Ferenc Kis-Szölgyémi, CEO of B+N Reference Zrt., a CEE-based facility management provider, spoke with Property Forum about the company’s recent international expansion and shared his vision for further growth.
This interview was first published in Property Forum’s first annual “The 50 most influential people on Romania’s real estate market” publication.
With the acquisition of ISS Group’s interests in CEE, B+N Reference Zrt. has become a regional player overnight. What motivated you to expand beyond your home market, Hungary? Why now?
Yes, B+N Referencia Zrt. has acquired the shares of the ISS Group in Central and Eastern Europe. With the acquisition, we have become one of the leading full-service facility management providers in the region. The transaction includes subsidiaries in Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. This acquisition follows our constant growth in Hungary over the last 20 years as a natural step. During this period, we consolidated our position as the FM market leader in the country. We are a stable player among the top 500 Hungarian companies. In 2019, we realised a turnover of €100 million, and in 2020, despite the pandemic situation, we achieved dynamic growth in both turnover and business segments.
Our client list includes both public institutions and prominent representatives of multinational companies. The facility management industry operates on a volume basis: cost-effectiveness increases as size increases and the administrative background does not need to be significantly increased to move a larger base. Therefore, high volumes are a competitive advantage over smaller players. The number of employees at B+N Reference Zrt. exceeds 10,000 with this transaction. Our capital is blue-collar based. Since blue-collar workers in Europe essentially come from the Central and Eastern European region, I am convinced that a significant regional workforce base will also improve our competitiveness in Western Europe. We surely will build in this direction, utilising this competitive advantage in the future.
What’s your strategy for growth for the new markets that you’ve entered, including Romania?
We will be a long-term, reliable partner for our clients throughout the region. By entering these markets, our customers can be assured that the high quality of services provided will be maintained and even further developed across the entire facility management portfolio in all four countries. Our outstanding, long-term expertise, innovation, high-quality service, customer orientation, transparent and flexible operation and compliance, together with knowledge transfer across the B+N Group, will be the values on which we will build our future development. We have the ability, knowledge and motivation to be a market leader and trendsetter in the FM industry in the Central and Eastern European region.
Do you plan further international expansion once the integration of the newly acquired branches is complete?
Yes, our expansion and development will not stop here. We plan to enter into new markets in the region soon.
How has COVID-19 impacted your operations and the facility management business in general?
The pandemic has further raised awareness of the importance of hygiene and cleaning in all areas of life. This is also true, of course, in workplaces, offices and industrial areas. Over the past year, in some areas - for example, in some offices, due to the introduction of the home office - the volume of our cleaning activity has decreased. On the other hand, this has been offset, for example, by the extra disinfection and sterilisation of bank branches and financial institutions. At the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, we spent a considerable amount of money on sterilising, ozone-based equipment, and disinfectants. During the pandemic, the focus was most intensively on health care: hospital hygiene was the main area of concern. We have many years of experience in this area, with many hospitals having a long history of cleaning and disinfecting general patient care areas, special infection risk areas and high infection risk areas. Ensuring hospital hygiene calls for special attention and expertise. Our team of certified hygienists and epidemiologists carried out the training of the staff, the preparation of the cleaning plan, and quality assurance. Protecting our staff is also essential, and our cleaning staff who work in hospitals have been provided with the highest quality protective equipment, gloves, FFP 3 masks and protective clothing from the first day of the outbreak. They were trained with the main focus being on personal protection. As a result, there was no infection among the B+N staff working in the COVID-19 department.
The pandemic shifted focus to health and safety across all aspects of real estate. Has this caused any changes in what types of services your clients are looking for?
As part of the cleaning activities, the importance of disinfectant cleaning in office buildings was also brought to the fore. This hasn’t been a problem for us because we have been doing this in hospitals for years. We had both the expertise, experience and the right disinfectant products to take on the extra work. The latter was made possible by the fact that, well before the outbreak, we bought a stake in a Hungarian chemical company, which allowed us to optimise and secure our disinfectant supply. We also carried out full airspace disinfection for several of our customers, in office buildings and means of transport. In this area, we have ozone-based machines, which we use at night. In many places, the air-conditioning and ventilation systems needed to be cleaned and recalibrated by our specialised staff.
You’re an advocate for automation and robotisation in the facility management sector. What can you share about the innovations the company is currently working on?
Automation and robotics will play an increasingly important role in this area, as the company places great emphasis on technological innovation. We proudly state that in the FM industry, uniquely in Hungary, we have an R&D department where we develop innovative automation solutions, like autonomous industrial cleaning robots, UV disinfectant devices and others. We are trendsetters in robotisation and automation achievements in the FM sector. Over the last few years, we have invested hundreds of millions of forints into the development of an autonomous industrial cleaning robot. By this spring, we already have 50 units of the device, called ROBIN, in operation, optimised for the fully automated cleaning of large surfaces, with the primary aim of increasing efficiency.
Our R&D department’s latest innovation is a mobile UV disinfection unit, optimised primarily for vehicle disinfection. The equipment provides the highest quality, homogeneous disinfection in a short time, without the use of chemicals. It will take no more than 1 minute to kill 99.9% of common pathogenic microorganisms. A new project will be launched soon with funding from the National Research, Development and Innovation Office. Within this project, we will develop a UV disinfection robot based on obstacle detection and artificial intelligence. By using the 3D model of the room, the new device will use autonomous movements of the light source to irradiate the area from multiple points, minimising the number of surfaces hidden from view. This way, we raise hygiene standards even further
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