Navigating turbulent times effectively is vital if companies are to consistently create a positive workplace environment for all employees, and the positive culture that comes as a result can then be enjoyed by all.
Max Webber, Co-host of The Interview, sat down with Robert Persson, the Managing Director of Off to Work, a company that has navigated the ever-changing landscape of the hospitality and events industry for over two decades. In this interview, Robert delves deep into his professional journey, his experiences, and the incredible growth of Off to Work.
When I first came to London in 1997, I had a background in PR and communications. I worked in marketing for a while, but I eventually found myself gravitating towards the hospitality industry. The connection between my university education and planned communications and PR led me to a role with a high-end events caterer, "Inn or Out," alongside Lena Bjork, another talented Swedish professional. We worked on some remarkable events, like Rolls-Royce at the Farnborough International Air Show.
In 2003, I joined Off to Work as a General Manager, and it's been an incredible 20-year journey since. I consider myself a family man and team player that values loyalty, which is somewhat rare in our industry. Off to Work operates in the high-end events and hospitality market, serving various clients, and I absolutely love what we do.
Off to Work operates in several sectors, and each one demands the highest standards of service. We're deeply involved in sports, serving Premier League clubs, cricket, golf, both domestically and internationally. We've even sent kitchen porters to work in China for the Winter Olympics and supported the Asian Indoor Games in martial arts at Ashgabat. In the five-star hotels and fine dining restaurant sector, we deliver exceptional service and grooming.
We also work in the educational sector, where we provide well-trained, DBS-checked team members to independent schools. Quality is paramount in these settings. Additionally, we have clients in the events sector, working with royal palaces and hosting gala nights for top fashion brands, among other things. The operational standards in these sectors are exceptionally high.
As for our growth, we've come a long way. When I joined in 2003, we had only a few team members in the office. Now, we have nearly 90 full-time staff. We had a payroll of 145 before the pandemic hit, but we faced many brutal challenges during that period. We shrank down to around 35 and closed a few offices. However, we're back up to just under 90 full-time employees and have expanded to various cities in the UK, including Edinburgh, Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford, Birmingham, London, and Woking. We're also in the process of opening an office in France to support the upcoming Olympics there.
First of all, I don't really consider myself a leader. I am part of a team but obviously my behaviour, actions and experience plays a part. I am very aware of that so try to set a good example, at work and in life in general. Supporting a team in this industry has its challenges as our industry never sleeps. A strong culture is essential, and everyone needs to understand and embrace it. We have a Director of People, Anna, who is also a psychologist, and she focuses on uplifting, developing and supporting our team. We believe in focusing on people's strengths rather than their weaknesses. Finding faults with people is very easy, I know I have many, but maximising our team's quality delivery and output is far more important in my view.
We have a welcome breakfast for every new team member, individual inductions with various teams, and we don’t ask our team to do anything we would not do ourselves. I was recently out working as a porter for a client that needed the help, for example. Strong work ethics, best practice operational standards, and teamwork are crucial. We run Off to Work as a cohesive unit, like a sports team, even though we have multiple departments. Our company structure is a reversed hierarchy, with support flowing from the bottom, ensuring that the people on the front lines are well-supported.
We're currently using a structure where our clients, customers, and team members are at the centre. Specialists, divisions, and directors are the cogs around them, all contributing to our core values, including passion, accountability, a "never say never" attitude, and the ability to adapt to the peaks and troughs in our industry's demands.
We have people from various cultures in different roles, departments, and regions. To ensure inclusion, we have clear operational standards and key performance indicators (KPIs) that everyone contributes to positively. We also have mentoring programs and individual and team development programs in place.
In our open-plan office, there are no closed doors. We encourage an open, transparent environment where every team member can be part of the journey. We even have night managers to ensure that we are consistently available, seven days a week, to support our team and high-maintenance clients with their exceptional standards.
We are also working towards becoming B Corp certified, aligning our values and processes with that vision. Our culture is rooted in the idea of uplifting everyone and making sure that all contributions are recognised and appreciated. The carrot, rather than the whip.
It's challenging to pinpoint just one piece of advice, but I'd like to share a few that have resonated with me. The most important was that, if you wait for things to be perfect, you get nowhere.
From a professional perspective, I've learned that waiting for perfection can hinder progress. Embrace the journey, even if things aren't perfect. And philosophically, the quote from Shawshank Redemption has always stuck with me: "Get busy living or get busy dying." We always have a choice, and I choose to get busy living and embrace the opportunities that the world offers.