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"We don't throw anybody off board, but everyone has to jump up himself"

Dr. Giuseppe Santagada, CEO of Vebego, explains in an interview how the traditional company Vebego started the transformation to an agile mindset, why he has completely reassigned the management and what role the Vebego ambassadors play for the new mindset.

Great Place to Work: Mr. Santagada, you set the ball rolling at Vebego - what was the trigger for a new mindset?

Dr. Giuseppe Santagada: We are a family business with a 75-year success story that has grown from three employees to 35,000 employees. And so far everything has worked perfectly. However, we realized that we could not continue working like this if we wanted to be prepared for the future. All the facts show us that the market is changing very quickly and that we have to adapt accordingly. At the same time, our company also needs an other mindset.

Almost a year ago you switched from ISS to Vebego - in what condition did you find the company?

Until I was hired, the company was run by one of the owners, who came from Holland to Switzerland at a very young age. The owners realized that a transformation was necessary. When I subsequently became CEO of Vebego, I realised that we were a very good service provider when it came to cleaning. However, we also noticed that customer needs are constantly changing and that it will no longer be enough to offer cleaning only in the future. We therefore had to become more agile in order to develop into a full-service provider in the field of facility management.

And then how did you proceed for the transformation to more agility?

On the one hand, there was the technical rail to cover newly required competencies such as FM management and building services engineering, and on the other hand, there was the cultural rail. As a family business, we have a family culture that includes many positive aspects. However, we also had to establish a certain drive, dy-namics and a winning spirit. My goal was therefore to revitalize our culture in order to implement the Change of Mindset, as I named the project as part of our transformation, and to be more agile. We therefore had to design our structures, competencies and framework conditions in such a way that they meet the current challenges of the market.

What a mammoth task! How did you start for the Change of Mindset?

That was, and still is, because I completely reassembled the management team. In addition, I set up a group that I call Vebego Ambassadors. These are all direct reports from the Executive Board and employees from Operations and the staff unit. Together, we develop quarterly key topics for our transformation. This not only gives the project broader support, but I also work with the Ambassadors, who bring these ideas, this transformation, these important topics into the organization and represent them. So that the whole transformation does not end the way the CEO wants it, but in a way that is supported by everyone.

How did the transformation reach the employees when ambassadors suddenly joined the company?

In the beginning, there was a state of shock - regardless of the ambassadors. Precisely because we did not have such a tightly managed culture. I don't mean that disrespectfully or negatively. But it was also part of the family culture that the company was not managed in the way the market environment would have required. As a result, the bill was less and less paying off.

The Ambassadors cushioned this shock by supporting the meaningfulness of the transformation. Although we are still in the middle of the process today, we are making more and more progress. Looking at the results of the Great Place to Work survey, I can say with a clear conscience that the main messages have been received and that the meaningfulness behind the transformation is understood and supported. 

In our study we talk about different types of agility that can be beneficial or detrimental to a transformation - have you also identified different types of agility?

Of course. That was also the reason why we had to partially fill the management and other leadership functions with new people. For such a transformation, we need leaders who can take this challenging but incredibly exciting journey with their hearts and minds. You can compare it to a train travelling at a certain speed: we don't throw anyone off board, but everyone has to jump up themselves. We do everything we can to make opportunities possible and to support them, but the will must be there.

To stay with the train: you are still at full speed. What are the next stages of your journey?

A further step will be the move of the headquarters and administration into a new building, where we will implement a new kind of cooperation, namely "activity based working" according to the Vebego concept. There will also be no more individual offices - not even for me. When you come in, you should feel neither barriers nor hierarchies. Our corporate culture should enable an agile setup, so that our employees can work together more agilely and, thanks to agile mindsets, we can move more securely in the market environment and create added value for our customers at the end of the day.

Dr. Giuseppe Santagada, CEO of Vebego.

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