The First 100 Days – Alec Guthrie’s personal account of his new role as HML’s CEO
Alec Guthrie, CEO of HML, shares his views and feelings about the first 100 days as a CEO and how the unfolding Coronavirus pandemic has impacted on his new role. COVID-19 has presented some unique challenges and Alec describes his reaction to the crisis, his thoughts for the future and his plans for HML post-pandemic.
Alec Guthrie was appointed Chief Executive Officer of HML in January 2020. The founder of the Guthrie Partnership bought by HML in 2013, Alec has over 30 years’ experience in property services including Estate Agency, Residential Lettings and Residential and Commercial Property Management.
How did you prepare for your new role as CEO?
I worked closely with my predecessor and the Board of Directors. I had been shadowing Rob for nearly two years so I had a very useful apprenticeship.
Did you consciously formulate the decision to do things differently?
Only in as much as I am my own man and naturally have a different style to Rob. We are not carbon copies so I was always going to have different views and opinions on certain things and a different way of tackling certain issues and challenges.
What were the first 30 days like as CEO?
Challenging! I have always had to work at things, I am not one of life’s effortless achievers and so I expected the new role to be tough and it didn’t disappoint. The main difficulty was the new reporting lines and all the additional people that I had to take responsibility for.
What was your overriding priority during this time?
I am an out and out operator and so my focus is always ‘the customer’ and getting service delivery on point.
How did you feel during this time?
I felt the pressure like anyone would, a bit of the ‘new boy’ and the old imposter syndrome which comes with fresh responsibilities and internalising new decisions.
What was your immediate focus at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak?
My main concern was for all those working within the business – we are labour heavy when it comes to service delivery. That said, it wasn’t purely a consideration about people’s physical health but also their mental wellbeing and future wellbeing.
What were the first steps you took as news of the Coronavirus began to unfold?
Like many, I was aware of the news stories coming out of China but it was only when the coverage extended to Japan that I began to understand the potentially serious implications. With globalisation and international travel, it was only going to be a matter of time before it arrived in the UK. Teamwork is always one of my top priorities and so I brought together representatives from Operations, HR and IT to start canvassing opinion on how best to handle the impending crisis.
What was your personal response during this time? How did you feel?
I don’t want to come across as cold and dispassionate but the emotions really took a back seat, it was all about getting the right management team in place because only then could I start to protect the people in the business whilst still looking after our clients. I don’t think the gravitas of the situation will hit me for a while yet. I try and focus on the positives that in times of a crisis you see the best of mankind and humanity.
In what way has COVID-19 impacted the business? What have been the biggest threats?
It has made us focus on how we do our jobs and deliver service. Clearly, our revenues will be hit like many other people’s but recalibrating can be a good thing. I don’t tend to see the threats just the challenges.
What steps have you taken to ensure business continuity to mitigate the impact of Coronavirus?
Utilising IT has got be the main focus, it means people can work from home and still provide service so we very quickly invested in IT to get more people established remotely. The possibilities and potential surrounding homeworking have been clearly highlighted and it is definitely something we will be exploring more fully going forward.
What are the weaknesses which have shown up?
Mass and centralised communications with our clients must be one of them – so much is still done at a local level and is piecemeal. So controlling the comms is the key area that needs attention so all our clients know what is going on both frontline and behind the scenes.
Are there any areas of the business which have surprised you, which you thought would struggle but have coped well?
I have been truly inspired by the level of innovation and determination to keep the show on the road. This ‘can do’ attitude has kept 95% of all job aspects properly functioning and is a real strength of the business.
Has the company’s focus changed since day one? Moving forward, has there been a shift in the company’s direction?
As a business our initial focus was with servicing resident management companies, developers and freeholders. We found that the service delivery for each sector is different and this saw a natural shift in focus, for HML, towards servicing the developments that are owned and managed by the very same people residing in the building. The impact of the Coronavirus has further emphasised this focus and we continue driving our efforts towards providing best practice and compliance for RMCs.
There has been conversation in the media concerning the need for leasehold reform. I disagree with this and would urge the Government to merely focus on ensuring Resident Management Companies are set up as an essential part of a lease. This would help tackle abuse of the leasehold system, leaving those who actually live in the building in charge.
We are fortunate where we can offer RMCs an all-inclusive complaint service, in-line with our ethical values. We have a common goal and building a strong partnership is instrumental. This is something we take pride in as we also recognise that many small operators do not have the scale or resources such as HMLs.
What has been the biggest challenge since your appointment?
Ensuring everyone is working in the same direction.
You have reached the 100-day mark, what have been the important learning curves so far?
I need to make sure my messaging is clearer, sometimes I do not feel that I make statements that are clear enough for people to understand.
What would you like to say on behalf of HML to your customers?
Making improvements and changing things for the better has to be gradual and this process does rely on an element of mutual trust. We have to deliver a complex and compliant professional service in a very complicated leasehold structure but I can assure you, we always put enhancing the client experience at the heart of what we do. We always strive to be available and want to support our customers in every way possible particularly at this difficult time.