Face-to-Face: Alex Davies, managing director, Emrill Facilities Management
Emrill is raising the bar with its efforts in securing international accreditations and staff training. It’s managing director Alex Davies talks new contract wins, the impact of winning the fmME awards and staff empowerment
Emrill’s growth has been a sustained one, according to its managing director Alex Davies. The Dubai-founded facilities management (FM) company continues to raise the bar for FM in the country, by ensuring it meets the latest standardisations and accreditations — NICEIC and JCI were some of the latest — in turn pushing and empowering its staff with the tools required to deliver quality service to its clients.
Emrill won the 2017 Overall FM Company of the Year award, an achievement it has managed four times in the last five years. “We are hoping to make it three in a row,” Davies smiles with determination in his voice. “Winning the award is a testament to how we have performed over the last 12-18 months,” he says.
Davies speaks about Emrill’s growth during that timespan. “Revenue is up 10% year-on-year. It’s a constant angst to stay ahead, and the 10% growth reflects that. Over the last 12 months our headcount has grown just under 9%, which means the business now employs close to 7,600 people, he says.”
The firm has also managed to secure big contract wins under its portfolio, andDavies gives insight into new and existing contracts. “We have seen a lot of new wins with existing customers, Wasl, Meraas and Emaar. And we have seen a lot of new customers come to us as well. In the last 18 months, we have secured and mobilised Dubai Festival City — soft services; integrated facilities management (IFM) services for the Dubai Opera; IFM services for Dubai Healthcare City — not just restricted to the freezone but also a number of the buildings within the freezone.
“We have secured DC Aviation that’s located within the Dubai World Central Airport. With Meraas we have secured The Outlet Village, The Beach at JBR and we have seen growth with security contracts as well. There is a real balance of sectors, new customers and some existing customers,” Davies says.
There have, however, also been a few noteworthy omissions in Emrill’s portfolio of clients. Davies admits that losing a client “hurts”, but a professional approach is the way to go in such cases. But Emrill has also had clients return following a “not-so-favourable relationship” with their newly appointed FM company.
“Yes we have had cases like those, it’s always pleasing to have those meetings. But then the challenge is to be able to get back to the site and deliver as per the standards we had set. Another challenge we face in such cases is remobilising the team. But it’s always good to know when people appreciate the value we have added in the past,” Davies says.
Davies says Emrill is more than satisfied to operate within the UAE, and is considering expansion in other emirates rather than crossing international borders at this stage.
“If anything we are looking at how we can consolidate in the Northern Emirates — not any that I can disclose but future developments in Ras Al Khaimah could be on the cards, and we have seen developments in Sharjah — so that’s where our focus is rather than the new country market. Alongside growing our existing market share in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“From a current business perspective the [UAE] market is due to grow and we continue to grow as a result. Of course we have achieved a 10% sustainable growth, and we are not seeing any signs of it slowing down for us in the UAE.” Davies says 70% of contract wins come from existing clients, “new contracts and new buildings from existing clients”.
Apart from approaching expansion from a geographical standpoint, Davies believes it’s important to work with partners who understand the value of FM. “There are customers we enjoy working for, we value their products and they value our contribution in return. They are the sort of customers you want to work for. Some of those owners are GCC-wide, having a presence pan-Gulf and we tend to work with them in the UAE. They are the ones that understand FM and the value proposition we bring. It’s more about who you do business with rather than where you do business.”
Davies feels economic challenges in the region pose a slight concern to growth. He says: “Economic pressures are always going to be a challenge. There is a national economic challenge that hit us, both in terms of price point but also in terms of collecting the cash. Another challenge that we face here is managing expectations, which in the UAE are quite rightfully very high. Nothing less than the best is expected. So we must make sure we do stay one step ahead.
“The economics about getting the price point right is extremely important. We work very hard in order to deliver an excellent product at the right price. We are lucky that a lot of our customers understand the price point discussion, and they understand the conversation about value of pure cost versus what you are actually going to sacrifice,” he notes.
As more infrastructure projects come on to the market, the uptake of FM services is also on the rise. More firms are seeking FM service providers, but costing is an issue, Davies says. “Understanding quality is an easy discussion to have with potenital clients, but they struggle to understand pricing. The sad reality is that people understand the value of FM only once they have experienced failure, and they are the customers that then understand the value of good FM. It’s never an easy conversation. Another aspect to understand for customers is the cost of change and the time that goes into the processes of a handover,” he says.
The FM industry is slowly but surely coming to terms with benchmarking business practices. And currently, FM service providers are left to decide for themselves which accreditations and training modules to shape their business on. Certifications from institutions such as BICSc, BIFM and NICEIC are just a few options from a growing list for FM companies to consider.
It’s an area in which Emrill says it has “to have taken the lead”, with a dedicated Centre of Excellence that administers various training to new hires, and refresher courses for employees moving on to other client’s premises. The Emrill Centre of Excellence has more than six training rooms, and as of August 2017, the number of BICSc assessors were doubled.
Davies concedes there are no pressures from outside to comply with the latest and greatest global standard —the desire stems from within.
He says: “The BICSc training or the NICEIC supervisor’s training is about setting an international standard. There isn’t necessarily regulation or what it stipulates over here, but we have to go and find that. At the end of the day, we are delivering maintenance for some of the most iconic buildings in the world.
“We deliver facilities management to the world’s tallest residential tower, along with the world’s busiest airport. We are confident of taking the responsibility and say we will make sure we are going to [deliver the standards people expect when they visit such places]. It’s clear the UAE wants to be the world leader. So, how can we operate within the UAE without having that same aspiration? We have doubled the number of BICSc assessors, so we are continually scouring international best practices.”
He explains further: “But, the reason we focus so much on developing our people is because at the end of the day facilities management is about the experience people have. With the Dubai Airport project, it’s not as much about keeping the airport clean as it is welcoming millions of people to the UAE every year.
“Whereas when you consider our involvement in Downtown Dubai — where we look after the master community hard and soft services — it’s about welcoming the millions of visitors that go there every year and the thousands of residents that live there. The only way you can deliver that experience is through people, and that plays a huge part. That’s where we try and get the balance right between the technical side of it as much as the soft side of it,” he says.
Emrill believes in developing employees from within its company, and Davies is of the opinion that existing employees understand the values better than anyone else.
“Fundamentally, we have a decision to make — do we develop our people from within or do we go outside? If we are going to lead the market and be ahead of everyone else, then we have to develop our own talent from within. That’s the only way we will get people who meet our expectations. We do invest a lot in it but we also believe we get a business return on it. And that’s why our 10% growth has been sustainable,” he says.
Looking at the future of FM in the country and the wider region, Davies says the scope of sustainability will evolve to include more than just the environment. “Sustainability is wider than just green impact. It includes a lot more than the use of energy and to reduce carbon emissions from the buildings. We need to look at the impact on communities and society, sustaining our business by creating future leaders and not harming people. Add to that the sustainability of business, in terms of making a margin, the customer gets a good end product, and I think sustainability across the board is going to improve. Clients will make decisions [to appoint FM companies] based on these factors in the near future.”
An FM company’s track record in energy management will be a major decision factor as well. “The energy piece is going to become more prevalent in future FM decisions, but it’s going to be two-fold. There is the national agenda in terms of the environmental impact but I also think that within the next five to 10 years we are going to enter a phase of asset lifecycle analysis. Chillers and cooling towers, for example, have some huge assets within a building’s structure. Whole life costing will come to the fore a lot more.
“The decision in five years’ time, for a building that’s already 15 years old, will be either to extend its life or to replace [complete refurbishment]. What’s the whole-life costing of doing that or just running it further and doing more maintenance? We have got a great track record when it comes to energy performance contracts that do the right thing, both economically and environmentally to reduce energy consumptions in buildings — yielding 30% savings on energy usage in buildings,” he says.
Davies also says there is another discussion to be had, about the equipment’s extended life cycle. He predicts that using less energy will prolong the equipment’s lifecycle. “We are not straining the equipment as much, ergo we could have added a year or two on its lifecycle. The business case for energy stacks up, it’s going to become more integral in these lifecycle and reliability decisions.”
On a personal front, Davies’ Emrill career has gone from strength to strength. He was promoted to the role of managing director earlier this year, and describes his current role as, “the best job anyone could ask for simply because of the values of the company and the clients Emrill works with”.
He says: “Around 10% of our workforce get promoted every year — and around 30% to 40% of our vacancies get filled internally. And it’s the ability to offer that career roadmap, whether it’s through housekeeping to team leader and supervisor to superintendent; or through the technical grades and into management grades.
“Mine’s an example of growth from an operations director to the managing director of the organisation. That then allowed one of our general managers to become operations director, so on and so forth. It is something we are really proud of, and which makes people understand the business,” he concludes.