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Case Study: Frank Bastow

Balancing body, mind and spirit is key for Academy CEO Group 14 member, Frank Bastow, who runs the eponymous London-based property restoration and redecoration company dedicated to ‘Making London Beautiful’.

Having worked within the family building and contracting company for several years, in his late 20s he started his own building and decorating firm. He then merged the two companies in 2000 and embarked on a huge re-branding and expansion programme. Unusually for a construction industry business, the first step taken in this was to articulate Bastows’ values.

Frank- BastowSays Frank: “It took us a year and a half to find out what our values were. It was discussed with everyone, all 55 employees in the business. Not everyone was keen on the idea of adopting a set of “core values” and absolutely committing to living those values in the way we run the business. Ultimately, two directors, three site agents and seven employees left us (although some of them still work for us as sub-contractors), but that was their decision and the right one for Bastows.

“The values we decided on are to be brave, harmonious and true.

“When we are brave, we are supportive, assuring, innovative, confident, challenging,
coaching, leading. This means that we champion the quieter people so that they can be ‘brave’ and speak out and put their ideas over. In fact some of the best ideas come from the people who don’t tend to say much. That’s important in a business like ours where we have quite a lot of loud and opinionated people!

“When we are harmonious, we know what we’re doing. We are professional, aligned,
together and we work at source. But this doesn’t mean always working together in a quiet and calm fashion. It can also mean being energetic or even angry – but the fact that we’re all energetic and angry together means we’re still ‘in harmony’; we’re all on the same page. It’s like music. That’s true harmony.

“Telling the truth is a key value for everybody at Bastows. We tell the truth. We’re honest with each other and with our customers and suppliers, trusted and trusting, open, fair, forgiving, caring, happy and passionate.

“It also means doing what’s right rather than what’s easy. And this shapes who we do business with whether we’re buying from suppliers or working for customers. Making sure there’s a good cultural match with new customers is really important and we know sometimes it would be better to turn down a project. If our values are not aligned then the project is unlikely to be smooth sailing. More than that, it can suck the life out of you. Frankly, why should we put time, effort and energy into clients who are unlikely to value and appreciate us?

“This is also true of potential new recruits. Sometimes people look great on paper and we know that they could do everything required of them, but something tells us that they won’t fit in, so we go with our intuition.”

Unusually (if not uniquely) for a building company, Bastows has also invested in a Cultural Director, Niki Rosenbaum, who has an HR background and runs a small off-shoot business called Treacle Tiger, which offers HR support as well as health & wellbeing programmes.

“Niki looks after our people, our energy and getting awards. She makes sure that we have clean energy – so that we can get on with each other.

“The idea behind Treacle Tiger is that it’s a vehicle to share the lessons that we have learned from helping to support and motivate our own people. We recently came second after Claridges in the IIP health and well-being awards.”

This commitment to a healthy working environment goes back a long way. “I made it clear that in my universe no one would work at weekends. So that when they came back on Monday they would be fresh, even if they were a little hung-over. We also shut the firm down for two weeks over Christmas to give everyone a decent break – that’s non-negotiable”

It is Frank’s personal vision that has driven the vision of the company. “I worked out a long time ago that my personal intent is to beautify. And Bastows’ vision is ‘To Make London Beautiful.’ Funny, that…”

“So as long as I can leave a situation more beautiful than it was before then I am as happy as Larry. Just by giving and helping others abundance in turn comes back to us.

“Making London beautiful goes beyond the exteriors of buildings or planting new trees at a local school. After the summer riots, our site agents went up to Clapham with brooms. If someone is having difficulty getting into a building we are working on, we’ll help carry their shopping. Or if someone is smoking or eating on the steps of a building we are working on – we’ll diplomatically ask them to leave.”

Frank also says that he likes to be challenged – thus his membership for almost three years of his Surrey Academy group chaired by Gordon Bromley.

“I love being a member of the Academy because as a business owner no one can really tell you what you should be doing. Just to have ten or more strong-minded, opinionated leaders sitting around a table with no axe to grind and more than willing to tell you exactly how they feel is really valuable.

“They say what they say because it is true so you can really learn. At times this has helped to take my thinking into a different direction. I also get huge satisfaction from giving something back by helping others in the group when I can. In many ways the group’s culture is Brave, Harmonious and True in itself which is probably why I love being a member!”

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