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CAERE India The Story of Transforming Spaces & Lives

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“Places like Uganda and Nairobi though not as developed in those days, was immaculately clean, including the roads and petrol pumps. Competing companies from Germany and China would not only build the infrastructure but also maintain them in what was then called post-contract maintenance in civil, electrical, and housekeeping areas. I used to watch those guys in their uniforms cleaning everything nicely and fixing stuff. This beautiful picture remained in my eyes. Little did I realise then, that this would become my career one day”, says Christopher Blessing, Managing Director, CAERE India, a 25-year-old facility management company. Here are the excerpts captured during a candid conversation with Editor Mohana M.

It was one of those days, when a not so clean petrol pump at Begumpet, Hyderabad, caught my sight. Having just returned to India after my stint in HR, I took time out to converse with the owner on the maintenance of the petrol pump. And there he began… ‘Oh, it is a big headache!’

To my surprise, I instantly volunteered to solve the owner’s problem. “Allow me to make your petrol pump a model, and you introduce me to IOCL.” This was the beginning of CAERE (Corporate Aesthetic Refurbishing Enterprise).

I went around ‘bastis’ locating young boys to do the cleaning job. The best I could get were a few unemployed youths with speaking & hearing challenges. I pledged my earnings from overseas to get a loan and invested in a Maruti van, modified the vehicle to fit in a couple of cleaning machines and ladders. Four boys and me, doubling up as supervisor and driver, completed our first assignment. The owner, Umesh Agarwal, is still a great friend of mine.

In three months, we signed up about 70 other petrol pumps in Hyderabad and Secunderabad. It was big work and very challenging because we had a very small window between when the petrol pump closed its operations at around 12:30am and opened by 4:30am. Every night, we covered two to three petrol pumps.

The next turning point was in 2010 when a chemicals dealer connected me with the Vice President of the global Landmark Group, which was opening its first Lifestyle store in Hyderabad. I still remember that experience of discussing the terms with the VP, who had just returned from Dubai. I asked his secretary for a pen and paper. I pushed the paper towards the VP and requested him to list all his terms and said that I would sign unconditionally, no questions asked. That was a winning moment.

It was a 24×7 job and one of the toughest. Traditionally done by labour contractors, we brought in a difference. Our first staff of 20 with orange dungarees and blue shirt became a statement. We got a lot of eyeballs at Lifestyle.

Very soon we expanded to other retail stores, including Spencers, Shoppers Stop, Big Bazar, Café Coffee Day and Barista. Owner of these businesses, which were the first format stores, would come to Lifestyle and enquire about us with our housekeepers or the customer. We were in all retail stores throughout the city and had about 200 people working in them.

The next big thing that happened to us was that all these retail stores moved to the big cities like Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Ghaziabad and they invited us to work with them there too. This was followed by airports, manufacturing facilities and residentials. Our businesses were all acquired by word-of-mouth from existing customers and ex-employees.

We now have 9000 staff across 200 cities in 3500 sites at 25.

I come from a lower middle-class family and FM has transformed our lives. But I realized that the lives of my staff, who had been working with me for 18-20 years, had not changed because this business environment was stuck around minimum wage irrespective of years of experience. We have made that our brand’s chief purpose – Transforming spaces and Transforming lives.

We add value to spaces with happiness & joy and great experiences add value to the lives of our staff by up-skilling, multiskilling and behavioral training ensuring our people can earn 2X the market value.

This is what inspires me to go to work every day.”

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