Top 100 special report - Servest the quiet company with lots to shout about
11:14 31 March 2014
At first glance there is something quite unassuming about Servest and its immaculate offices on the edge of Bury St Edmunds.
But in its own quiet way, the business has grown from a £17m operation ion 2007 to one with turnover at more than £187m today.
As it has grown by 126pc, staff numbers have risen just over 9,000 to more than 15,000 while profits have increased from about £2.5m to £5.4m.
Now by its own admission it is very much on the radar in the sector with a mix of clients across sectors from retailers such as Next and Toys R Us through to the National History Museum and the Houses of Parliament.
Recently the firm won a three-year £25m contract with the BBC to provide catering at 18 locations around the UK.
And the business led by chief executive Rob Legge has ambitions to be a £1bn business within the next 10 years.
So how does he account for its success?
Rob explained: “The strategy was to take the business from £17m in 2007 to £100m in five to six years. We did better than that and took it to nearly £200m in that period.
“You could call it a buy-and-build strategy, but the way to maximise value from any business is through organic growth.
You can buy businesses which is great and you can take costs down and integrate, which is what we have done and it gets you further above the curve than it would have done.
“Where the growth will come from now is through organic growth,” he said. “We can demonstrate capability which gives you an advantage over the competition because you can go out and win work off the back of that. The BBC contract is a great example of that. We picked up a contract which realistically we wouldn’t have been able to 18 months ago.”
There are four key components to the business and its offer which have been built up in the 17 years since Rob has been in charge - cleaning, security, catering and a hard services, mechanical engineering, operation.
These combined have given it a capacity to provide a whole service offer to potential clients.
But another advantage is that it is nicely positioned between larger corporates and smaller competitors only equipped to offer highly localised services, making it both fleet of foot, but also big enough to compete on a national level.
Rob said: “A plc will promise you everything they can, but because they are so big are quite cumbersome and they don’t necessarily provide the right service to the guys on the ground. Then you have got the small player, who may be very niche or a regional player that probably could offer you a high quality service, but they lack a national feel.
“We are in the middle of that, which is a very good place to be, but we are fast approaching some of the bigger players.”
However, at its heart the success of the organisation was down to its people at all levels.
“Our asset is the people we work with. They are our lifeblood - they are the guys who get up every morning and do the work. They are the business, really, and we try our best to provide them with a good working environment, through training and engagement, and make sure they have got the tools to do the job. Just making sure we can provide them the best conditions to work in.
“We know that if you invest in them, and they feel part of the company. We strongly believe in who we are and what we do and we are really passionate about service delivery.
“We make sure our staff our treated correctly, even down to the vehicles they drive - we change them on a two year cycle. It’s part of the image, if you are proud of the vehicle you drive, them people tend to conduct themselves differently. If you are in an old banger, with no uniform, that tells you a lot about the organisation.
“We don’t sit here and say we are 100pc perfect, because we are not, but we do need to make sure that the guys working for us our looked after.”
So what now for Servest? With the government unveiling plans to outsource up to £80bn worth of contracts, the public sector is another area of growth.
Rob said: “The plan is to carry on growing. We have got a 10 year plan to take the business from where it is today to £1bn revenue. I would say it’s going to take another five to six years to achieve that, but that is the plan.
“Why do we want to do that? A lot of people say is that a vanity thing? No it’s not, it’s because we want to grow shareholder value and grow the business.
“It comes back to the beginning, working with the right customers in the right sectors. We are privately owned - we are not a big tanker that takes forever to change direction. If we want to do it we will do it. We are empowered, we are shareholders and we can get on with it. That’s the difference between us and the competition.”