplier, being a valuable supplier and having a partnership with our clients, will be a three-pronged approach – procurement, supply, and us in the mix. That will help us determine what benefits our clients. Just as importantly, we have to understand what doesn’t.
“In order to do that, you have to intimately understand your client. So, we’ve gone through a bit of a transformation in the business over the past few months to achieve that. It’s about making sure we’re delivering for our customers and at every level.”
It was Atalian Servest’s courageous, enterprising spirit that first attracted C-J to the company and it’s an energy she encourages and continues to enforce. She recognises the company has to be adventurous and grab opportunities where it can, developing fragments of ideas into promises.
“We have to be bold and choose different sectors to deliver. Then we have to definitely deliver what we say we can. That’s huge, when we’re dominantly going to market on a service.
“Our approach has transitioned to looking at a sector, say health care for example, and thinking, about what can we achieve for the healthcare industry by using our suites of services and supply chain. We look at every possible potential service we can squeeze out of the sector and offer it. Then, we make it clear we are going to market as an expert in that field.”
C-J, “at the risk of sounding clichéd again”, can’t emphasise enough, the flourishing entrepreneurial atmosphere Atalian Servest employees enjoy. Even the company’s shortcomings are overlooked in preference to working in such dynamic surroundings. “It’s a difficult industry to attract people into,” she admits. “But, Atalian Servest is an incredibly exciting organisation to work in and with, and our people exude that feeling. Our clients definitely pick up on that vitality.
“It’s a progressive environment. We aren’t too constricted by our thinking. I’ve always been excited by the atmosphere here – it’s one that always makes me feel like anything is possible.”
C-J also believes the company’s cooperative leadership style radiates throughout, inspiring employees and adding to the creative flow. Describing the executive team as “very lean and accessible” she believes their corporate power is different from that of other organisations.
“It’s the way we go about it, how we’re structured,” she explains. “There is an absolute focus on not being too top heavy with executives and having an ‘us and them’ mentality.
“We’re quite daring as an organisation, all working together. We go after stuff, and I think that breeds success. It definitely has for us. There’s such an entrepreneurial environment here, and once again it comes down to us believing that anything is possible.”
Since this interview took place CJ Green has left Atalian Servest.