Salisbury Group founder Andrew Lunt speaks exclusively to PFM about the culture and aims of his business in working with clients to achieve their goals.
Many readers will understand the lengthy process involved in the launch of any business, including the important aspect of establishing the methods, aims, processes and cultural ethos to be included and followed for the foreseeable future.
Due to the extensive scope of the FM industry, there are a correspondingly large number of examples of all types of business practices, ranging from those aiming to make as much money in as short a time as possible, to those that place long-term goals and sustainable growth at the heart of their operations.
One of the best examples of the latter is Salisbury Group, founded in 2012 and with an initial staff of 22, which can be seen to have both maintained its business ethics and enjoyed considerable growth throughout the interim period.
With employee numbers now exceeding 500, its group managing director Andrew Lunt sees many opportunities to continue the company’s expansion in the years ahead.
“Having been a client, I know what it feels like when your service providers and partners don’t live up to your expectations and one of the main goals of our business is not to make our clients feel like I did,” he says.
“We’re there to make our clients look good and we understand the importance of protecting their personal and business reputations.”
Mr Lunt’s FM career began in the mid 1990s, when he started working for the FM division of a construction consultancy on public sector contracts. This continued when the company was acquired, resulting in his involvement with the delivery of various PFI FM operations.
Having joined a property PFI business in 2003, Mr Lunt describes the company’s relationship with its then service provider as “challenging”, despite efforts from both himself and his colleagues and many of those working for the service provider to improve it.
Service standards and outcomes were not at the levels required and this led Mr Lunt to undertake a strategic review of FM service delivery across the estate. One of the options considered was the possibility of self-delivering FM services, which received a positive response internally.
“We tried hard to make the relationship with the supplier work, but when the time came to change I met with all the usual suspects and they all looked the same, which is when we started talking about in-house self-delivery,” Mr Lunt continues.
“We liked the idea and this led to what was in effect an in-sourcing of the service provision within a brand new company – Salisbury Group. Once we had overcome the initial pain points associated with setting up a new FM provider, we realised we had a strong model, talented people and crucially a sense of client empathy which had been embedded when we launched the company.
“From the start, we wanted to provide a personalised approach for every client so they know how important they are to our business.
"We wanted to make sure they can pick up the phone and speak to me or a senior colleague without being lost in various layers of management.
“Most of the time they don’t need to do that of course, but they know it’s an option for them and that we’ll act on their concerns. We think this sense of empathy helps us to provide the best levels of service to our growing list of clients,” he says.
The proof of the successful implementation of this can be seen in the impressive growth rate of the business.
“There’s been a lot of cultural change but we’re now hitting the sweet spot after making major progress in 2017 and with the award of several large contracts in a transformational 2019,” says Mr Lunt.
The company provides further proof to the maxim ‘success breeds success’, with its expansion rate continuing to increase over the last two years, with many potential clients identified for the future. One of the reasons for this is the company’s appreciation of the wider business considerations that affect the day to day activities of its clients.
This is where themes such as flexibility, being agile and understanding the client’s internal challenges underpin the formal relationship. In order to clarify his points further, Mr Lunt gives the example of a specific request completed for a client:
“This was one of those one-off jobs that could easily have taken a long time to complete, after it went through the usual discussion, costing, preparation and installation process, but we knew it close to the chief executive’s heart.
"In completing it quickly, we also helped to preserve the reputation of the estate director and we made sure we didn’t just treat it as another £1,000 job to fit in to the schedule at some point.
“It was another of those instances that helped to remind us how important it is to keep in mind what the client is trying to achieve and to help reduce the pressures they have to deal with on a daily basis, rather than just deliver on the broad KPIs and what it says in the contract,” he says.
Looking to the future, Mr Lunt remains confident that there is considerable scope for continued growth due to a number of factors. The first of these is that the business has developed its reputation to the point where it receives enquiries from potential customers, based on the recommendations of its existing clients.
“Further to this, the really great thing is that there are still customers out there who are willing to pay a reasonable price for a good service.
"Of course the overall cost is important, but there have been jobs we’ve walked away from because we could see it would not be possible to deliver for the money. We think the market is now changing as we have all seen what this culture has meant for the sector in recent years.
“The fact that we’ve been careful with the contracts we’ve taken on is another reason why we’ve managed to grow in a sustainable way,” says Mr Lunt.
Another cause for optimism is an exercise the company conducted to identify potential clients of the right type where it has an enviable and proven track record in delivering improvements. The study showed that the UK offers many more opportunities for the business to continue its upward movement.
“There’s a good pipeline of potential clients and we’re also finding that we’re still able to recruit good people to meet our growing demands. In the past, the industry has been guilty of focusing too much on cost-cutting and the first group that feels the negative effects is the employee base.
"We think that being short-sighted on compensation has a detrimental impact on staff morale and potentially on performance.
“We believe in motivating people by providing them with fulfilling work lives, paying them fairly and having incentive and award schemes that are relevant to their roles and also to our values as a business. They’re then far more likely to remain loyal and take ownership of their tasks because they feel valued,” says Mr Lunt.
He further states that customers will additionally see the benefits of working with the company’s staff, who are more likely to go the extra mile for the client than if they were just paid a minimum salary.
Mr Lunt’s comments are supported by his recent nationwide journey to visit around 70% of company staff and listen to their questions, as well as informing them of the progress and aims of the business.
His efforts to make the company’s staff feel valued indicates that he continues to be highly motivated in driving the company forward while maintaining its culture and focus on high levels of customer service.
“FM has provided me with a good career and I feel a responsibility to my colleagues and the industry not to make promises that can’t be fulfilled,” says Mr Lunt.