Brand View: Chris Roberts, CEO of Eltizam Asset Management, the region’s leading physical asset management company, is adamant that the biggest investment a business can make is in its own people
What have been the biggest changes in your industry?
The workforce in the Middle East has changed. Fifteen years ago people were coming here to make a fast buck, not to contribute to longevity. Since 2009, there are more people wanting to contribute and be here long-term. Those who weren’t performing left and you were left with those who were strong. I think management is stronger and higher-performing than ten years ago.
How does Eltizam attract and retain the best calibre of employees?
To ensure our people are at the forefront of their area of expertise, we offer training programs. For example, every manager has to go through INSEAD; we have courses in leadership, technology, revenue driving.
Thirty-seven team members did a course that looks at how to grow a business line. It may have cost Eltizam to invest in these courses, but at the end of it we had 37 different ideas on how to grow the business, which wouldn’t normally happen when staff are focused on their operations. To me, that’s invaluable.
How has this impacted your business?
When I took the company over in 2014, we had 58 percent employee engagement, which is good. We surveyed last year and it was 81 percent. For me, investment in training is the number one thing that driven us.
We are now just shy of 2,000 and are constantly growing employee satisfaction and engagement. We are performance-driven and hard-working, but employees get developed, promoted and challenged. We invest in technology, employees and our change management program, Vision 21, developed to turn Eltizam from a Growth Company to a Customer Company.
What CSR initiatives does Eltizam engage in?
A cause very close to my heart is children. I believe every child should have the right to be loved, developed and taught. Partnering with Dubai Cares, we are building a school in Nepal. A lot of our staff come from Nepal, so it is one way of giving back to the community.
Everyone at director and above has to contribute. We want to build one school a year – I would love to do five a year and as we expand that is a distinct ambition of ours!
Additionally, we have implemented reducing plastic use in the communities we manage and our staff will also go out in boats and kayaks clearing plastic from the sea.
Who has inspired you as a leader?
Richard Branson and Margaret Thatcher.Branson procures the best talent to manage his ideas, which I empathise with. One of Eltizam’s mottos is that we only, only, ever employ exceptional talent and Branson is the epitome of that. Margaret Thatcher because when she believed in something, she did it. She convinced detractors and I admire her pragmatism.
When I came into the company in 2014, the company had 140 employees and around nine service lines. It was failing. I spoke to the board, having been hired just six weeks previously, and told them what I wanted to do and they were extremely supportive and have guided me and pushed me to take this forward. We formed Eltizam as a holding element with separate entities, each with their own specialist GM. That allowed us to control assets much more effectively and to expand rapidly. We’ve gone from 3,500 units to 53,000 units. We have gone from an AED8 million facilities management business in 2013, to over AED230 million.
What are your main challenges and how are you tackling them?
There is a margin reduction; costs are being tightened, which is fine because that is how maturing markets move. It’s a natural progression for the UAE and for GCC. What we have to do is to be a lot smarter about how we manage the business.
We are investing around US$5 million into technology over the next 18 months to allow us to increase the number of units managed by an association manager.
Going paperless and driving efficiencies through technology will make us more efficient. We have started a new company called TIBS, which unites our HR, procurement, legal and administration resources and we can use them to transact with others, making our overheads efficient.
How do you encourage creative thinking?
Get Wonky! When we pitch against other companies we talk not just about what we do but what makes us different; we present ‘Get Wonky’. Our technology, training, happiness strategy, Vision 21 and CSR program are the elements that describe who Eltizam is and what we drive towards and we wrap it up in a concept called Get Wonky.
Why? Because it sticks in the mind! It shows we don’t look at everything in a straight line, that we are flexible.
It’s a difficult time for most companies financially, but we have grown by 20 percent in the last six months. What we do has put us head and shoulders above the competition and that’s because we look after our staff, we have a happiness strategy we do real-value CSR, we plan for the future constantly.
What productivity tip do you wish everyone knew?
It doesn’t matter what business you lead, you have X, which is your gross margin, and you have Y, which is your overhead cost. If you can’t manage those two simple things, you shouldn’t be in business.
What advice would you give an old boss?
Everyone has taught me a lot, and I have a very inspirational chairman and board who understand the future of the company and where we are going. Every one of my bosses in the past had strengths and weaknesses, and whether you are a CEO or lower down the scale, you have to understand their strengths and weaknesses. You don’t have to be friends with your leadership team, but you have to know each other’s weaknesses and see how you can help.
What advice would you give to a new leader?
Listen to everything around you; whether you take the advice is another matter, but it takes a real leader to listen. Don’t get caught up in the trappings and the benefits, it’s not about that. You are in that position to lead, so understand that’s what you’re there for. You also have to develop.
What’s a typical day like?
Every day is completely and utterly different. Sometimes I wake at 4am and I’m in the zone for business; other times I get up at 7.30am. Every day is a new opportunity. I don’t shut my door so anyone in the organisation can walk in and they are welcome, as long as they’ve got something cool to say!
Read the article in CEO Middle East Magazine