By Jola Chudy
Purpose elevates a business from something it does, to something it stands for. At Serco, supporting hospitals and transport to keep functioning effectively is just one of the ways that the business asserts itself as more than simply a commercial entity with a bottom line, CEO Phil Malem tells CEO Middle East
“Right from the beginning of the pandemic, we wanted to be remembered as a company that stood alongside the government and our clients and helped them,” says Phil Malem, CEO of Serco Middle East. He has held the role since April 2019, bringing broad industry experience from a career spanning more than two decades and numerous leadership positions.
"At Serco we manage assets and people. We want to come out of it better than we were before – we have taken our existing strategy and adapted it for a post-Covid landscape.”
The company is a leading provider of public services with expertise across Defence, Justice and Immigration, Transport, Health and Citizen Services. The company operates in the UK & Europe, North America, Asia Pacific and the Middle East.
“For us the opportunity has been in developing on our existing relationships, but in terms of the broader industry the issue is efficiency, and getting businesses and the economy up and running quickly.”
At Serco, the strategy for supporting this recovery is founded on a data-driven approach to customer-centric experiences, whether that is in hospitality, or at airports. For a company such as Serco, the nature of their projects has changed as the pandemic has become a part of everyday life. For example, today the company is working with drive-through test centres in the UAE and a large-scale tracing contract in the UK.
“If you are a company here and sitting on your hands waiting for the industry to come back to what it was before, that’s a mistake. Companies that stick to their purpose, look after their staff and adapt to a post-Covid world will be more successful. You have to be able to say ‘we can change, react, adapt’. A lot of companies haven’t done that.”
A challenging time for leaders everywhere, the pandemic is calling on CEOs to rise up to meet it in ways that nobody could have prepared for. Identifying company values and remaining faithful to those is one way to strengthen a business.
“Our main values are our people, because we don’t manufacture anything, so we try to look after our Serco family and hope we will have a better business at the end of it. We announced a graduate scheme. This isn’t a time to crawl under your desk, it is a time to stand up and get out there and invest in what we have, which for us is our people.”
The scheme sends a signal that while not ‘as normal’, business is certainly ploughing ahead at Serco.
Malem sees opportunities in the region for collaborations between private and public enterprise; where think-tanks and business experts can come together to improve government services with best practices. “There are a lot of things that we have been doing at Serco which we believe are the right things to do – and not just from a business perspective. We have made a point of reaching out to our clients to look at ways that we can support them in the areas we specialise in, such as efficiency, improving customer experiences. For us, this has been largely ‘pro bono’ work. If these businesses don’t survive, that impacts the entire economy.”
“Values are there for a reason and they matter,” he adds. “Leaders in large organisations need to know their people are their biggest asset, and if you look after your people, they will look after their business. There is a lot of learning now around the classical leadership elements such as agility and strategy. For me, it’s about which companies are less bureaucratic than others, which companies can respond faster.”
With 20 years of experience in the nuclear industry, his risk management experience and training has contributed to his ability to navigate the current situation, but he is adamant that there isn’t much that can really prepare someone for such an unexpected set of circumstances.
“Over the past few years, it has become apparent to me that managing people and assets effectively is the most important thing. Manage what you have more efficiently. Be as nimble as you can. Stick to your purpose and values. You can’t just cut costs and then expect better results.”