Where next for the cleaning industry?

26th of October 2012 Article by Andrew Large
Where next for the cleaning industry?

Following the successful biennial Congress of the World Federation of Building Service Contractors (WFBSC), Andrew Large, its executive vice-president, considers where the cleaning industry will go next.

It was a real privilege to be in Curitiba earlier this month for the 19th Congress of the WFBSC. The Congress was a tremendous success with some 800 delegates from nearly 30 countries gathering together to consider the issues that really affect our industry. It was especially heart-warming, in these economically challenging times, to hear speakers with a clear vision about the future direction and success of cleaning.

I would like to focus on two of the major ideas that emerged from the Congress.

The first of these is the position of cleaning within society and culture. It seems self evident that people will prefer to live, work and study in a clean environment. Yet, in the rush to cut costs and manage budgets, this is gradually being forgotten. As the research work on the WFBSC's Cleaning for Health Project shows we have almost become inured to dirt. After all, how else to explain our poor hand washing habits?

It's time for the cleaning industry to reassert the value of cleanliness. Not just in narrow economic terms (although this is undoubtedly useful) but also in terms of how we value ourselves and society. There is something deeply ingrained in our humanity about the desire to be clean, and we need this instinct to resurface in order to show the true value of what we do.

The second idea is that of the pendulum swinging back towards family businesses again. In recent years, the multi-generation family business has become a desperately unfashionable thing. It seems that the sole objective for entrepreneurs has been to sell out early and take the cash reward, either from some sort of venture or private equity investor or the stock market.

This 'get rich quick' attitude is what leads to the focus on short term price and cost and the move away from long term value generation. Chris Cracknell's (ceo of the OCS group, a 112 year old family business) presentation at the WFBSC on the family business shows that there is another way for businesses to grow and provide top quality services, while keeping ownership within the founding family.

The re-emergence of family businesses is a key part of the much heralded 'rebalancing' of the economy. Just as we must become less reliant on financial services and more reliant on exports of goods, the economies of the world should focus on developing long term stable ownership structures for businesses, as well as using equity markets to raise funds. The stock market isn't intrinsically bad, but it can only exist as part of a mix of ownership structures. It mustn't be seen as either the best or as a target for all new businesses to aim for.

The WFBSC has a major role to play here in developing and promoting the management tools and knowledge for family businesses to successful move between generations. It can help fill the knowledge gap that often leads successful entrepreneurs to sell out, rather than considering long term family ownership.

It will not have passed you by that there is a coincidence here. Long term family ownership structures for cleaning businesses are surely well suited to pursuing a long term agenda of promoting cleaning's rightful and important place in our society and culture.

If this has whetted your appetite for what the WFBSC is all about, the 20th WFBSC Congress will be held in New York from April 6-9 2014. Speakers such as Steve Forbes and Peter Diamandis are already confirmed.

To register, visit www.wfbsc2014.com

I hope to see you there.


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