Focus on people
Jason Ruehland reveals his leadership strategy
Standing on the roof of Dubai’s Princess Tower (which, for the uninitiated, is the tallest residential building in the world), Emrill’s managing director Jason Ruehland doesn’t have too much trouble pointing out the various developments in Dubai that his company provides FM services at.
From The Torch in Dubai Marina to the Anantara Residences in Palm Jumeirah, Ruehland reels off a number of impressive names that make up Emrill’s client portfolio today, a roster which includes the building serving as his vantage point on this hot summer’s day.
At the time of this interview in July, it had only been a month since Ruehland was announced as Emrill’s new managing director. But if the ease with which he could talk about his clients and the work Emrill does for them was any indication, Ruehland was not exhibiting any of the expected new job jitters.
Ruehland’s comfort with his new job title can probably be attributed to his former role as Emrill’s operations director for the past three years, during which he was instrumental in the company’s rise to becoming one of the top FM companies in the Middle East region. As a result, Emrill’s clients have been extremely receptive to the idea of having Ruehland at the helm of the company.
“The feedback from the customers has been excellent,” Ruehland says. “They are excited that someone who’s been with the business for three years, understands the operations and understands their needs, is going to be leading it now, and so they kind of feel that they are in safe hands.”
According to Ruehland, this vote of confidence from Emrill’s clients comes because he, quite simply, takes the time to listen to them and their needs. “We’ve got some really good clients, and they have got some really big challenges,” he explains.
“Etihad Airways is a great example [of such a client]. I mean, for a business that has over $6bn in turnover, they are huge, and the acquisitions they are doing are quick—and they are looking to us to take care of their growing FM requirements. So we have to listen to what they need, and adapt, regularly, to meet their demand.”
To its credit, Emrill is well known today for being an FM company that doesn’t shy away from investing in innovation and technology to serve its customers better. For instance, the company recently launched an energy driven facilities management (EDFM) model in response to the increased interest seen in the region to make buildings more energy efficient.
With the help of the EDFM model, a building’s performance can be enhanced over a period of time. As the building ages, the EDFM model is able to readjust the energy, maintenance and controls strategy to optimise the building through its lifecycle. Emrill’s EDFM model thus helps a building achieve the twin goals of asset integrity as well as energy optimisation.
Another of the company’s recent exercises in innovation was to launch a ‘Business Smart’ model for its FM services, makes use of sensors attached to essential components of a building (like a chiller pump, etc.) to monitor them and help identify any potential issues before they actually break down the system—a kind of predictive maintenance, as opposed to just reacting to failures when they occur.
The Business Smart model brings together Emrill’s mobile maintenance service, mobile work order solution and low-cost wireless monitoring system to offer clients a consistent and cost-effective FM solution tailored to their specific needs and requirements. According to Ruehland, this system, which has already been put into place at buildings like the six Dubai Marina Towers can help reduce operating costs by up to 25%.
But innovations like these yield benefits only when clients are informed enough to understand the advantages such technologies can bring to their properties. Ruehland says that in Emrill’s case, the company makes it a priority to ensure that their clients are tuned it to all of the innovative solutions they can bring to their respective businesses.
“Every year, we get our clients together, and talk about the innovations that we are implementing in FM,” Ruehland says. “For instance, things like EDFM, Business Smart and E-manage. We educate and inform them, by explaining the models, practical applications and their benefits in details. That’s what we do from a client education point of view.”
“Also, when we develop something new in our business, we push it all the way through the business,” he adds. “We don’t do it with just one customer; we roll it out to all of our customers. So it’s like an upgrade of our systems to enhance service delivery—every time we implement a new system that is beneficial to one client, we usually upgrade all of the other contracts.”
But Ruehland is quick to give clients their due as well—according to him, the clients have become a lot clearer on what they want from their service providers. “I think the clients are pretty educated here,” he says. “I mean the contracts are getting more sophisticated. They are introducing KPIs, SLAs; they are also looking at performance management.”
“What used to be traditionally 12-month contracts, we have now seen clients buying three-year, five-year contracts and locking in at maximum guarantee price,” he continues. “They know their budget for the next five years, but are also putting tools in place to motivate the providers, if contract performance is not at the levels agreed.”
Ruehland notes that this insistence on quality FM services is being driven by clients owing to their greater understanding of the value good FM can bring to their respective businesses.
“What we have seen is developers normally build something, sell it and then start their next project,” he says.
“But they are now realizing that whenever they sell their next project, the people that are buying are looking at their last project to see how successful it was,” Ruehland explains. “So if they build something, and it has not been operating effectively, then it will ultimately affect the sale of their next project, and therefore, their business.”
“All of our clients have got massive aspirational growth plans,” Ruehland adds. “So what they want to do is leave their legacy in good hands and they are willing to pay a fair and reasonable price, but knowing that their assets are going to last 10-20 years is a great investment, and so they can keep building on that. Because if one of their assets falls over and it’s not a success, it can impact their future.”
With all the trust and goodwill Emrill has achieved from its clients for its brand of service excellence, it wasn’t much of a surprise to see the company walk away with the “Overall FM Company of the Year” title for the second consecutive year at the 2014 Facilities Management Middle East Awards in June. Ruehland dedicated the win to Emrill’s team of over 6,000 employees, saying that the award was “the outcome of the efforts and professionalism of each and every member of staff on all Emrill sites across the region.”
Given the critical role they play in maintaining Emrill’s brand of service, Ruehland is emphatic on making sure that his employees are happy, treated well and motivated enough to do their jobs in the best manner possible. “For me, it’s always been about the people,” he says. “My management style is to focus on our people, and give them the right skills, the right tools they need to do their jobs.”
And that’s a strategy that has worked out well for both Ruehland and Emrill—in the past three years, owing to effective HR strategies and implementation, employee satisfaction scores in the company saw an improvement of 22%. This was achieved thanks to a number of innovative schemes that Emrill rolled out for its employees, notable among them being the Centre of Excellence, which is dedicated to the training and development of its staff in housekeeping, security, technical services, etc.
Other HR initiatives that Emrill runs for its staff include an Employee of the Month, Employee of the Year and Long Service awards celebrating staff that go above and beyond what is expected from them as part of their jobs; a newsletter that collates client feedback and best practices to be shared among the company’s employees; and the Emrill Carnival, a three-month-long sporting and recreational event for the entire workforce that ends with a mega awards night.
When asked what acts as the motivation behind such initiatives, Ruehland has a very simple answer. “We really value what they do,” he says.
“So, if there is a ‘golden moment’ for the company, then we share it [with them]. After we won the fmME award last year, the management team embarked on a tour of every site across the country to meet, congratulate and celebrate with each of our 6,000 employees.”
And such acts focusing on the employees have reaped rewards for the company as well—Emrill boasts of having an extremely good employee retention rate due to their internal development strategy.
“There is a reason why employees have chosen to stay and work with us for more than five years,” Ruehland reveals.
“We treat them like family, in a fair and reasonable manner, giving them opportunities to grow professionally and personally. That’s why so many have stayed to support us in all our goals, and many choose to return as well.”
So, what is Ruehland’s management mantra for success? “Be firm, fair and friendly,” he declares. “I always like to say, when you are in a situation, no matter what, always put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”
“So, when you are sitting down with a client, and they have got a challenge—it’s best to not avoid it, and instead try to understand their perspective,” Ruehland explains. “They are talking to you, because they are seeking a solution from you. The ability to understand their perspective allows to you to resolve the matter in a way that can benefit both parties.”
“And it’s the same with our people—we try to keep them as happy as possible,” he says. “We’ve got the best employee satisfaction scores already, but we keep pushing to make that better. Basically, we need to keep listening to our people, and pay attention to what they need to do their jobs well.”