Martin Gammon took over the role of MD of service provider OCS earlier this year. Cathy Hayward catches up with him to discuss the bright opportunities ahead for what he calls the “sleeping giant”.
22 April 2010
Definitions of facilities management are diverse, but few can be as broad as that put forward by Martin Gammon. The new MD of service provider OCS considers FM to be anything the client decides is non-core and doesn’t want to do itself. It’s a wide-ranging description which has seen OCS moor ships, run company audits and stocktakes, and service aircraft in addition to the more common office cleaning, manned guarding, grounds maintenance and pest control.
“The definition of what’s core and non-core is a fascinating debate. We are seeing an increasing trend in what was traditionally considered core becoming non-core”, says Gammon, who is in talks with an airline about providing cabin crew – an area which was very much seen as core to an airline’s business. “If you align yourself to your customer and your customer’s strategy you have to take on things that you wouldn’t have considered before.”
It’s that attitude which has led the firm from cleaning airport offices and terminals to providing the whole gamut of support services to the likes of Heathrow. From cleaning aircraft and the associated laundry such as blankets and headrest covers, filling up the provisions and providing toilet and portable water services to looking after passengers with reduced mobility, helping to keep the airport secure through baggage and cargo screening; secure searching; passenger profiling and liquid compliance to cleaning the outside windscreens of aircraft, OCS takes it on. Hardly traditional FM, unless you count FM as the things that nobody else wants to do.
“I can’t predict what we’ll look like as an organisation in a year’s time let alone five year’s time.” Increased bundling of contracts and more integrated solutions is the way forward, both for OCS and the wider FM market, he says.
Waking up the ‘sleeping giant’
It’s all a far cry from where the business was five to six years ago. “We recognised that we weren’t presenting ourselves in a joined-up way and customers were increasingly looking for one point of contact so we embarked on becoming a single entity, bringing all activities together,” says Gammon. It’s easy to say, but tough to do in practice, he acknowledges. All the back office systems were different and getting the right information out of the business was a challenge. But over the past few years, the business has focused on driving efficiencies in its back-of-house operation and Gammon now feels that they’re genuinely a single entity. He reiterates his comments about OCS being a “sleeping giant”, something he said when he first took on the MD role in February.
“We’re not dissimilar from the major FM players out there; we are well-placed to offer TFM and in the long term we have a really bright future.”
Despite the variety of the OCS offering (it offers 75 services) most people in the industry recognise it as a cleaning company. “Yes we’ve got a strong heritage in cleaning but it’s perhaps a weakness that we don’t talk more about the other things that we do.” The downward pressure on margins, especially in cleaning, and the increasing commoditisation of such services (something Gammon blames on procurement teams) has led OCS to diversify into more profitable areas. Two examples are the waste consultancy business WasteLine and expanding into business process outsourcing, for example with enterprise resource planning systems. “We’re not looking to challenge the likes of Capita, but where we have strong relationships with customers we can help them with things that we’ve done ourselves.” It all goes back to Gammon’s core belief that you do whatever your customer wants you to do.
Longer-term relationships (that holy grail of the FM provider) are the key, he says, and are on the ascendancy, as a result of the recession. With organisations facing tough economic pressures, they need to reduce service charges and are more likely to turn to their incumbent provider (where a good relationship exists) to help them through that process, rather than go out to tender, he argues.
Despite that inclination, there remains, he says, a nervousness about signing a deal of longer than five years, with the three-year break clause. But where you do achieve it – OCS, for example, has enjoyed a 25-year relationship with BA – it brings dividends to both parties. “Over a longer period of time you get better value. With BA we have invested in ground equipment because we knew it would benefit us as well as them. But it is tough to reassure people that long-term adds value. Supplier performance metrics help, but lots of customers need to trust more and treat their suppliers more as partners.”
The recession, the upcoming general election and the predicted constraints on the public sector, are all good opportunities for OCS, says Gammon. “What’s going on in the public sector is providing opportunities for companies like us. We have a strong footprint in education, health and local authorities. The public purse is clearly tight but there’s a huge opportunity for all the players in the FM sector.”
And internationally, OCS hasn’t talked much about its overseas presence but it is heavily involved with airports throughout the world including New Zealand, Thailand and the Republic of Ireland and Gammon wants to expand the empire. His secret weapon, which he’s looking to exploit to get new business, is Cannon (the business which does everything from soap dispensers to feminine hygiene bins) which has a huge, global customer base.
In the meantime Gammon can content himself learning new markets at home. Last April, OCS Tupe’d over a number of staff from the Port of Dover to operate the harbour’s landside services including ship mooring, trailer handling and link span operation. The firm won the business because of its track record with fast turnarounds and secure environments at airports. It’s easy to see that those skills are applicable to all sorts of industries. Gammon agrees. “We’re now experienced in activities that we’d never thought of getting involved in. But that’s what FM is; aligning yourself to the customer and adding value.”
PROFILE: MARTIN GAMMON