There’s an enduring memory at the very heart of Cleaning Melbourne, an industry leader in the southern city. When Founder David Gagovski was a child, his parents, both unskilled migrants, worked laborious jobs to give him and his sister opportunities they themselves never had. “My father worked with the railways and my mother as a cleaner,” David says.
“They worked very long and hard; an enormous sacrifice for my sake. To see my mother underpaid or not paid at all, receiving no entitlements and often being bullied motivated me to change the circumstances for her and others in the same situation.”
David made the most of his parents’ sacrifice, gaining an education and forging a successful career as an accountant for National Australia Bank and Mercer. “I was working full time, but I’d spend a lot of my downtime finding clients for my mother to work for,” he recalls. “The business began to form through my continued persistence.”
In 2008, David made things official by creating Cleaning Melbourne, a cleaning business he believes has changed the industry. “At first, with the help of my wife Michelle, I was able to bring in friends and family who were experiencing similar circumstances to my mother. It helped change their lives and their gratitude reinforced that I was doing something right and worthwhile,” he shares.
Cleaning is, in David’s own words, “an invisible necessity”, a service many take for granted. “For 13 years, I’ve worked to change the industry, and it is now becoming important to think about cleaning practices, frequencies and expertise.” In response, he has built a cleaning company that recognises it is the sum of its people – and treats them with due respect. Before long, David was managing a team of 50.
“Then it was 100 and now it’s 350,” he smiles. “It’s so rewarding to see this growth and the satisfaction in our employees as they have come on board, received fair work conditions and decent treatment.” All the while he’s stayed true to his vision, even during times when the reality hadn’t quite caught up.
Our mission is to make our clients’ facilities great places to work, play and visit.
“At times we’ve had to create the perception of a larger company, and then we’ve continued to strive to make that a reality,” he reveals. “From establishing our first office in North Melbourne to acquiring our first 1300 BE CLEAN business phone number and branding our very first vehicles as the Cleaning Melbourne fleet, we created a presence that we then needed to live up to.”
That’s where the hard work of his team comes in. Through a series of “non-negotiable” rules to work by, David created a clear set of expectations for staff and clients alike.
“We implemented simple systems for our customers to engage with us that ensured we were easy to contact, easy to deal with, highly responsive and that no request was too big, too small or too difficult,” he says. The result of this extensive process was C.A.R.E., the company’s values system.
“C.A.R.E. is customer service – exceeding their requirements; accountability – doing the right thing, even if no-one is watching; respect – treating others in the manner we would like to be treated; and excellence – striving for excellence in all things, big and small. This is embedded in every level of our operation,” David shares.
“All these values shape our personality as a business and as a team, they inform our recruitment and drive transparency with our customers.”
However, cleaning house in the cleaning industry wasn’t an overnight job. From the start, David sought to improve the conditions that had beset his mother but he soon found himself battling against the many misconceptions faced by the sector.
“I believe one of the biggest is that cleaning is a service that should be experienced but not seen. We see it in our customers’ expectations around when cleaning should occur, and for the main part, that’s outside business hours.”
The advent of COVID-19 changed that, driving home the importance of health and hygiene in a far more urgent way. “The shake-up that we’re currently going through illustrates how we may need to find ways to live with viruses and other pathogens,” David suggests.
“I believe that cleaning and hygiene is the way to enhance everyone’s health and safety, so our mission is to make our clients’ facilities great places to work, play and visit.” The pandemic era proved a true test of C.A.R.E.
To see what we managed to achieve in our first decade of business has highlighted the difference we’ve made.
“The dynamics of lockdowns, calls for deep cleans and the increased transparency of staff traceability imposed significant stress on our ability to delight customers, remain accountable, respect each other’s fears and concerns in the COVID environment, and increase service excellence to our customers,” he says. According to David, rapid adaptation to the new situation required a new level of management.
“Our customers needed their facilities reopened as quickly as possible, and they had to remain abreast of relevant cleaning processes,” he says. “Happily, the team and our service withstood those stresses well and we have thus far come through with improvements to the business, as well as new customers and an improved brand and reputation as a professional commercial cleaning organisation.”
As CEO, it’s David’s job to bring all this together. Fortunately, he’s aided in this by a leadership style that is both collaborative and empowering – qualities his mother rarely witnessed in the industry back in the day.
“I see myself as a person who can quickly engage with others and walk along with them no matter the challenge or issue, working with them to find solutions that bring out the best for all involved,” he reflects. This, combined with persistence and perseverance, is what helped him build Cleaning Melbourne in the first place.
“And with everyone’s contributions, the opportunity to give back becomes a natural part of the cycle.” And give back they do. The company has been well rewarded by its staff with their loyalty and great service.
“We’ve had staff and partners in our extended family for more than 10 years, and to see what we managed to achieve in our first decade of business has highlighted the difference we’ve made,” he says. It is no accident that staff feel like part of a family at Cleaning Melbourne.
“The most important part of my life is my family, especially my wife and two boys Harrison and William,” David says. “When not at work I spend my time with them. Being with loved ones gives focus on the business, how it supports me and others.”
The business community has also rewarded David for his efforts. He was named as a finalist in The CEO Magazine’s 2020 Executive of the Year Awards in two categories: CEO of the Year and Managing Director of the Year, then again in the latter category in 2021. In his eyes, the accolades act as a spotlight.
“It was an opportunity to open a window to an industry that’s vitally important but has really been hidden for so many years,” he says. “For 13 years I’ve worked to change the industry, and witnessing my company and team consistently achieve our goals helps all of us grow together and enriches an industry that has traditionally mistreated those who served it.”
Far removed from all the years his mother spent toiling in worksites across Melbourne, David and his company have set a new standard. “The best part of leading Cleaning Melbourne is seeing how its success contributes to the success others in the team derive from having a secure and satisfactory job, which also helps them realise opportunities both professionally and personally.”