Shaper: Charlie Green (encore)

Show aired on 14th October 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
One Mint Julep from Sarah Vaughan, a great way to start the programme. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers, I am Elliot Moss. Thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right alongside them we put someone who is shaping the world of business, we call them Business Shapers. I am very pleased to say today my Business Shaper is actually an Encore – that means he has been on before – it’s Charlie Green and he is the co-CEO and co-founder of The Office Group. They are the business that is doing rather well in providing fantastic spaces for people to go about their working lives and we are going come on to hear about where Charlie has been in the last five years and boy has it been a fantastic journey. Lots coming up from him very shortly. In addition to that you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we’ve got the music and it is going to take centre stage alongside Charlie today; Astrud Gilberto is in there, Bobby Womack is too, Cuban vocalist Daymé Arocena is in there and also Mr Gregory Porter.

The inimitable sound of Gregory Porter with Hey Laura. Charlie Green is my Encore today, my Business Shaper who has been with us five years ago and Charlie is the co-founder and co-CEO of The Office Group. They are the people that provide co-working and flexible work spaces to use the language, it’s more interesting than that though and Charlie, hello firstly.

Charlie Green
Hello Elliot.

Elliot Moss
Welcome back.

Charlie Green
Thanks for having me back.

Elliot Moss
It’s an absolute pleasure.

Charlie Green
It’s wonderful to be here.

Elliot Moss
I didn’t realise, and I don’t think you did either that it had been five years, it’s a, I mean a lifetime ago when we were talking about your business, it was a ten million business, roughly ten million turnover?

Charlie Green
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
And you had been around then for about eight to ten years already.

Charlie Green
Ah that’s right yeah.

Elliot Moss
And here we are just to jump to a big number, 2017, the business recently was valued at five hundred million. You had an event, you sold a majority stake to Blackstone, a private equity house and you’ve had a nice time. Since the summer you’ve probably been sitting quite happily.

Charlie Green
You would think wouldn’t you? I am happy, but I am sort of always happy that’s just disposition I think fortunately.

Elliot Moss
Remind me just about the core of the business and then we will come on to this success story that’s kind of happened as you’ve worked the last fifteen years.

Charlie Green
So, okay, the essence of what we do and in fact when we set out, when we started the business fourteen years ago, we set out very much to challenge the serviced office world as it was then which was a short-term, expensive and very corporate vanilla bland offering and both Olly Olson, who I started the business with and continues to be my business partner and co-CEO, we looked at that and we just couldn’t comprehend why people would want to work in an environment like that. We wanted, we were searching, so we looked in the market to see whether or not there was an office, not because we were setting up a business, just because we wanted to see, was anybody creating an office and work environment that we wanted as two young guys to work in ourselves. The answer was there was nothing out there and so it’s a little bit clichéd, but we figured that if it wasn’t out there we should maybe try and do it ourselves and I am great believer in when you look at business that you don’t need to come up with a new idea, you don’t need to innovate in such a dramatic way to come up with something nobody has ever done before. In fact if you come up with something, if you see something that works but you can do it differently and you can do it better, that’s a pretty good route to go. It’s a lot safer and you that there is a market there so that’s what we did and I think…

Elliot Moss
Just to remind and also just to remind people and I am sure many people have been through them, these buildings back in the early 2000s, if you needed a space they were a room with a chair, it was soulless, it felt absolutely the kind of place you would not want to visit let alone sit and work in?

Charlie Green
There was no consideration then about how that space felt, how it looked, how it made that person using that space feel, how it suited their business needs other than the fact that it was very flexible. So we looked at that and thought okay well let’s try and create something that addresses the same need for flexibility, but also really thinks about how people will use the space so how it works, how it functions, but also what it looks like and the styling of it and I think today you know we are really lucky to have started that business and this was luck. We started it fourteen years ago, but that has allowed us to create a platform and where we find ourselves today is in a market where our business we feel is not challenge the serviced office world, it’s challenging the office world. We are now a sort of the, we are challenging the traditional form for businesses taking office space in terms of the traditional lease, we are offering something very new, very affordable and very, very real in the sense that you can kind of work in a different kind of environment now and the scope for growth therefore is tremendously exciting because if we believed that this is the new way of working for people, for businesses both small and large then the market is very large indeed.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from my Jazz Shaper Encore, my Business Shaper Charlie Green today, co-founder and co-CEO of The Office Group. In the meantime though time for some more music, this is Astrud Gilberto with Take Me To Aruanda.

Astrud Gilberto with Take Me To Aruanda. Charlie Green is my Business Shaper today, it’s a Jazz Shapers Encore special and Charlie is one of the double-act along with his partner Olly Olsen behind The Office Group. Back in 2003 they decided to reinvent what it meant to feel good about where you worked rather just accept whatever you were given and pay the bill at the end of the week or the month. You and Olly were friends, if I understand or at least you worked together and you knew each other?

Charlie Green
We, yeah, we worked together, we knew each other.

Elliot Moss
Not friends?

Charlie Green
We weren’t really friends, we kind of get together in the office, we worked on different aspects of the company that we both worked for at that time. I was on the property side and he was on the operations and revenues side and we kind of, we just talked about non-work things, football and social stuff.

Elliot Moss
How did you get to the point though where you decided to trust this guy and he trusted you to say you know what this is worth a punt. Why was it worth a punt then?

Charlie Green
Okay, that’s quite an interesting question because I had left MWB and we talked about this last time, I had left because I had this sort of personal health problem. I had heart surgery at the age of twenty nine and took four months off work and went back and wasn’t really ready to go back, but had this kind of a shift in my perspective which I was trying to fight actually at the time because you don’t want anything, you don’t want this illness to have changed your life, but it had done.

Elliot Moss
And what was the shift just so I understand it?

Charlie Green
Well the shift was I didn’t want to work for a corporate for, you know and the guy, the CEO at that business was, when you step away from an environment and you come back into it, you have this ability I think to see things with more clarity and I saw his personality and what he was like and he was a pretty aggressive, nasty, bullying kind of personality and I didn’t often take the brunt of that, but I saw others who did and I just thought I don’t want to be around that kind of toxic behaviour or energy and so I left. And one day Olly called me up and we kind of stayed in touch but loosely and he called me up and this was probably, must have been a year after I left and he called me up and said ‘hey how are you’, he said, ‘look I am bored I want to do my own thing, I want to leave the company and set up on my own and this is what I want to do’. I said. ‘okay’. He said. ‘can I pick your brains’. I said. ‘sure, when do you want to get together’. He said. ‘well I’m outside your office now’. I said. ‘okay’. That’s slightly stalky, but we went for lunch and we had this lunch where we had this incredible sort of riffing off each other about where we saw this kind of the future of where people should be working and what they should be working within and how it should be valued, but flexible, but keep people and we just sparked off each other and it was really interesting and he had had a commitment from a new private equity funder who had just started who had said look they wanted to invest in Olly, they saw the potential in Olly, they saw the potential in the sector but they said to Olly you need a property partner, somebody who can handle the real estate side of things. Olly suggested me, they said if you can get him great, he got me and at the end of that lunch we looked at each other and we said ‘alright let’s do it’. And there wasn’t, I didn’t have to consider it for a period of time, I didn’t think about it, I just went with it.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out much more about no doubt and going with your gut. That’s from my Business Shaper today in this special Jazz Shapers Encore, Charlie Green; co-founder of The Office Group and co-CEO too. How many more titles do you want Charlie? The latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers. This is a Jazz Shapers special, it’s the Encore version and I am with Charlie Green who is the co-founder/co-CEO of The Office Group and The Office Group very recently was valued at five hundred million pounds and a big majority stake was taken up by Blackstone, the private equity people. When I met Charlie back in 2012, his business was not worth five hundred million pounds, the turnover then was ten million, I believe today Charlie the turnover is almost a hundred million in the last year?

Charlie Green
It is.

Elliot Moss
Ninety six million I think you said in 2017. Is that right?

Charlie Green
2017, we will do ninety six million this year with an EBITDAR of just under twenty five, but we are on so we are busy, we are busy, we are on site, so we are under construction on I think it’s six sites at the moment. So when we build those out, finish them and fill them, and those are mature then we will have a run rate if we don’t do anything else and we just concentrate on the buildings that we have, we will have a run rate of a hundred and fifty million a year revenue and about forty nine million EBITDAR.

Elliot Moss
Do you not want to pinch yourself a little bit? I mean we were talking only five years ago and actually when, again that, in some people’s books that’s a long time, for me as I get older it’s a chunk, it’s an important chunk, but it was a ten million turnover business Charlie, you’ve multiplied that by ten in five years, you’ve… I mean I want to know how you’ve done it really. I mean it’s obvious that the growth is exponential, but it’s not just that, it’s been consistent. What would you say if I said give me two ingredients, three maybe. What have been those things? I mean Lloyd Dorfman when we met had only just bought into the business, he has been your Chairman. Was that an important factor?

Charlie Green
Ah yeah for sure. Lloyd was and probably remains as well as a sort of a mentor advisor and one of the most intuitive businessmen you will ever meet so.

Elliot Moss
And he was the founder of Travelex and actually he was on the programme as well a few years ago just for context.

Charlie Green
Right. And you know it’s slightly frustrating that he can right most of the time because you know you debate things and he just sees things with a clarity which is annoying, but we had the benefit of that. So we learnt a lot from him, we learnt a lot about discipline and we learnt a lot about kind of focusing on the EBITDAR and not the revenue and you know those sorts of things and so he was tremendous for the business. But look first of all do I, do I pinch myself, I don’t really think about it. Olly doesn’t really think about it, we just, we just get on with it. So we are not, we’ve never set a target over revenue or EBITDAR to hit. Obviously we have business plans and budgets that we put together, but if you look at it on a more macro level, we are not thinking, we are not aiming for something numerically or financially, we are aiming to build the business and that’s about you know the very tangible, physical aspect of getting the right buildings, creating beautiful buildings with really rich content that provides an experience for the people in those building which means that they want to come to us and they want to stay with us.

Elliot Moss
I buy all that. I totally do.

Charlie Green
That’s because it’s true.

Elliot Moss
It is true. It is true. And it’s rational and it’s absolutely commercial and you are really good at it, but there must be a part of you that still goes ‘I am proud of myself, I’ve done something here that when I was twenty five I couldn’t have imagined doing’. You’ve built business, you employ over two hundred people now, it’s working, you’ve just had someone come and take serious investment. There must be the bit when you quietly on your own you go ‘I did something special, I am doing something special’. No? Humour me Charlie?

Charlie Green
No, no…

Elliot Moss
If it’s not real, I mean if it’s not real I don’t really…

Charlie Green
Look it would be daft if I said no and there are moments and my parents are really proud and my wife is really proud and there was. But honestly, Olly and I we don’t, we just, we’ve had one moment after we signed the deal with Blackstone and we left, we went to sign the deal at three o’clock on a Friday, we signed it just before midnight, we left the lawyers’ offices, we came back to the car park to pick up our cars by our office from the city and we walked down to the car park and it stank of sewage right and it was dark and it was, actually it was quite warm it wasn’t cold, but you know we had this moment where we hugged it out and it was a moment right. And it was okay, we have really achieved something here. But again you know, honestly it is not a financial thing. It was a moment because we had achieved this milestone of people, a company like Blackstone. You know Lloyd recognised something in us when he bought into us, Blackstone have recognised something in us and the business buying into us now and it was at a level that truly reflected what we had achieved and in that moment it was quite special and there was a real kind of bond between the two of us. It didn’t last long.

Elliot Moss
It’s okay.

Charlie Green
We hugged it out.

Elliot Moss
It can last as long as you like, but we are going to come back to the ingredients because I’ve asked you too many questions. You’ve pinched yourself and you’ve told me why and that’s, you have given me a very fair picture of the smell sewage but the hugging it out. Stay with me with much more and the reasons why Charlie Green has been able to, with his partner and their team, build their business so significantly. That’s all coming up in a moment here on Jazz Shapers Encore. Time for some more music though in the meantime, this is Daymé Arocena with Mambo Na Ma.

That was Mambo Na Ma from Daymé Arocena. Charlie Green is with me, he is the co-founder and co-CEO of The Office Group and if you’ve been listening you will be hearing about Charlie’s not inappropriate group hug with his partner Olly Olsen when they sold their business or rather part of their business to Blackstone, the private equity investors. And that’s important that part of that I mentioned because you are still significantly invested in this business and I was asking you a question before about the ingredients. Tell about the ingredients up to now and then tell me about if there is anything that now will change because there’s other people involved and because the stakes are higher if indeed they are higher because to me scale brings stakes right?

Charlie Green
Yeah, yeah inevitably. So the ingredients, I think one of the reasons we have been successful is that Olly and I started this business from the very bottom and we, when we, we didn’t employ anybody else when we first started, we couldn’t afford to and it was just the two of us and we did every single role in our business. We were front of house, we were maintenance, we were doing the sales, we were doing the viewings, we were lawyers, we were architects. I mean we did everything and I think that is a very unique quality it gives us because there is an empathy I think with the people now that work for us and we can really ask things of them because we understand what we are asking because we know what it means because we have done it. And I think that also brings an empathy to the people who are using our space and using our buildings. Somehow there is a way that people feel it and I think that that is you know one of the ingredients and really if you had to distil it down, I would say we really care. We really care about creating beautiful buildings and we really care that the people’s experience within those buildings are right and we care about trying to drive the changes in the way in which people are working and…

Elliot Moss
And that point, that latter point, drive the changes in the way in which people are working to me also underpins what I feel from you which is that you, you do really believe it and it’s a bit of a mission and the business is supporting the mission as much as that’s evolved as part of a commercial thing but there is more to it right? It feels like that to me?

Charlie Green
We are not trying to change the world.

Elliot Moss
No.

Charlie Green
Right, so we, I think we, it is a mission I guess, this is an objective, this is something that is important to us as people that we are trying to do and we believe that the success and the money will come as a consequence of getting those things right. And to date, you know that has happened now with Blackstone. And you asked me before about you know do I pinch myself and actually the reality is we are still in it. In many ways we feel like we have just started this business which is a bit daft given we are fourteen years old. But that reflects our, our passion and enthusiasm for the business, I think it reflects the market because the market is very ready for what we do now and I think it reflects the fact that we just had this investment from Blackstone so we are set for growth. We are committed, we are in, there is no own out, there’s no kind, the next timeline for us is probably we are looking at about seven years for something to happen.

Elliot Moss
So basically the industry had better be watching out because Charlie Green and Olly Olsen are going again. It’s a start-up mentality.

Charlie Green
It’s a start-up mentality for sure. We’ve always had it and I hope we never lose it. Irrespective of how big we become I hope we never lose that, that would be a real shame.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with Charlie Green plus we will be playing a track from Bobby Womack, that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Bobby Womack and California Dreaming. I have got Charlie Green just for a few more minutes on this Jazz Shapers Encore special. Charlie, we have been talking about you keeping your feet on the ground and I buy that and I buy that there is a kind of a start-up mentality and that’s great. Obviously you and Olly have made some money from this, is it difficult not to think about the money or is it easy not to think about the money because the money is real, there is a number there, whatever that number is, it’s not insignificant. Does it affect your decision making in any way at all?

Charlie Green
I really hope not. It’s a great thing to have. There is a level of comfort and certainty that you know life is going to be okay. Whatever it throws at us now, you know I have that comfort that the house is okay, the school fees and we will be alright. But it doesn’t change anything else and I’ve got to tell you that after we had that hug on the Friday night, on the Monday morning we went in, we gathered all the troops and they all knew that there was a process going on, we told them what had happened and then you know half an hour after some questions and everyone sat back down, we got back to our desks and we carried on working. And it’s a wonderful thing to know that we are okay, but the drivers are very different to that and I cannot imagine not coming into work. I am lucky. I love what I do and I am challenged every day and every day is different. And I cannot see myself giving that up anytime soon.

Elliot Moss
And it still excites you to think about what this business might become?

Charlie Green
It’s really exciting. Both of us sort of feel re-energised and ready and ready to tackle whatever comes our way so. I think there are going to be challenges for sure, there are going to be new challenges that we haven’t faced in the past, we are working with a new partner who we went with because they seemed like good people that we were going to work well with over you know a period of years and that’s proving to be the case. So I think it’s going to be stimulating and challenging and a lot of fun and we have to have fun because if we don’t have fun I guess it’s a bit pointless.

Elliot Moss
Listen it’s been great talking to you and I am really pleased that you and Olly did decide to go for it after lunch that day because if you hadn’t had done we wouldn’t be sitting here now and five years on as I said the context of the growth just objectively is fantastic, so congratulation and you do seem like you are pretty grounded still so that’s good. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Charlie Green
So Curtis Mayfield Move On Up just whenever I hear it, just puts me in a good mood, I just love the song.

Elliot Moss
Here it is just for you. Thank you.

That was Move On Up from Curtis Mayfield, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, the Encore man Charlie Green. He’s never had any doubt about what he did and the choices he made with his partner. He went with his gut, he talked about being empathetic to what everybody does in the business and most importantly above everything else, he said he still cares and can’t ever envisage not caring. That is absolutely the foundation of building a successful business. Do join me again, same time place, that’s next Saturday here on Jazz FM at 9.00am. Meanwhile stay with us, coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Charlie Green

Charlie Green is co-founder and co-CEO of TOG (The Office Group). Before founding TOG in 2003, he was an Acquisition Manager at MWB Group plc, a property investment and development business.

TOG launched just when technology and new ideas were shaping the global economy, with the aim of reconfiguring the modern British workplace in order to bring it into line with a fast-changing world.

TOG’s vision was ‘to create beautifully designed buildings with a wide variety of spaces, and to offer tenants progressive membership schemes and short-term leases to allow for growth and change’. Today, it has 15,000 members working across 30 buildings, 28 of which are in London. It houses one of the fastest growing and most diverse workforces in Britain, from app creators and advertising agencies; to financiers and foodies.

Follow Charlie on Twitter @CharlieGTOG.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

I am happy, but I am sort of always happy. That’s just fortunate disposition I think.

We set out to challenge the serviced office world as it was: a short-term, expensive, very corporate, vanilla offering. We just couldn’t comprehend why people would want to work in an environment like that.

You don’t need to innovate in such a dramatic way to come up with something nobody has ever done before. If you see something that works but you can do it differently and you can do it better, that’s a pretty good route.

I had heart surgery at 29 and took four months off work. I went back and wasn’t really ready to go back. I had this kind of a shift in my perspective which I was trying to fight because I didn’t want this illness to have changed my life, but it had done.

When you step away from an environment and you come back into it, you have this ability I think to see things with more clarity.

A new private equity funder said Olly needed a property partner, somebody who could handle the real estate side of things. I didn’t have to consider it for a period of time, I didn’t think about it, I just went with it. You have to follow your gut and my gut was screaming.

Olly and I have never doubted what we do. We’ve never had moments of wondering whether or not a building would fill or not fill or be successful or not be successful. It’s never occurred to us. We get the building, we do what we do and we move onto the next one.

We are not aiming for something financially, we are aiming to create beautiful buildings which provide an experience for the people in those buildings so that they want to come to us and they want to stay with us.

We didn’t employ anybody else when we first started and we did every single role in our business. I think it gave us an empathy with the people that work for us now – we understand what we are asking of them because we have done it. We really care.

In many ways we feel like we have just started this business, which is a bit daft given we are fourteen years old. We are committed, we are in. It’s a start-up mentality – we’ve always had it and I hope we never lose it.

I cannot imagine not coming into work. I love what I do and I am challenged every day. I cannot see myself giving that up anytime soon.