Purely Czech capital discriminated against us in the field
The time the Novotnys from Mladá Boleslav started their business played an important role. Their tenaciousness also had its note to play, even if their most important decision was a "marriage of convenience" with a multinational company. From a former employee he is now co-owner of a company that only employs 3,500 people in the Czech Republic alone.
"a dwarf is small, even if he stands on a mountain". The history of ATALIAN proves the words of the Roman philosopher Sencea wrong. Originally a Czech cleaning company set up at the beginning of the 1990’s by Mr. and Mrs. Novotný, thanks to a merger with a French company it conquered at least the fifth highest mountain in the Czech Republic - Praděd. With its 3,500 employees and a turnover of more than 1.5 billion crowns, it can boldly measure up with the four largest players in the field of facility management - ISS Facility Services, OKIN Facility, AB Facility and M2C Facility management.
From a dwarf to a giant
ATALIAN CZ’s history began in 1994. At the time Pavel Novotný learned that Škoda Auto was looking for an external company for cleaning its factory
. In the same year he and his wife founded the company JANA and took part in the selection procedure for Škoda Auto. "It sounds almost unbelievable, but thanks to the time, the good price, and some specific knowledge of the background we won the tender," says commercial director David Fiala.
Thanks to its persistence and the efforts of its founder, JANA managed to push back the boundaries of what was generally expected from a cleaning service. "At the time the cleaning market was really just about cleaners with a cloth in their hands, which appeared here and there in the corridors. No one really bothered to check if they were cleaning and how. That wasn’t the case with Pavel Novotný" Fiala says with a smile.
Novotny was in 1998 Novotný was one of the co-founders of the Czech Association of Cleaners, which pushed for the first cleaning standards and the use of certified chemicals. Škoda Auto was still one of JANA’s major clients, but gradually, as the company gained a good reputation, the ring of its clients expanded. It grew up to be the third largest cleaning company in the Czech Republic, but that is where its organic growth stopped.
"I came in as the commercial director in 2001. At first I saw the fact that we were a purely Czech company as a big plus, but only until I realized how limiting it was for us. Our potential customers were mostly foreign clients who required the international activities of a partner," he explains.
The truth of this was borne out in 2007, when one multi-national company’s warehouse burnt down. "That’s when we had a great interest in putting in a tender for the clean-up, but we were told that this potential client only works with the three cleaning companies registered abroad," recalls Fiala.
All three registered suppliers requested the services of JANA. "We sent the same price offer and the one that won made the least off us. At that moment I saw that purely Czech capital is discriminatory. If we had been part of a multinational group, that profit could have gone to us," he says.
So the JANA management began to look for a trans-national partner that would be willing to merge has with the company. They found the French company TFN with a family history starting in 1944.
A time of acquisitions and building a single corporate culture
JANA entered the TFN group as part of its cleaning division in 2008. Since then not only has it operated under the TFN brand, but it has also tried to incorporate French know-how in the provision of facility management (FM) services into its line of business
"Facility management is about three basic disciplines - technical administration
. We were purely a cleaning company with a turnover of around 0.5 billion crowns. We provide other services in part by buying firms that have specialized in these activities," says Fiala.
So between 2008 and 2010, the company bought, for example, Test, Zeta Holding, Praha Facilities Management and others. Its latest acquisition its longtime "rival" from Mladá Boleslav - KAF Facility - took place in 2011.
With each acquisition the new owner also buys a certain corporate culture, know-how, the procedures and employees of the company that was the subject of the acquisition. How hard was it to merge these aspects into the existing structure?
"Very difficult. For example, with the purchase of Test, which was then owned by the French company Veolia, we paradoxically came upon a difference in corporate cultures. Having been brought up in the German approach and trained by the automotive sector, we were faced with a French system that was different, and this caused the need for the careful introduction of a single system and unification of both cultures," Fiala outlines.
"It’s difficult to group together very different corporate cultures, on the other hand with every acquisition there is a review of what you do and if you’re doing it the best possible way," he adds.
A facility manager has it tough
The worst was to build a reputation as a provider of comprehensive FM services. "Everybody kept reminding us we were a cleaning company. Cleaning still constitutes 68 percent of our turnover, but we already have the know-how and technology for everything else from the area of FM. As our partners saw, rebranding the firm had a negative role in this. After two years under the brand name TFN at the impetus of the French parent, we changed it to ATALIAN," he explains.
The fact that the outlook of the company changes over time is testified to by the fact that it is invited to various selection proceedings as a FM provider. With its turnover of over 1.5 billion crowns it is one of the five biggest players in the Czech market for FM services. It has to compete with its rivals, however, not just through prices, but mainly via the high quality of the services and the added value in the form of technological innovation.
"Pricing policy is very simple in this sector. We provide a service; therefore the most basic costs are labor costs. Things of a technical nature and other costs are 20 percent at most," he outlines.
Technology sets the mirror competition
Nowadays the customer can only be convinced by offering premium services and these are built on the fact that the company must be more effective internally and optimize costs - perhaps via software solutions to facilitate communications with the customer.
"That’s why we use a Web application, thanks to which our client has an immediate overview of the activities carried out and access to their electronic documentation. As an employer we can monitor the load on the workers assigned to a task, and when we monitor them for a certain time we see that there are reserves, so we can put a worker on another project and save the client costs," Fiala says describing the system’s logic.
"Our non-organic growth meant there were different systems in the company whose functionalities were not completely compatible and their licenses ran out in different years. By buying Microsoft Office 365 we solved the problem. The main thing we appreciate about the system is its flexibility. The company runs on a single platform, workers only install those programs that they actually work with, which saves expenditures and not just on unnecessary licenses", he describes.
Another advantage of Microsoft Office 365 is the ability to have video conferencing instead of traditional meetings in person, or the company intranet, which is used for sharing examples of best practice.
"I know that our size means we are unable to compete with low-cost local firms that have low overhead costs, but clients turn to large companies for other reasons. For instance our guarantees," says Fiala.
In a situation where, for example, the loss of the generator will stop a production line, the technical administration worker must get the generator running in a certain emergency time. If he doesn’t do so the FM service provider undertakes to pay the client a contractual fine based on set rules or another form of reimbursing the loss of profit for the down time. "We’re insured against such damages with a multinational insurance contract with conditions that a small company just cannot afford," he points out.
Other reasons why clients choose big players is their "green" philosophy or their "corporate responsibility". Clients even require this approach from their service suppliers, which is reflected in these suppliers’ costs.
"The client has a certain philosophy and doesn’t want to be associated with a company that pays its employees the minimum wage or uses technology that is not environmentally friendly. Of course it costs something to prove this. For instance investing in the certification," Fiala says.
NO to the public sector
In his opinion the public sector isn’t about business: "If you do business, you sell some possibilities, some abilities and you provide added value. I’m afraid the public sector doesn’t care about added value, it’s only interested in the lowest price, it doesn’t look at the quality of the services."
"For this reason we approach public tenders with a certain reserve and they only make up a minor part of the portfolio of our existing customers. For instance, apart from the afore-mentioned Škoda Auto and Tesco ČR, our long-term clients include TRW, Panasonic, the administrative office of the IBC center or Passage Myslbek. As of March the company will also have its headquarters in the premises of this complex.