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Q&A with Charlie Mowat, founder and Managing Director of The Clean Space

Thursday, 9 June 2016 08:40 AM | LEADERSHIP

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Charlie tells us what being in The Leap 100 means to him and his business

Charlie is the founder and Managing Director of The Clean Space, a commercial cleaning company based on the principles of fair treatment for its staff rather than the exploitation often seen in the industry.  He’s an Oxford Graduate with three years’ experience at a Management Consultancy before founding The Clean Space. 

An unlikely candidate to start a cleaning company, we caught up with him to find out why he chose that industry and what being in The Leap 100 means to him and his business.

Tell us about your business

The Clean Space is a cleaning company unlike any other.  When I founded the company in 2003, I did so on a mission to do things in a different (and better) way.

After doing my time at the Management Consulting firm I decided it was time to set up my own thing.  I looked at cleaning and saw an industry where cleaners were badly paid, had limited training, few prospects and were generally made to feel invisible – and that those people, unsurprisingly, weren’t motivated to do a particularly good job.

I saw an opportunity to do things differently and create a well-run, well-branded company where looking after the cleaners was the priority.  As well as being the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense: our people do a better job for our clients and we have a lower turnover of staff meaning we spend less time and money recruiting and training.

The approach has worked. Over 13 years we’ve grown to £5.5m, servicing over 700 clients across the UK.

What does being part of The Leap 100 mean to you?

I’m delighted for my team. We have a great group of people who have worked fantastically hard to build this business. Being chosen for The Leap 100 gives us all the recognition that the work we’re doing and the choices we’ve made are steering us in the right direction.

The fact that we’re the only cleaning company that has ever been part of the list is really important for us too. The industry isn’t particularly glamorous and is often overlooked so to be part of The Leap 100 is a major milestone for the industry overall. It all helps to make cleaners less invisible.

What time do you like to be at your desk?

That depends on what you’d define as a ‘desk’.

I commute from Winchester to London every day, so usually start working at 8:30am on a desk courtesy of South West Trains.

I usually get into the office around 9:30am which suits me fine - I’m not a massive morning person.

What’s your management style?

The Clean Space has recently moved from start-up mode to getting ready to scale-up.  I have built a Senior Management Team and have had to change my management style to complement this.

I write a blog all about the lessons I’m learning along the scale-up journey. My latest post is all about the changes I’ve had to make personally as we’ve shifted mode.

As a fast-paced start-up entrepreneur my style used to be directive and dogmatic – essentially driving the team hard with daily instructions where I controlled everything.  I have had to switch that as I’ve handed over the reins to the Management Team. My style now is coaching, supporting and encouraging the team to help them achieve their own personal goals.  This has allowed my team to flourish as individuals and take ownership of their work.  It’s been a hard change to make but it’s been worth it.

What does your support team look like?

Without doubt the most important part of The Clean Space is our cleaners. They are the backbone of the company, their hard work should be championed and it is our mission to ensure our cleaners are given the respect and visibility they deserve.

I’m fortunate that our story and mission means we attract a better calibre of people than our competitors.  In the field management, sales and head office team we have an eclectic mix of quirky, ambitious individuals which I think gives the business real personality.  I genuinely feel very lucky to have them.

How do you unwind/let off steam?

Outside of work I can usually be found doing a range of sports – I am a regular kite-surfer and a member of my local crossfit gym.  I love mountain biking in wales, road biking in the Alps and am looking forward to going trekking in Iceland at the end of this month.

When I need to properly unwind I meditate.  Jarvis Cocker recently wrote “I can literally feel the fibres of my body fusing back together when I meditate” and I know what he means.  I use the Headspace app.

I also recently bought my wife, Lynsey, a weekly pottery class for the both of us which I am enjoying a lot more than I expected to.  We’ve recently signed up for our second term…

What do you think makes entrepreneurs different to other people?

I think entrepreneurs all seem to have a dogged determination and a relentless attitude to picking themselves back up when they fall over - something else I have written about in my blog.

What one ability do you have that you think has helped you scale?

The ability to personally change and evolve to suit the needs of the business has been crucial in The Clean Space moving to the next level.  Many entrepreneurs get to a certain point and then fail to change their own approach to what’s needed for that next stage.

I think that’s why you end up with so many ‘serial entrepreneurs’.  They grow it to a certain point then sell it and start again rather than change themselves.  It’s so important to accept that change is part of the process, and adapt accordingly.

What advice would you give earlier stage businesses looking to emulate your success?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Within six months of starting The Clean Space I’d established an advisory board. These mentors were a crucial part of the development of both me and my business.  Their guidance helped me to avoid many mistakes and stay focused on the big topics.  I continually surround myself with people who are better than I am at a certain thing or have experience I can learn from.

What’s the most useful thing you’ve learnt at a Supper Club event?

I remember sitting at a dinner with fellow member Derek Bishop where I had this huge penny drop as to why I was struggling to get my culture and values embedded into the business. He taught me that behaviours are the key as they bridge the gap between one-word values that sit on a pedestal and the way people conduct themselves within a business on a daily basis.

After that, we spent time listing the behaviours that were consistent (and inconsistent) with each of our values which made them much easier for people to understand.  These values and associated behaviours now act as the fabric of our company culture, governing the way we behave within the workplace and toward each other.  It really works!

What technology could you not live without?

I’m a massive tech geek.  I’d literally be useless without my iPhone, my iPad (with Notes Plus and a Jot Pro Mini stylus for writing), ToDoIst for my task management, Base CRM for my contacts, LastPass for passwords, and Evernote for everything else.

Which business-focused book would you recommend?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R Covey.

The lessons in that book underpin so much of how I approach life now.  It profoundly changed the way I operate and has massively impacted the way I conduct myself both personally and professionally.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of what The Clean Space has become.  It used to be my baby but it’s now all grown up, has left home and has a life all of its own.

It is a fantastic thing to be a part of and is a credit to all our team’s hard work. I am excited to find out how much more we can achieve.

Connect with Charlie on LinkedIn 

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