When AHEAD introduced Marc Wolman to Serco Group plc in 2001, he had no preconceived ideas where it would lead, nor how long he would stay. Now Director, CEO Office, of this international FTSE100 Company, Marc reflects on his path and their vision to become the world’s greatest service company.

hw_s12_3I’ve always believed that if you have the right skills and talents then the company will see that and help you to realise your potential. That’s why Serco is my ideal company; because I’ve accepted every challenge: from Best Practice Director to Change Director in Group HR, to working in new countries for Serco like India. As Director, CEO Office I am now working directly with our CEO Chris Hyman on special projects. Every year has brought a different level of excitement and interest and it is this level of opportunity and challenge in Serco that I really enjoy.

Since you followed up again recently, I’ve been reflecting on what’s kept me in Serco and how I’ve changed and developed. For me, it’s been quite an amazing journey. If someone tells you that they have nothing to learn then they are not being honest with themselves. The best feedback is good criticism and challenge on how to improve.

I remember one very challenging performance review alongside a colleague. Our boss brought out some matchsticks and laid them out in two lines perpendicular to each other. He explained that as a two-person team we were very complementary. My colleague was deeply rooted in finance and accounting, so was highly specialised but had little breadth. In contrast, I had great breadth of experience but lacked significant depth of specialism at that time. That challenged me to think where I wanted to build greater levels of expertise and pushed me to develop stronger strategic management skills.

Roughly half my time at Serco has been in corporate development, including developing new market entry plans. In 2005 I also worked on redeveloping our governing principles, vision and medium term goal. Most recently I’ve headed a team looking closely at South America and in particular its potential for an international service company with global ambitions.

Economies of scale as well as economies of scope
At the end of 2008 we made our first real inroads into the Indian domestic Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) market – acquiring just a relatively small company with around 10,000 people. More recently we have consolidated our position in BPO through the acquisition of the larger Intelenet, with 40,000 people, an international player based in India - so overnight Serco went from a company with 70,000 employees to 110,000. This was a significant milestone for us and a very important step for our business, as it allows a broader private sector focus and opens up a whole new set of markets for Serco in BPO services. And we have further consolidated our international BPO capabilities with additional smaller acquisitions in the UK and Australia as well as a number of significant contract wins with both private and public sector organisations.

One of the core aspects of our strategy is to build a balanced portfolio. Serco’s business model has been built on economies of scope. For example, we can offer our customers a broad range of services in areas such as IT services, facilities management, programme management to refuse collection and street cleaning. Our new Global BPO capabilities now allow us economies of scale as well to provide the full range of front, middle and back office services.
Serco’s governing principles:
Fostering an entrepreneurial culture
Enabling our people to excel
Delivering our promises
Building trust and respect

This is a big step change in the evolution of our model. From our roots in the defence service sector, Serco has developed a reputation for delivering high quality frontline services in transport, health, prisons, immigration and so on. Now we can handle all the back office activities too, which gives us a big advantage.
Public sector ethos with private sector knowledge
I’ve visited lots of contracts over the years and noticed an underlying sense of pride and commitment amongst our staff to living Serco values. Our governing principles are most importantly fostering an entrepreneurial culture; enabling our people to excel; delivering on our promises; and building trust and respect. In fact, I was in the US last week and it reminded me how incredibly consistent we are in living our values and how everything we do is routed in those four simple statements. Success is great but even better when it’s grounded in something sustainable and unique. It might sound clichéd, and whilst our value set alone is not unique, the way we live it is.

Given our strong public sector focus to date, our values are in fact closely aligned to the public sector. But we also want people to do their best and be empowered to take appropriate decisions and measured risks. In other words, we’ve combined a public sector service ethos with private sector knowledge.

In India, Australia and the Americas we’ve been able to be consistent with our values while acknowledging that the local culture is different in each country. You have to be respectful of that.

In the past, Serco has expanded largely into countries where we know the language, culture and laws so it’s been relatively straightforward to do business.  Now the countries we are looking at present a whole different bunch of complexities. You’ve got to understand their ways of working, cultures and in many cases adapt to working in new languages.

A 21st century explorer?
So am I a 21st century explorer, as you suggest? I guess there are times when I’ve felt quite intrepid. In South America it once took me four and a half hours to get through customs. I then got into a car with bullet proof glass, and sat in a traffic jam for another two hours to get to the hotel. On the upside, there is a huge entrepreneurial culture, with big similarities to India. I’ve seen plenty of passion there and there is definitely significant potential if you can find a way through the very challenging employee laws and corruption issues.

Looking at their public sector, I’ve visited prisons there which were a real eye opener. First of all I visited a 60 year old prison and wondered if I would get out. That was a Category 1 prison for serious offenders. That was scary – and a real contrast to their new prisons where they are actively working to rehabilitate offenders. It was my responsibility to analyse and explore potential markets which, you’re right, is rather pioneering. You have to work it out for yourself and I guess it is a little like exploring.

Throughout you have to remember that you have an important responsibility as an ambassador for Serco to make a positive impact on everyone you come into contact with. We always have a range of opportunities on our radar. The challenge is to work out which are the best to retain. What should we do and when?

If you plan too rigidly you might miss out on a great opportunity
In 11 years I’ve never really planned where my next role would be which I guess to some would be heresy. I’ve always believed that if you plan too hard you might miss out on a great opportunity. So I’ve always been prepared to change direction, to do different things and that’s helped me to improve as an individual.

In this new role I’m working closely with the CEO on special projects, and that will see me through the next few years. I’m enjoying it, having fun, and importantly feel valued. Actually, looking back, I knew from the start that I would spend a long time at Serco. From my first role in our Best Practice centre, seeing people in our contracts has been so inspiring. It’s easy to lose track being in a corporate environment so I’ve always tried to get out and about. Maybe some people could get passionate about selling a Mars bar or a shoe. But service can change people’s lives. It can improve a child’s education or help a prisoner to stop reoffending or help a long term unemployed person back to work. Not many companies can do that and that's what inspires me about this company.

If you would like further information, you are welcome to contact Marc via This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or see www.serco.com.