Open minded

As Chief Executive Officer of MITIE, the outsourcing and energy services group, Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE has developed a supportive and dynamic environment which nurtures the best talent the industry has to offer.

Since joining MITIE in 2002, Ruby McGregor-Smith has placed MITIE firmly in the FTSE 250, growing its revenue from £0.5 billion to £2.0 billion. Employing over 65,000 people in the UK, MITIE, Ruby explains, “manages anything that clients don’t manage in house”, including security, cleaning, landscaping, engineering, maintenance, and waste management.

A relatively new industry, outsourcing can deliver a better service, sometimes at a lower cost, putting experts into your business who hold all the appropriate accreditations. Ruby states: “We train and develop our people to the highest standards. Do you want to worry every day about who’s undertaking the security for your business, for instance? No, you want your outsourcer to worry about that for you.”

A unique, people-centric approach goes to the core of the company’s business model, with MITIE standing for Management Incentive Through Investment Equity: “We believe that if you can give equity to staff, this drives not only better performance, but creates a much better business overall.

“It’s important to attract aspirational people, which goes beyond financial incentives. We have an open culture because we want to know what our people think. Businesses which know where they are going right and wrong are more likely to succeed in the long-term.

“We have a buzz about us as individuals who want to grow the best services company in the UK. We are flexible, agile, and focused very much on improvement and growth.

“I am just one of 65,000 people trying to create the best outsourcing offering we possibly can.”

Ruby is similarly modest when speaking of the recognition by the National Business Awards, winning Leader of the Year in 2011. “It put MITIE on the map,” she emphasises. “People were asking about my organisation, which meant a massive amount. Being given a CBE was fantastic for the same reason.”

The first Asian woman to be appointed as CEO of a FTSE 250 company, Ruby believes that organisations are missing a trick in attracting talent. “Whether you are a man or a woman, if you work very hard and are driven, then you will succeed.

“I don’t believe in board quotas,” she continues. “I don’t want to be hired because I’m a woman. Diversity of talent is what is important. Boards talk about needing more women, but what they are really lacking is access to different ways of thinking.

“If an organisation wants to attract the best talent, then it should think carefully about how it appears from the outside. Women do not want to work for an organisation where being female is seen as a negative attribute.”

Ruby pulls no punches when it comes to discussing what it’s like for a woman working at the top of a global business. “I found it incredibly tough when I had kids. Having children completely changes your dynamics, and it certainly made me reassess my priorities. I had to accept I couldn’t do a global role if I wanted to see my family, so I was very brave and took some time out. I’m a driven person who wanted to have it all – but you have to accept sometimes that you can’t, and something has to give.

“I’m massively passionate about supporting our staff to implement flexible working. Women should feel able to have this conversation with their employers, and I think the business environment has a long way to go before this is generally accepted.”

5 business lessons

  1. Be honest about what you are good at
  2. Have belief in yourself and confidence to believe you can do more: This is what leads you to success – I wish I’d had this when I was much younger
  3. Follow your passion: Only do what you love to do
  4. Remain down to earth and humble: It makes you a better leader
  5. Accept you will make mistakes – what’s important is how you put them right: Not every day can be a good day!

To find out more about MITIE visit: www.mitie.com

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK