Face-to-face: Greg Ward, MD, Transguard

Face-to-face: Greg Ward, MD, Transguard
Greg Ward Managing Director Transguard_FM Dubai photo by Ajith Narendra ITP Images 19052019_Transguard_FM
Published: 2 June 2019 - 6:30 a.m.
By: Nikhil Pereira

UAE’s Tranguard has witnessed steep growth in profits and revenue with each passing year. This is part down to the customer retention rate which is above 90% — a by-product of what Transguard group MD Greg Ward refers to as “customer loving”.

“We call it customer loving because it takes a long time to win a contract and get their trust but you could lose a contract in two minutes. For us customer retention is key. If the customer keeps coming back and they keep speaking about us, it just continues to grow our business,” he tells fmME.

For the financial year ending March 31, 2019 Transguard achieved 22% growth in net profit to over AED186m. The group’s revenue also climbed 11% to a record AED2.578bn with record contract wins of more than AED2.8bn — representing a 33% increase from the previous year.

The firm’s profits have been growing faster than its revenue, Ward says, “and it will continue to grow for the next year as well”.

He also says there aren’t too many companies in the UAE, or the world, that can boast of such an achievement.

“It’s because we have been working extremely hard for the last three years, and thanks to longer contracts we are beginning to see savings on the back end of some of them,” Ward says.

Transgaurd, which is mainly renowned for its prowess in the security industry, opened a few business streams over the last 12 to 18 months which include Transguard Living and Transguard Delivery Service widening its integrated facilities management credentials.

Ward says, however, Transguard comes into its own when all its business units come together — the cash services, FM, maintenance and landscaping. He says: “There aren’t any competitors in that space. We are probably one of the only companies that does everything in-house. Without sounding arrogant we are the best security company in the UAE.

“In the UAE there are a lot of companies that still want a different cleaning company to a different security company which is not the case in Europe. The IFM model helps bring down over heads. It’s a bit like the technician who is the Swiss-army knife, who can do a bit of everything. That’s when you will bring your overheads down. That would also let you pay your staff more.”

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Ward is a qualified engineer and takes inspiration from his early days where he worked on a production line as a technician. “I used to not just run the production line but clean it too and maintain the robots and software,” Ward points out.

Going down that route puts a large emphasis on staff training and development. “That’s a problem not only in FM but even in the constriction world. Some staff can clean a window but not a floor because they are different skill sets. FM has to become versatile with the labour and highly-skilled,” Ward highlights.

Transguard, which employs close to 70,000 staff, is on the lookout for tools that make it better and simple for its staff to concentrate on value added work. “We have a transformation team that does that, all our management is trained in lean six sigma, and all our senior managers have to be a Green Belt. We use the tools available to get to the problems. The different teams are up against each other to see who can save more money, this makes it a bit sporty. All of this is done without affecting quality.”

Weighing in on the “lower price but same quality” trend in the current FM market, Ward says customers are well within their right in demanding innovation from the service provider.

He notes: “Everyone is price sensitive and wants to generate profit. Today clients want it (service) for the same price by not reducing the quality but that’s what we get paid for. In fact, that should be the challenge for every business unit, ‘how can we keep our standards but also make sure that we are competitive in the pricing?”

Ward doesn’t feel the current economic situation is any different than how it has been over the last four to five years. “There have been economic challenges ever since I can remember. But look at Transguard, we are growing and keeping our clients while maintaining the right price,” he says.

Transguard’s growth hasn’t been down to the good graces of its stakeholders, Emirates Airlines. Ward explains: “It’s lovely having a shareholder such as Emirates, but Emirates-Dnata is probably about 10% of what Transguard does. So it’s a complete myth that it’s all about Emirates. We have to bid for any Emirates work just as same as anybody else. We don’t win anything by default. For instance, we recently won the chauffer drive service but that was up against six or seven other competitors. We have to bid harder for work than anybody else to win Emirates’ contracts.”

The strong competition and sophistication in the FM market is a testament to the growing standard of FM in the UAE. Ward boldly compares it to the perceived high standards of FM in the UK. “Those working in the British FM sector turnaround and say ‘we are fantastic in FM, we have been doing it for years’. But it in reality your buildings aren’t as clean as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. If I take Westville shopping Centre in the UK and compare it to Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi it’s a very different proposition. but the British professionals are telling us that they are doing it better than us in here (UAE). I don’t believe that.”

The British FM sector has an upper hand with skilled staff whereas UAE companies tend to use more manpower to do it. “People say manpower is cheap here, but it’s not, we pay market rate. The only difference in FM is how you train your staff. From an output standard the UAE FM sector is setting the benchmark without a shadow of a doubt. I’ve never been to cleaner hotels, shopping centres or airports than the ones present in the UAE,” Ward says.

Given its growth and muscle in the market Ward divulges Transgaurd’s expansion plans. International growth could be on the cards for Transguard as the firm looks at spreading its wings in other GCC countries along with setting up shop in Egypt. But before that Ward is looking at growing share in the Abu Dhabi market as 90% of Transguard’s business is in Dubai.

We are always looking at international growth, but we are only going to a market where we can bring the rest of Transguard. Everyone is always talking about Saudi Arabia and Egypt we are also looking at a business in Kuwait. We will look at all markets. But Transguard will never be a cheap brand, to us it’s about quality, people and sustainability,” Ward reveals.

If Transguard was to go public, Ward says, it would be with a couple of business units, “we will split when we get them to the right size, if we were to do it”.

Speaking about tackling issues related to getting paid on time Ward says it’s a problem faced by companies around the world and not just in the UAE. He feels that a mechanism needs to be in place in order to resolve disputes related to cash within 30 days.

He says: “We will overcome the problem through education. Avoiding to pay people on time actually costs you more. In fact you can save money when you pay people on time. Cash is the mantra but people hold on to it, and when it becomes unsustainable it impacts service delivery which then affects your customer. On one side we are all taking of a good game with customer service.

Looking ahead Ward says the company’s future is “bright as ever”. He says: “There is a lot more we can be doing, Tranguard Living and the delivery business are all new units and they can grow a lot. We have to get more into technology in order to give our customers something different while making it easier for the service provider.” As for its involvement on the largest stage of them all, Transguard will be providing support to a few pavilions at the Expo 2020 from a “complete FM solution” point of view.

“Expo 2020 is very exciting but I’ve gone past it and I’m thinking around its legacy. What’s happening after the Expo 2020 excites me more in the sense that the role we play and what the UAE will look like. One thing is certain, the UAE will always keep generating roles and opportunities and that’s just the way this country is,” Ward concludes.

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