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As featured in i-FM – The Business of Happiness

Our very own Group MD, Chris Wisely was recently featured in i-FM with a sit-down interview. Below, you can read an excerpt of the full piece that can be found on the i-FM website here.

As featured in i-FM – The Business of Happiness

Atlas has built a UK top 20 player on the concept of ‘creating happiness’. Fiona Perrin met Chris Wisely, Group MD, to hear what that means in practice.

You’d have to have been hiding somewhere not to have noticed the growth of Atlas FM this year. Just last month it announced two further acquisitions – education cleaning specialist Lewis and Graves and City West, a cleaning company with a number of prestigious clients in London. But it was the news back in March that Atlas – always a soft services provider — had added Salisbury, with its engineering capability, that really made people sit up and take notice.

And we’d better carry on paying attention: Atlas FM is now close to a £200m turnover organisation with 10,000 employees and a full roster of services offered across the country.

Wisely done
Chris Wisely worked with Atlas’s founders for 10 years following the acquisition of Temple Security at the turn of the century. He went on to become managing director of Axis Security, which acquired Temple in 2009. Following a brief stint at Churchill, he returned home to Atlas in 2017 at a point of inflexion.

Atlas FM owners and serial entrepreneurs Nick Earley and Ray Empson conceived and developed Atlas as a small specialist cleaning provider back when they both had other day jobs. By 2017, they had grown Atlas to be a £40m business. Later that year, they bought the struggling cleaning and security provider Emprise from administrators. It brought with it some prestigious contracts (many of which retendered but chose to stay) alongside “some brilliant operators” and a move back into security.

“I sat in that business for the first year or so, working the restructure and making the changes necessary to get it to a point of sustainability and then we started to make some profits. It was interesting and challenging but really enjoyable, working on integration and cultural alignment and looking to get the best out of people,” Wisely recalls.

People are his theme – he comes back to them time and time again.

Great relationships
Wisely spent lockdown thinking about his why — and as the company scaled, how to maintain that ‘family’ feel through a business that was true to its roots. The result was the company mantra, ‘creating happiness’, and a very clear set of values in non-management lingo — “Don’t just talk. Do” for example — that he says now guide those at Atlas in decision-making and day to day behaviour.

“For clients that means great service and great relationships. There’s some tactics in there, too, obviously. But it is also the reason for every decision: we go ‘what is it? Is it going to have a positive impact?’,” he explains.

Wisely notes that the Atlas strategy plan is one slide showing a circle of purpose, leadership, contract retention and growth. “It’s always purpose first. We obsess about being a high-performing business and there’s a lot of substance and expertise and passion in being the best we can be. We’re all over the data and we’ve got great feedback tools to understand how our clients are feeling. We talk all the time about how to create great relationships with our clients.”

The result, he says, is loyal customers for the long term and colleagues who want to stick around inside a great culture.

Seeing is believing
Wisely has brought a few people into Atlas from previous organisations and says he tries to tell them about the culture, but it takes them a while to realise it is true. Some of these previous colleagues have set up the rapidly growing Atlas Security, which was recently nominated as Britain’s best security start-up.

It also means that many of the management teams and owner-managers who came via the acquisitions route, stick with the business. “We continue to allow them to support their clients in the way they did, but we also take away the bit they don’t like, the red tape for example,” he says.

“I work with some brilliant people,” he concludes, “but I also play to my strengths. I don’t feel like all the pressure is on me. I just know I genuinely see the joy in what I do. I love having an impact and it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. I love that I spend my day talking to people, helping to support them, steer them and I’m lucky that I have had the experience I’ve had.”

Luck and happiness: it’s certainly a powerful combination.

Read the full article here: