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Back to the Floor

10 July 2009

Keeping in contact with FM people on the front line is more than just a gesture for Europa’s MD, David Pollock, as Jane Fenwick found when she followed him working alongside the Europa team at the MetroCentre, Gateshead

GOING ‘BACK TO THE FLOOR’ IS MUCH MORE THAN A ‘gesture’ towards communicating with his staff for David Pollock, managing director of the fast growing Europa. He positively enjoys the opportunity to do physical work – and the dirtier the better.

Pollock is a ‘graduate’ of the Stiell Facilities apprenticeship scheme which has produced
several people who now hold senior management roles across the FM sector. He remembers his days as an apprentice well and recalls with some fondness that “most of the people I met then are still my friends today.”

It is this approach that sets Pollock apart from others in senior positions who might ‘go back to the floor’ merely as a management ‘gesture’. “I was an apprentice myself ‘on the tools’. I know the site environment and have managed sites myself. I know that the best way is to treat people with respect. I want to be working hard – I don’t want them to think it is staged. There is nothing I would ask somebody to do that I would not do myself. I may be managing director but when I take my suit off I am the same as everyone else.
Europa has different roles and responsibilities but it is everyone who makes it happen.”

Pollock would prefer to be anonymous so that he can get to know people on an equal basis to better understand the mood behind the scenes. However, his visit to Gateshead was far from anonymous with a photographer and a journalist in tow. Pollard recalled that he recenty spent about four hours working at another shopping centre with one team who thought he was an agency worker, sharing the banter and chat. He was soon found out when the conversation changed to what car he drove.

“If they think I am just another worker they will treat me totally differently than if I go in as the managing director, “Pollock explained. “I know how it was myself, because Billy Allan was my supervisor at one time and when he was on site everyone treated him differently because he was the boss.”

Allan, a major investor in, and chairman of, Europa, also began his career as an apprentice at Stiell Facilities, as did Europa’s Chief Executive, Greig Brown. Allan together with Pollock moved with Stiell into Alfred McAlpine Business Services in 2002. In September 2006 Allan invested in Europa with a 'management buy-in' team. In 2008, the Europa acquired United Utilities FM, transforming the business into an integrated FM service provider able to manage and deliver a broad range of services through its1,800 technical, maintenance, cleaning and security personnel.

Pollock continued: “My focus on joining Europa was on delivery of customer services through motivation and cameraderie in the team.”

With the acquisition of United Utilities, and more recenty of the FM and property services business of Work Inc group in May, Europa has almost doubled in size and undergone an extensive process of change in recent years. This can be unsettling for staff and clients alike, making communication at all levels more of a priority than ever. To cope with this Pollock has structured Europe’s operations on a business partner model so that HR, security, safety and similar functions are no longer in the ‘back office’ but at the forefront of the business, meeting the clients and understanding their strategy and operational requirements as much as the account managers. “When there is pressure on service charges, as now, these business partners need to be aware of that,” he explained.

In the retail sector, Europa is a major supplier of FM services to not only the MetroCentre in Gateshead, but also the Bullring, Birmingham, the Potteries in Stoke on Trent, Chapelfield in Norwich, Westgate in Oxford and the Victoria Centre in Nottingham. Across the River Tyne in Newcastle, Europa supports the Eldon Square shopping centre and Quayside Millennium Bridge corporate office estate.

Europa employs about 400 people in the Newcastle/Gateshead area overall, of whom 160 work at the MetroCentre undertaking cleaning, security including an undercover retail crime team, customer service and waste management. The centre is open 12 hours a day and welcomes about 25 million shoppers each year. Staff turnover is only 3-4 percent, a figure that Pollock is very proud of. The economic dowturn has thrown particular pressures on the retail sector and the high profile retail failures and store closures are of concern to Europa’s staff. Pollock says that his visit to Gateshead is an opportunity to gauge how much the staff on the ground understand these business pressures.

“If we look after our staff they will deliver the job. Staff on the front line are in the face of the customer. If they are not happy the customer will see that very quickly,” declared Pollock. “I can tell them today that we have set a budget that protects their pay increase but at no increase in costs to our clients. Some retailers are struggling and property owners are under pressure but we don’t hide these things from them.”

In the back corridors of any shopping centre a vital job is managing the waste and recycling generated from the retailers. Pollock’s day was spent man-handling just a fraction of the 5,000 tonnes of waste generated each year at the MetroCentre - that's the equivalent of 20 Olympic swimming pools. By sorting cardboard and placing it the compactor to be sent for recycling he contributed to savings of over 2,000 tonnes of
CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere. As Pollock commented, “There are better things to do than sitting

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