Following a landmark black economic empowerment deal with investment Holding company Kagiso Tiso Holdings, Servest is the largest, majority black-owned facilities management company on the African continent. The company has a significant presence in Africa and the United Kingdom with multicurrency earnings. Servest’s African operations are headquartered in Johannesburg and have a footprint in 10 African countries.
Chief Executive Officer of Servest South Africa
FDI Spotlight: What is the DNA and footprint of Servest, specifically your African footprint with regards to public and private partnerships?
Steve Wallbanks: In the South African context, we have ten divisions, all of which are in the service industry. Our services include cleaning, hygiene, security, and office services. We are a facilities management company, which is where we would like to focus on in terms of expansion. We call it the third way which basically means we self-perform a majority of the services in the built environment with in-house specialists Servest would like to expand and grow our public and private partnerships, specifically with regards to inventions with government bodies such as Statistics SA.
Servest forms part of the Concession that entered into a 25 year (partnership) with Statistics South Africa. During the design and construction phase of the project, Servest formed an integral role during this process which was followed with the move to the operational phase of the building for the next 25 years. We have a similar partnership with SADC House, the official head office in Gaborone, Botswana.
Due to the perceived costs, there might be a negative perception around Public Private Partnerships. It is my view that organisations do not realise the true cost of the asset over its life-span and for some strange reason there is a tendency to over spec them as they see it’s not their cost any more. However, Servest has been very successful in establishing and managing successful partnerships; the buildings we manage are in a good condition, the systems work really well, and our client’s expectations are met and sometimes even exceeded. We at Servest believe that the main reason partnerships fail is because people do not do a true value for money calculation when scoping and planning a potential project.
During the planning of a new partnership, a detailed business impact and cost analysis needs to be completed. Many businesses make the assumption that it is just the relocation cost and fail to take into consideration the hidden costs.
For successful partnerships that flourish, it is important to understand the return on investment when the initial investment cost outlay is committed.
FDI Spotlight: How important is Africa for the company's expansion plans and what do you look for in potential partners?
Steve Wallbanks: In terms of the SADC region, we currently operate in Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, and Zambia. Outside of SADC, we are in Nigeria and looking more towards east Africa, specifically Kenya for further expansion and growth. We are in talks with a few companies from these countries about possible partnerships, especially in Namibia and Botswana.
We want to form true, mutually-beneficial partnerships in these countries. Many companies venture into Africa and do not get genuinely involved. We will be actively engaged and contribute to the day to day business dealings.
We are a value-driven organisation. This means that the firm’s core values, client-orientation, professionalism, teamwork, ethics and pioneering, are reflected in everything we do and we look for these qualities in our future partners. The primary quality they need to have is that they should not simply be investors but partners who will also be actively involved in expanding our mutual business interests.
FDI Spotlight: In terms of new developments and trends, what are you focusing on to diversify Servest's portfolio?
Steve Wallbanks: We want to establish a hard services base, as well as expanding our technology business. It is clear that there are many services we can use and leverage from when we evaluate market requirements. Our end goal is to become a one-stop shop for a full facilities management solutions business which would not only pertain to hard and soft services but also include a strong technology platform. The clients we have and want to attract will jump on the idea of having all their services, from the building's electrical maintenance all the way through to the IT systems, quality assured and provided for by one outfit.
The rapid advancement of the digital era has caused technology services to become commoditized, thus making it easier for businesses to outsource their technology needs and services. Our recent acquisition of a market-leading technology provider equips Servest to move into the technology space. Technology has become easier to use and understand, and due to everyone moving to the cloud, you do not have a collection of servers anymore. Instead, you have an infrastructure of cabling with a switch to manage. This is a true value-add to the client, which is crucial in any business.
It is about more than offering a cleaning service or offering small IT services; our approach has to be solution driven. To offer clients a long term solution, suppliers need to understand client needs, and where they want their business to go.
In August of this year, we partnered with Bottega InvestCo and acquired Getronics, an integrated ICT services company, which will enable us to offer FM and mobile technology to our clients. Getronics operates in 22 countries and they have a well-rounded portfolio of integrated ICT services including solutions focused on Workspace Management, Managed Cloud, and UC & C, Network and Applications, for large corporates and the public sector. Additionally, they have in-depth experience in application and solutions development and provide FM-specific products in various sectors, including corporate, healthcare, and transport.
Getronics additionally has five global multi-language service centres that will support Servest’s expansion across Europe and Asia by providing help desk solutions which offer insight on customer satisfaction, churn rates, service issues, and contractor performance, integrating different communication technologies such as instant messaging, chat, telephone and email. This will enable Servest to reduce help desk demand, expand contact service hours and improve service delivery time.
If you look at security and at technology, it becomes evident they go hand in hand. We have a project in the Westcliff area that focuses on collecting data and analysing it. For example, our systems will pick up a group of people hanging around a building for no apparent reason and notify a response unit to assess the situation. Security is becoming increasingly automated and based on analytics. In my opinion, it is the automatic next step in technology evolution i. You have to move with the times and innovation is technology driven.
FDI Spotlight: How are you embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution and what strategic developments do you have in mind to do so?
Steve Wallbanks: Everything we touch these days is related to technology. Servest has recently implemented CONCEPT, equipping all our employees with tablets which enable them to check in as they get to job sites, see what jobs they have to do, what the status of their jobs or projects are. Information is sent back instantaneously as they go about their day. Ensuring real time service delivery and productivity metrics.
Information about a client and a job is immediately available, which significantly reduces the time it takes to get a client processed, as well as the risks of making mistakes or losing information. Instead of having ten people touch a piece of paper, you have one person handling everything.
It is important to note that existing systems have to be in place and running smoothly before it can be digitised. Therefore you have to understand the process first. We have started implementing “CONCEPT” into all of our business areas and it is aiding us to have better insight as to what is happening across the entire business.
FDI Spotlight: In your opinion, does security provide a safer environment for economic growth or is economic growth what creates a safer environment?
Steve Wallbanks: I do not think that the two are mutually exclusive or that one depends on the other. I do not believe that it is the violence or crime rate in South Africa that is keeping investors away. I believe that it has to do with the current political environment. However, security is definitely an important factor, especially for tourists. They want to feel safe and know that they are protected.
The international media are not on our side, unfortunately; what they report and how they report on South Africa is incredibly damaging and impacts on investor confidence. There is no denying that there is crime here. Crime happens everywhere, though. It should be every citizen’s objective to focus on the positive aspects of its country, including South Africa, not only what appears to be negative.
We need to promote the strengths and positives about this country. I believe we will be in a much better space to encourage investors when we make an effort to showcase South Africa's positives. It will create its own momentum and through that, we will attract more investment.
FDI Spotlight: How confident are you that South Africa can play a stronger role on the African continent, address its domestic challenges, and what role do you see Servest play in South Africa's future in Africa?
Steve Wallbanks: We see great potential in Africa over the next three to five years, which is a big focus of our 2020 strategy we recently adopted and are currently implementing. We are very confident that the market in Africa can grow and South Africa's situation will improve sooner rather than later.
The South African economy has gone through worse times and has experienced worse issues historically than the current climate, and we survived.
Personally, I cannot emphasise it enough: we (business and citizens) need to be more positive about South Africa. There are some serious changes that must be implemented immediately to stop the negative cycle. However, people need to recognise that we have stable platforms and systems in place and that we are a very resilient country.
Chief Executive Officer Steve Wallbanks is leading Servest’s drive to embrace the digital revolution and build a technology-focused one-stop shop for facilities management solutions.
With over twenty-five years experience in facilities management and project management, he joined Servest when his business ECH Management Solutions was acquired by Servest in 2012.
In the 25 years Steve has been in business, he has overseen major facilities management projects for the likes of Eskom, SABC, Standard Bank and UNISA and has led SAFMA award-winning projects for uShaka Marine World and Department of Statistics South Africa (PPP) and SADC Head office in Gaborone Botswana.
Steve’s outlook is that innovation should be a core value of all facilities management companies. As the fourth industrial revolution changes the face of African business, Servest is building a strong technology platform to best serve its international client base. To this end, Steve led Servest in partnering with Bottega InvestCo to acquire integrated ICT services company Getronics.
Steve was born in the UK and has a great passion for South Africa and a strong belief in the future of the country. He believes in showcasing the positive aspects of the country to build momentum in attracting investment, and has an equal passion for opportunities on the African continent putting further development of Servest’s African footprint at the heart of the company’s 2020 strategy.
CFO of Servest
FDI Spotlight: What is your personal vision for Servest’s long term development across the continent?
Thabo Phokane: My vision is for Servest to be ahead of its peers when it comes to innovative solution offering for both internal systems/processes and client’s offering. This in my mind is critical in ensuring that the business evolves with changing times, remains relevant in the marketplace and stays sustainable. This is applicable both in SA and rest of the continent.
FDI Spotlight: Embracing the potential in technological advancements and the fourth industrial revolution can now be considered part of the “Servest DNA”. Personally, what excites you most about the potential of technology in your sector?
Thabo Phokane: I think technology penetration in our sector is still relatively low, naturally so looking at the kind of services we offer and we at Servest, as part of our long strategy, decided to ensure that technological advancement becomes embedded in our business model and as a result considered part of the “Servest DNA”.
FDI Spotlight: What will be your approach to encouraging partnerships and joint ventures in developing Servest’s footprint on the African continent?
Thabo Phokane: Partnerships in Africa is critical in ensuring a sustainable growth on the continent, it’s something we’ve always done and my strategy will be to improve our relationships with various strategic partners on the continent and ensure continued growth.
FDI Spotlight: What role can business play in the wider socio-economic development of South Africa, particularly in addressing the critical challenges of unemployment, skills development, and education?
Thabo Phokane: We need to start at the bottom, unemployment rates, especially for youth is unacceptable. So we need to participate, as much as we can, even if at times it would mean slightly squeezing our margins, in programs like “YES CAMPAIGN” and other youth employment opportunities.
FDI Spotlight: Do you believe Servest can play a role in encouraging the growth of African entrepreneurship?
Thabo Phokane: Absolutely, as we formulate client’s offering solutions, we do consider socio-economic factors and as far as possible, drive entrepreneurial initiatives.
FDI Spotlight: It is interesting to note you previously worked with South Africa’s current Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, a leader noted for his principled stand in what has been a complicated political environment. What do you consider the key characteristics African leaders, in both government and business, must possess in order to lead their organisations in the current environment?
Thabo Phokane: Agreed, there are many characteristics to consider but the critical ones should be honesty and integrity, accountability and selflessness.
COVETED FIRST PLACE PMR.AFRICA DIAMOND ARROW AWARDS
Industry excellence in the Commercial, Entertainment, Industrial and Education Cleaning Categories and a Golden Arrow in the Hospitality Cleaning category at the 2017 Business Excellence Awards.