IWFM Leader of the Year 2023


Dominic Ponniah, Cleanology

Sponsored by: Waste to Wonder Worldwide

WFM Leader of the Year 2023

In the competitive, ultra fine margin world of cleaning service provision, being a leader demands the challenging of convention and a commitment to inclusivity that brings employees along with you on the journey. Demonstrating these traits is how Dominic Ponniah stands out from the pack, and it is why he is this year’s IWFM Leader of the Year.

Dominic has grown Cleanology from one employee to a national commercial cleaning business employing around 1,400 people. But it is in the way he has achieved this growth that garners attention.

An increasingly familiar face in the trade press, Dominic has pushed forward on initiatives that set his firm apart. When, in 2019, Cleanology commissioned research into attitudes toward cleaners’ pay, Dominic saw through Cleanology’s move to become a fully Real Living Wage employer, in turn winning a Living Wage Champion Award in 2021.

This aspect of social sustainability is one dimension of Dominic’s approach, and an empowerment-first management approach is another. It’s reflected in the diversity of staff, and opportunities for progression, that his business offers. And while diversity among cleaning operatives is common, it is notoriously unusual in senior management. Yet at Cleanology, the senior leadership team is made up of two-thirds ethnic minority-background men and women. Additionally, one of Cleanology’s most recently appointed directors started out 14 years ago as an administrative temp.

In its head office, Cleanology staff come from more than 20 different countries and ethnic backgrounds. Its cleaning operatives come from 34 different countries, with 82% from overseas.

Then there is Dominic’s environmental sustainability zeal. Cleanology is accredited to ISO 14001 and has applied for B-Corp status. Innovative sustainability initiatives including uniforms made from recycled plastic bottles and portion-controlled biological cleaning sachets to control emissions (the first in Europe). With an eye on the unavoidable impact for travel to clients, in 2022 Cleanology launched a 100% electric van fleet in London.

Finally, there’s the championing of tech. Dominic built an in-house development team to create a fully bespoke IT solution known as the “Cleancopter”; operations teams complete all of their job tasks online, providing customers with live reporting of their premises’ cleaning standards. A predictive facilities technology (dubbed “Cleantelligent”) optimises cleaning schedules based on real-time building usage data.

“I see fair pay as the starting point for a fair way of doing business that includes celebration of diversity and opportunities for progression. It shows that we value staff, and see them as people, rather than just another resource.”

Ponniah in percentages:

78% – percentage of operational managers who have worked their way up through the company

50:50 – ratio of men and women in managerial positions.

99% – percentage of all new business won paid the Real Living Wage in 2022. (In 2017, 18% of Cleanology staff received a Real Living Wage rate of pay. Today, that has increased to 62% overall).

94% – Cleanology’s employee retention rate, which compares with the UK cleaning industry’s retention average (79%).