Suffolk Business Awards 2021: Vertas Group shares it secrets to success

Two employees of Ipswich-based facilities management company Vertas

Vertas employs over 4,000 people across the UK, while continuing to be headquartered in Ipswich - Credit: Cherry Beesley @ Simply C Photography

Having won the Customer Care Award at the 2020 Suffolk Business Awards, Ipswich-based facilities management firm Vertas Group Limited claimed two awards at the 2021 ceremony.

As well as picking up the Employer of the Year award, sponsored by Pure Executive and Birketts, the company also won the biggest award of the night – Business of the Year, sponsored by Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and Sizewell C. 

The awards are the culmination of over a decade of sustained and successful growth for Vertas, which now employs over 4,000 people across the UK, while continuing to be headquartered in Ipswich.  

The company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Suffolk County Council, is on course to turn over close to £80m this year. “And we will be profitable, which means we can give a dividend back to the council to spend on community projects,” says Ian Surtees, group chief executive officer at Vertas. 

As a business that prides itself on its people-centric culture, winning the Employer of the Year award meant a lot to everyone in the company.

“We've been finalists for the Employer of the Year Award before, but to win it actually cements what a good job we do and how we support our people,” says Ian. “It gives some recognition to all of our colleagues – not just senior management. Our caterers, our cleaners, our security guards, our bus drivers. The people who are at the sharp end, and have been throughout the pandemic.”

Catherine Johnson (Birketts), Duncan Johnson, Kate Innes, Karen Burrowes, Keith Buet and Jodie Woodrow (Pure Executive)

Left to right: Catherine Johnson (sponsor – Birketts), Duncan Johnson, Kate Innes, Karen Burrowes, Keith Buet and Jodie Woodrow (sponsor – Pure Executive) - Credit: Matthew Potter Photographer and Videographer

Ian describes March 23, 2020 – the date the UK went into its first lockdown – as “one of those defining moments” for Vertas. “I said to the business that how we behave through the pandemic will be remembered for a long time,” he explains.  

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One of the first decisions the business made was to top up anyone on furlough to 100% of their basic salary, not just the 80% covered by the government. “We have also introduced online welfare support including wellness and financial advice, we've continually communicated with the teams, and we've also kept our offices open for people that wanted to sometimes leave their homes and go and work safely in a different environment,” says Ian.  

Progression opportunities are an important part of the people strategy at Vertas – and this has been advanced over the past year with the appointment of four new associate directors. “All four associate directors have been with us for at least five years,” explains Ian. “They’ve been mentored and developed by the board, and they’re progressing really well.”  

The company has also introduced a continuous improvement group comprising 12 service-line leaders and another 30 “volunteer champions” from across all services – whether that's catering, transport, grounds maintenance or security, to name but a few. “This ensures consistency within the decision-making process, and that the different services don't work in silos,” says Ian.  

This consistency is critical for a company that now operates far beyond its Suffolk homeland, employs thousands and delivers such a wide array of services. It is also one of the reasons Vertas was named Business of the Year at the Suffolk Business Awards.  

So, what’s the secret?  

“Everybody’s on the same page, everybody gets the same message,” Ian explains. “We have business objectives that everyone understands and that are consistent for every service. But the key thing is listening to what we hear from employees. That’s all part of continuous improvement.”  

Looking ahead, the company’s long-term objectives have the future of the planet in mind. “We're striving to be carbon net zero by 2030,” says Ian. “We want to create a sustainable business that grows, and we want to create more social value in our communities.”