Q&A with Olly Olsen, founder and CEO of The Office Group - Prelude

Q&A with Olly Olsen, founder and CEO of The Office Group

Olly Olsen is the founder and CEO of The Office Group.

In 2003 Olly set up The Office Group with Co-founder, Charlie Green, to create offices that were markedly different to the industry standard. Their concept was simple; create beautifully designed buildings with a wide variety of spaces, to offer tenants progressive membership schemes and short-term leases to allow for growth and change. Having left school at 16, and after spending two years travelling, Olly decided on a career in real estate having secured a position working for the UK’s second largest serviced office provider, MWB Business Exchange.

Starting at the very bottom rung of the business, Olly worked in every role with the running of the buildings before progressing to a formal sales role, letting offices, and driving other revenue products. This led to a role in corporate accounts, responsible for larger occupiers. Olly now takes responsibility for the operational performance of the portfolio of The Office Group, driving the P & L for each building.

We caught up with Olly to find out more about his day-to-day life as a successful entrepreneur and hear his tips on preparing to exit, following the recent sale of The Office Group.

What time does your alarm go off? Take us through a typical week day morning…

6am, although I’m usually awake before the alarm goes off – mind already racing or fear of waking up Mrs O, I’m not sure! I get straight up and have an espresso immediately.

I’ve invested in a small gym at home, which means I can save time in the mornings and still be around for my family before work and school begins. I’ll work out to music, which is partially to help me focus and partially because I have a new hobby – Djing!

I intentionally won’t have looked at my phone yet…Then I’ll check my diary and choose my attire accordingly. I tend to adapt my style depending on the type of transport I’m taking and what meetings I have. Banks and Investors, slight smarter. Shoreditch clients, jeans, and a T-shirt. I enjoy the variety.

I give Mrs O and my kids Jack and Daisy a kiss (if they’re up) and head to breakfast in our café at Henrywood House, or at my desk. I’ll travel to work by car, motorbike, pedal bike, or my new favourite mode of transport for the summer – an electric skateboard.

What were the key tactics you implemented to maintain your company culture as you scaled?

Culture has always been the hardest piece of the TOG puzzle to maintain. In our case, it came from the top – myself and my Co-Founder Charlie. We’ve consciously maintained a presence in the businesses, not sitting behind our desks and sending emails.

We’re mostly out, communicating, talking face-to-face as often as possible. This gives us the best chance of reinforcing our strategy, work ethic, values, and beliefs to our teams.

We are exceptionally hands on. And we recognise that this has been a key contributor to our success so it’s something we want to continue.

Another tactic for me has been to hire people whose company I enjoy, rather than just experience on a CV. I interview a candidate three times. Firstly, a more formal approach. Next, I’ll reverse the role and ask them to interview me / TOG. Lastly, a more social interview. This gives me the perfect indication of their cultural fit within TOG.

What systems have you set up in your business to help it grow?

Systems will always change, need updating or to evolve. But we’re constantly embracing change, which is why the next addition to the team will be CIO or CTO. Although this person isn’t a new system, without their skills we couldn’t take our current technology up a level and onto the next stage with confidence.

Our business has outgrown the systems we had in place in the past and with a blue-sky approach to our offering and data needs, the systems needed won’t necessarily be up to the task. Without the technical ability to gather information or digitalise our business, we’ll fall behind. Knowledge is everything.

How have you built your team to drive growth?

I’ve had life and business goals ever since I can remember – even as a young child. So since starting TOG in 2003 the plan has always been growth and the people who we hire all understand that.

We are taking on more members, acquiring more space all the time, so I’ve always looked towards the end goal in order to hire, incentivise and consider who to invite into the TOG Family.

With our entire focus being on growth, anyone we hire needs to deliver on that. Our next step is Europe and the head of the region will need to demonstrate the necessary skills to scale a business.

Incentives are in place to help people grow in their roles, deliver results and therefore help our business expansion. These are varied and range from simple discretionary bonuses all the way through to shares and equity. Charlie and I believe we’re very fair when it comes to rewarding hard work, and at times we’ve given up personal financial gain in order to bring the right people onboard for the benefit of the company.

What is your management style?

I don’t think I have a specific style. I’m attentive, quite emotional and really wear my heart on my sleeve so it’s quite obvious when I’m disappointed or delighted.

It’s important to be understanding, diplomatic and appreciate the work your team does. So, I do my best to stay in touch with people and show them the respect they deserve for working hard.

We know that the TOG family has chosen to work with us and have been a large part of our success, so my management style reflects the fact that we are one big, authentic and loyal family.

What one ability do you have that you think has helped you scale?

Without doubt, perseverance, determination, and focus. I know that’s three things but they have all been equally important in helping Charlie and I build the company.

Hard work is another – I have a consistent seven-day-week mindset and am 100% focused on getting the job done. Always prepared and looking forward, with a zero tolerance for failure. I’m quite tough on myself!

What piece of technology could you not live without, and why?

The first thing that comes to mind is my iPhone. It’s technology that’s changing the world and our lives. Healthcare, Artificial Intelligence, photography, entertainment, but most importantly, connectivity. I feel so much better knowing I’m more connected to my kids. Plus, I can be more connected with my business and gain a greater understanding of our sector. The list of benefits is endless.

Having said that, I can’t stand phones in meetings. Put them away if someone’s talking or presenting. Hard to resist so if I’ve done this to anyone else – I’m sorry!

What techniques do you revise to grow as an entrepreneur?

That’s something that’s hard to plan or consider. It all comes quite naturally, as a result of my childhood and upbringing. I just wake up, have my coffee and get to work. My advice is focus, hard work, and I’ve never ever doubted myself.

How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?

I probably don’t! I don’t see as much of my kids as I’d like to, I don’t relax on holiday and I don’t call home enough when I’m working. I do however try to limit the amount of work I’ll do at home on the weekends, so I can be a present and fun dad to Jack and Daisy and a good husband.

It’s about balance. You focus and work hard when you can, but you also have to make time for the things that really matter in your life.

In terms of living a healthy life, I see it as an investment in myself and my work. If I feel good, I’m eating well and staying active, I can be more effective and productive at work.

What is your greatest fear?

That I won’t stay healthy. It’s the one thing you can’t control. All the success in the world means nothing if you can’t be around to enjoy it, share it, or spend time with your family.
Recommend one book to fellow entrepreneurs. What key lessons did you learn from it?

Essentialism by Greg McKeown; it’s message is great – focus on the work that matters at the right time so you can succeed and enjoy your life. An ‘essentialist’ in the eyes of the author is someone who masters the art of time management and discipline. The rewards are more productivity and less wasted time on things that don’t get you closer to your goals.

Why did you join The Supper Club?

I was originally introduced by Alex Cheatle, (Duncan’s Brother). I love my work and business, so I enjoy discussing the ups and downs of running an organisation. Plus, you have a great dinner at the same time.

The bonus has been the friends I’ve made and forming new professional relationships.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve learnt from the Club?

If you can be TRULY vulnerable and open up to people at the dinners or forums, you’ll find an environment which is welcoming and that gives you the opportunity to learn and grow, personally and professionally.

The key is being open, honest and to trust the confidentiality. I’ve never seen that broken.

If you could go back ten years and give yourself one piece of advice, what it be?

Not to renew my Arsenal season ticket…

From a business perspective, there’s not a lot I would change. Our company has outperformed beyond all expectations, which is something I’m really proud of. My advice would be to enjoy it all – the highs, the lows. If you have a clear vision and determination, you’ll get there.

What 3 key tips would you give to your fellow entrepreneurs when preparing to exit?

Timing, ask for advice and vision. It’s all about timing if you want to get the best deal.

I think it’s important to seek advice from people who have been there before and sold a company. And when you’re working in partnership with someone else, make sure you’re clear from day one how far you want to go, what your vision might be and at which point a sale could be considered.

It’s a good idea to get your housekeeping in order along the way, such as data and other information. It will make things much smoother when the deal is done.

Looking ahead ten years, what is the biggest opportunity or threat to your industry that you are preparing for?

I think one of the business opportunities we can prepare for is flexibility – the way people work is changing every day, as we know. But that is even evident in the different areas where we have properties. So by making sure we are adaptable and can provide tailored office solutions to our clients will ensure we stay ahead.

We believe that despite the major advancements in technology, people will always need to come together to do great work. So we plan to continue providing them with somewhere they can be productive, creative and sociable in a cool co-working environment.

In terms of challenges, we’re pretty confident there’s a demand for our services and workspaces. So the business challenge for us will be expanding to meet that demand.

Another will be keeping up with the increasingly digital nature of the business world and the technical resources we need to be a truly modern business. Data regulations, organising and protecting customer information and discovering new customers online will remain a challenge and something we continually focus on.

To connect with Olly on LinkedIn – click here


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