How a Business “accident” Created a Serviced Office Success Story

David Saul & Simon Rusk celebrate Business Environment's (BE) 21st birthday

In 1994 a team of property investors purchased two buildings. At the time, they happened to be leased to a serviced office operator – but running a business centre was not part of the plan. Little did the new owners know that this would be the start of Business Environment, eventually to become one of the UK’s leading suppliers of serviced office workspace.

“I know it is said many times, but it really does feel like only yesterday when we established the business, almost by accident,” said David Saul, Managing Director of Business Environment (BE).

21 years ago, the serviced office space business that was operating from David’s newly acquired building began to experience problems. So alongside Simon Rusk, who went on to become the co-founder and finance director of BE, David stepped in to help.

This move effectively started Business Environment, which is now one of the UK’s leading suppliers of flexible workspace. Today the firm operates 12 serviced office centres and more than 600,000 sq ft of space, with a raft of awards and accolades to its name including Investors in People and The Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work For.

“Oxygen for business”

BE’s list of awards also includes Data Cabling Infrastructure and Best Social Intranet, which demonstrates the company’s close attention to IT and technology in the workplace.

“We firmly believe that connectivity is oxygen for a modern business,” said David, citing advances in technology as the biggest change in the workspace market over the past 21 years.

“The Internet and the Cloud have changed the way we work and indeed how the office looks. People no longer need huge filing cabinets or storage units as everything is kept electronically. Recently the demand for faster and faster connectivity has meant we’ve invested heavily in creating fantastic network speeds.”

As every flexible workspace operator knows, office space is only part of the equation. Technology, connectivity, maintenance, services – every piece has its own place in the business centre puzzle, and while some operators outsource parts of their service provision, others – like BE – manage their most crucial facilities in-house.

A growing empire

BE has launched a number of subsidiary companies along the way, which goes some way towards demonstrating the company’s wider vision. Among them, Aurora Pro Clean and Storm Operative Security provide cleaning and manned guarding services to its own serviced office centres, as well as commercial properties outside of its own remit.

Other subsidiaries owned by BE include development, technical support and interior design.

“We are offering these services to office buildings but also to smaller and independent serviced office providers so they can benefit from our years of experience in facilities management,” said David.

With 12 business centres, over 300 staff, a number of subsidiary companies and a host of awards under its belt, BE has certainly made great strides over the past 21 years.

And now it’s about to take another significant leap forward.

Expansion plan

BE’s founders have marked the company’s 21st anniversary by revealing an ambitious expansion plan. Over the next 5 years, the company plans to expand to as many as 20 centres, adding significant weight to its 12-strong portfolio.

BE - Cheapside, LondonAccording to David the majority of new locations are planned for The City in London, with other locations earmarked for Midtown and the West End.

Just this week the company has secured an extra 14,000 sq ft of space on the 6th floor of its existing location at 107 Cheapside (pictured).

The City, traditionally home to London’s financial district, has become a magnet for a much wider variety of occupiers including a large number of Technology, Media and telecommunications (TMT) companies.

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This is partly fuelling BE’s drive for a stronger presence in The City and, as revealed by Deloitte recently, the Central London serviced office sector has grown rapidly over the past decade with the favoured location moving from the West End to the City.

This spells good news for a company with its heart in the capital. Yet despite having made the jump to serviced offices, BE still has one foot in the property investment camp. Three-quarters of their buildings are owned freehold or on long leaseholds, totalling a property portfolio worth in excess of £150m.

“Over the past 21 years the serviced offices sector has truly come of age,” said co-founder and Finance Director, Simon Rusk. “BE’s vertically integrated business model, together with its focus on being an asset backed company, has stood the test of time and prospered – even through challenging economic conditions.”

21 years on, it’s still owned by the same people who started the business – and BE believes it’s the longest-running serviced office company to do so. As such, BE is certainly painting a positive picture for the future, and if the next 21 years are anything like the last, we can expect more good news from a company that knows how to turn an ‘accident’ into a golden opportunity.

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