Interview with Gary Lester

Gary Lester has a history of successfully leading national repairs and maintenance businesses. He joined Morgan Sindall Group in August 2014 and has a wealth of operational experience gained from 17 years in the housing sector and a further 14 years in the building industry.

What are the challenges currently facing the social housing sector?

The social housing market has seen a number of failing contractors and DLO’s alike and I truly believe that organisations need to work together to really challenge the status quo. There is a lot of work for the property services industry to do to restore confidence and truly understand the issues faced by clients. This starts with procurement and contractor selection. We all need to be careful of pricing contracts we can’t deliver. The contract itself needs to be important to all the stakeholders and not end up a notch on the proverbial bed post. Secondly, it needs to focus on the right outcomes; value for money, a delighted customer and full transparency. The industry must recognise the importance that our services play on asset management, net present values, planning future works and compliancy.

How have you addressed these challenges in your role as managing director at Morgan Sindall Property Services?

In early 2014, we started to look at how we can better support our clients. We have invested heavily in building an IT system that has the analytical ability to extract information that will help our clients make informed decisions regarding their work plans. The success of the system will be down to the information that is updated and so we had to ensure it could be accessed from any location; in the office, in the field, on the jobs and at cafés - a truly mobile solution built for a modern and evolving industry.
We operate a decentralised philosophy; with the help of a great team we have spent 2015 reorganising ourselves and focusing on our customers’ needs.  We want the people in the business and our customers to be part of developing our services, utilising their expertise and empowering our people to make decisions.  We want to be seen as the partner of choice for our customers and a trusted employer.

With the market being such a candidate-driven market, how do you retain your top performers? 

Everyone says they are an employer of choice, don’t they? At Morgan Sindall, we are dedicated to living up to that. The Group launched a company-wide initiative last year called ‘People Promise’ and we, at Property Services have welcomed it with open arms. By helping our people to forge their own futures with us and through recognition of a job well done, our People Promise culture ensures we offer a place to work that attracts and retains the very best. This is already taking shape through internal promotions and succession plans that we actually follow through on. 
We have also developed a brand new involvement strategy with our leaders called ‘Passport to Lead.’ This scheme is about ensuring that our operational teams help drive the business. We are about to launch our service engineers’ initiative looking to truly recognise and reward quality within our frontline working teams. Everyone has an important role to play here at Morgan Sindall Property Services; we don’t just ‘throw an administrator on it’ and leave them to it. We believe in careers with longevity and opportunity. I’m starting to wonder if a few of them have their sights on my job!

Why did you choose Morgan Sindall Property Services?

Joining Morgan Sindall was an easy decision for me; the drive and passion for delivering exceptional customer service can’t help but fill you with enthusiasm. The business lives and breathes its Perfect Delivery ethos and embeds its five core business values: safe, people, right first time, value and recommended into everything it does. 
Being offered the exciting opportunity to lead on the launch of the Property Services business really aligned with my commitment to being a truly constant, reliable and transparent business in the FM, social housing and insurance markets.

What challenges do you face being a managing director?

The higher you go up the career ladder, the more pressure it brings but I always try to focus on the positive changes I can make at this level.  Being responsible for the entire property services business has allowed me to really make a cultural difference and ensure we live and breathe our commitments. I have been very fortunate in my life to have worked with great teams and I realise that without their support none of this happens. Leading a business and its people is not an easy job but I try my best to keep our teams motivated, focused and above all, enjoying what they do.  At Morgan Sindall, there is a real passion to be great at what we do, that really stimulates a ‘jump out of bed’ feeling in the morning.

What advice would you give to senior directors looking to make the move to managing director?

Pick a company that supports you; be proud about who you are and be true to what your heart and head tell you. Don’t just jump at your first offer however flattering it may seem; always ensure a cultural fit. Communication is paramount. When you start, set yourself some clear objectives for your first three months, share them with your group/board, take this period to fully understand the job, plan your teams and set out your strategy. 

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt in your career?

It is the people that truly make great organisation; ignore that at your peril! You have to lead and make tough decisions but ensure you explain your reasoning and always hold yourself accountable.  

What are your plans for the next 18 months? 

Over the next 18 months, we will pilot test our new IT system, ensuring it is fit for purpose and will then roll it out on our contracts. We will continue to look at developing our asset management solution making full use of our IT systems capabilities. We’ll be looking at developing new delivery models for our R&M services and at how we can better support our insurance customers.
By Christmas 2016, I want Morgan Sindall Property Services to be renowned for being a reliable, honest and dependable contractor. Our Services Engineers Engagement Programme will be well underway and delivering excellent results and our IT system will be producing intelligent data that will enable our clients to see the benefits of a holistic approach. My vision is for Morgan Sindall to be the partner of choice and the best company to work for!

What legacy would you like to leave?

I started my working life as an apprentice electrician and have done a number of jobs throughout the property services world. In my experience, great companies are built on the culture of great teams and this truly lies at the heart of what we do. I do all I can to ensure our teams fully embrace our culture and although we still have work to do, we are definitely on our way. 
Secondly our new operational IT platform has taken up a little bit of our time over the last year and a half, but it’s looking great. We have asked the market for what they need and with our team’s assistance in building and development, have created a state of the art system. We are truly excited by its functionality which I believe will be industry leading. Finally, I’d like us to be known for keeping our promises, getting the job done well and delighting our customers. 
Are you looking to take the next step in your property career? Are you looking to hire? Or are you simply looking for some further advice on the property recruitment market? Contact Tom Neely, managing consultant at Michael Page Property & Construction for a confidential discussion.
T: +44 161 829 0397