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The Instant Group is changing the landscape of office procurement. We spoke to its CEO, Tim Rodber,about why disruption can be good and why it’s pioneering a ‘third way’ for the office sector.

As the business world has been transformed by technology and globalisation, the capacity for what management consultants call ‘disruptive innovation’ has become increasingly valued. In essence, it is the ability to create a new market by applying a different set of values which enables you to ultimately overtake the existing market.

It was first expounded by Harvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen back in the 1990s and is now often used as a key measure for carving out new opportunities in just about any given market. In retrospect, probably the first great ‘disruptive innovator’ was Henry Ford: he didn’t invent the motor car but his innovation of mass production and lower pricing transformed the industry forever.

In this context, the Instant Group is also something of a disruptive innovator. But if disruption conjures up a ‘kick-downthe-door-take-no-prisoners’ gung-ho, you won’t find it in the company’s CEO Tim Rodber who is the personification of calm.

This might seem slightly at odds for rugby fans who will recall that about the time that Clayton Christensen was positing his theory, Rodber – as a Northampton,England and British Lions flanker – was bringing his own brand of disruption to opponents.

Those days, however, now sit at the other end of a remarkable career arc that has seen Rodber go from Army officer and professional rugby player through to business CEO and procurement expert in less than 15 years.

Having left the Army and hung up his boots in 2001, Rodber set up his own marketing company which was eventually bought by the Williams Lea Group. This then led to a decade of working with the group in the US and Asia during which his core expertise became procurement and outsourcing – how businesses can maximise the efficiency of their operations.

During the same period, ex-office agent,Rob Hamilton, had borrowed £10,000 and set up Instant as a serviced office brokerage. The business flourished but really began to kick off when it moved into the ‘managed office’ offer where it became a provider of workspace to major corporates.

In 2012, private equity group, MML bought into the business and last year they brought Rodber in as CEO to grow this ‘third way’ of office provision.

Nearly a year on, Rodber recounts the background to his appointment: “I’d spent 10 years with Williams Lea working on outsourcing marketing services businesses, most of them outside of the UK. I knew the Instant Chairman, Clive Williams and I was attracted to the idea of a business that’s trying to do something new in a traditional market.

“MML felt that there was an opportunity to make the offering more sophisticated for large businesses, take it global and really capitalise on the strength of the service industry and the understanding of outsourcing as a concept. So they brought me in as I had that in my background.”

Rodber came into an office sector where occupiers basically had two options: find your own office and take a traditional lease or go to a serviced office provider. Instant has pioneered a ‘third way’ which combines the control of taking your own space with the one-stop benefits of serviced offices and also adds the ability to adapt your requirements over time.

Rodber explains: “Historically, Instant’s backbone has been online serviced office brokerage. It then evolved into a corporate broker and created a managed office offer which focuses mostly on short-term 3-5 year project leases with a model that gives all the benefits of a serviced office but with a more bespoke approach. One cost, no capex, no risk.

“In the UK we work with a lot of companies who grow their businesses by winning major contracts and who need managed office space quickly – one of many business drivers that our offering supports, from M&A to crisis recovery.”

Instant now manages a portfolio of 600,000 sq ft in the UK and Europe, some of its clients include Sky, Network Rail, Red Hat and Serco. It is not a solution that suits every occupier but in a business environment that is increasingly dominated by the winning and servicing of projects there has to be an option for something that sits beyond the traditional solutions.

“Businesses are all different and in different states of evolution. Very large corporates with a huge amount of infrastructure will always have their own leased and managed space but over time they will, inevitably, look to have this core-and-flex model which we can offer.

“Any business that’s grown up in the last 5-10 years has a very different view about real estate. Many are already outsourcing non-core services such as real estate and as they get bigger why would they change that?

“Companies are going to want real estate options whether that’s through serviced office providers, what we offer, or a combination of both. It’s going to be a huge growth sector.”

Instant remains a passionate advocate of serviced offices and Rodber sees the growth of that sector as indicative of where the market is heading over the long-term.

“There are 7,500 serviced offices in the world and it’s a sector which is growing by 10% annually. Serviced offices provide a great platform for start-up businesses and also a way to move into new territories but it’s not necessarily a platform that suits larger enterprises which want more control and transparency.”

Instant is now working with The Completely Group on using the new Completely Offices online platform to promote serviced offices. Rodber stresses that although Instant is providing a new type of service in the sector their model is not about cutting office agents out of the equation.

“It is important for us to continue to work with experts in the real estate world, who know what’s available and can work with us so we can provide a managed solution. We partner with the likes of CBRE and Cushman & Wakefield and these relationships remain key. It’s about bringing together two very different skill sets.

“The Instant model means we’ll manage the procurement of all the services for you from the fit-out to the toilet cleaning. We procure it, then manage the services for the term of the lease.In managing it, we’re actually taking on risk, often even paying the capex.

“Most clients come to us because they’re very busy. They don’t want restraints around their existing teams and a lot of what we do is with the clients’ business lines. A division has won a contract, they set it up, and even if there is a central corporate real estate team they are often busy and would find it tough to be able to provide the right space in the right place with a full management service.”

During the past 12 months, Instant has seen a big pick-up in activity: “People are seeing us as a credible, real, alternative in the market and we have lots of people to thank for that. Not least the hard work of the Instant teams around the world, our partners, agent friends, and of course our clients. The quality of our delivery is everything for us and that requires excellence across the board”.

To enable that quality of delivery and to spread the message of what Instant can provide, Rodber has been growing the UK team. Outsourcing and procurement specialist, Lyndsay Hardwick has come in from Williams Lea and Rodber’s former rugby team mate Matt Dawson has taken a business development role.

Whilst the business can clearly leverage off Dawson’s profile, Rodber is quick to point out that this is not just a sinecure for the former England scrum half.

“Matt and I have known each other a long time. He has been developing his professional career alongside his media work. He’s on the board as an advisor at Sodexo and he was looking to further develop his corporate career.

“We’re a fast growing business – we’ve got 110 people – and it’s an opportunity for Matt to come in and make a difference. He’s a professional in his outlook, diligence, preparation,and he’s very well networked. He’s a good communicator and is now part of our business development team.

“I think he’s really enjoying it and he’s already had some real success.” Commenting on his appointment, Matt Dawson, said: “Working at Instant gives me the opportunity to expand my business development skills within a fast growing entrepreneurial company”.

Expansion and getting the message across is at the heart of Rodber’s strategy and he relishes the challenge of disrupting the property orthodoxy. Top line growth in the business could be as high as 30% this year with turnover of about £35m and international growth on the radar.

“The US is a real opportunity for us. We have a business here in the UK that’s growing steadily year-on-year. We’ve made investments and we’ve got a good team. We now need to shape our position in the market and get our message out.”

Clearly, the ‘disruptive innovation’ that Instant is bringing to the sector is working. However, Rodber sees this is as much a personal challenge as well as bringing a new process to bear.

He observes: “You’re either someone who joins a business and just quietly works your way through it or you challenge the process and try and get a solution that achieves more value for everybody.

“The disruptor mentality is not to disrupt to cause problems, it’s to add value. There’s a dynamism in it which means you’ve got to push. I enjoy that. It’s challenging, but it’s how you get results”.

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