90% Of The Employees At This Company Make It Different — And Some Say Better — Than Any Other
Forty years ago, Australian entrepreneur Alfred Moufarrige had an idea. The founder of what would eventually become global real estate tech and virtual office company Servcorp was looking to minimize the operating costs of a planned property startup company.
Premium office space, a secretary and a receptionist were taking a huge chunk out of his profits. To cease hemorrhaging money, Moufarrige drew out a plan for a coworking space in hopes of getting another business to share office space and costs; this was long before coworking was commonplace in the global office market.
The concept was so successful that Moufarrige abandoned his original pursuit of a property company and chose instead to develop his coworking business, now Servcorp, full time.
As Servcorp grew, secretaries and receptionists made up a large number of new hires. A meritocracy, Servcorp saw promise in its employees, many of them women without college educations, and promoted from within.
The now half-billion-dollar company operates in 160 locations in 24 countries and has about 1,000 employees — about 900 of whom are women.
“It’s something that wasn’t by design, but then again, we’ve always been reasonably unconventional,” said Chief Operating Officer Marcus Moufarrige, Alfred’s son.
As men continue to dominate the world of commercial real estate, having women account for such a large percentage of a company’s workforce and upper-level management positions is uncommon. Many women working within the tech industry feel they are treated differently in the workplace, according to a global study by Booking.com.
At Servcorp, 50 women are in middle management positions and 20 in senior management. There are 10 men in middle management positions and nine in senior management.
The woman who oversees Servcorp’s Australian and New Zealand offices, which earn $70M annually, started out as an office assistant when she was 16.
The woman leading the Japanese division, Servcorp’s largest market, started as a marketing assistant in Paris.
The general manager of Middle Eastern operations is a woman who began at the company with a marketing role as well.
From Receptionist To Running The Floor
Servcorp Center Manager at One World Trade Michelle Burrell applied for a receptionist role in 2016. A couple of months later, a manager took leave and Burrell was asked to fill in temporarily. The temporary position soon turned into a permanent one.
Burell now runs the entire floor at One World Trade. She manages a team of four employees and is in charge of managing accounts, ensuring billing is correct and growing the business.
“I like that they genuinely put you in control of your own career,” Burrell said. “They don’t really hold my hand.”
Instead, the company offers a library that offers independent studies on team management, client complaints, team member issues and more.
“If you’re willing to look, it’s all there,” Burrell said.
‘I’ll Probably Only Stay In The Job For Three Years’
Servcorp Senior Vice President Selene Ng was an external management hire, selected to lead the global sales team. She accepted the job a bit reluctantly.
“I wasn’t interested; I didn’t do sales. I was a sports media and management consultant for 15 years. It was a sexy industry,” Ng said. “Why would I want to leave that to work in real estate?”
In past jobs, Ng said she tended to stay only a few years, feeling that the only way to climb the ladder would be to change jobs, moving up a rank.
“I thought if I kept job-hopping, I would eventually get there. I told him I have a short attention span, and I’ll probably only stay in the job for three years. But seven years on, and I’m still here.”
She works with regional managers and directors in 24 countries. Going in, Ng said she was uncertain of how it would feel working with a team of women.
“You kind of adjust your attitude if you are female working in a male environment,” she said. “You feel like you need to be a bit more assertive. Coming into all female … I was like, ‘Do I strip all of that away? Is it going to be more competitive?’ But it’s turned out to be the most incredible experience.”
The differences that Ng noticed revolved around having a support system that was unlike her past work environments.
“Females naturally are very supportive of each other. Men are competitive but a bit ruthless about it. Women are competitive and driven but for their own goals. They will support each other, offer advice. They don’t feel like they need to fight or climb over each other’s backs. It’s a collaborative environment and community,” she said.
A successful venture
Servcorp’s methods seem to be working. The company has been profitable for the entire 40 years it has been in business, Marcus Moufarrige said. In 1999, the company was listed on the Australian stock exchange. In the early 2000s, Servcorp built a technology platform that enabled the business to operate globally.
“We’re a funny business in a lot of different ways. We’ve been in the flexible workforce business for 40 years. We’re very cutting edge in that regard.”
Marcus Moufarrige said that as the company works to expand its global business, the focus remains choosing the best people to do the job, no matter their gender.
“Overall, the better bet is an internal hire,” he said.
Moufarrige also said underutilizing the skills that women can bring to the table is a mistake for any industry, let alone commercial real estate.
“Women are amazing salespeople, amazing at managing shared facilities that we run and we really want to promote that,” the younger Moufarrige said.
How does Servcorp’s model regarding women hires compare to that of PropTech industry?
“Geez, I have no idea,” Moufarrige said. “PropTech is like 12 minutes old.”