Mobility Changes Work and the IT That Makes it Possible

By Anna Maria Virzi Print this article Print

Mobility isn't just for road warriors. Global businesses are telling people to work from home, and ordering up network-equipped offices in other countries from companies like Regus Group. Its founder discusses how mobility is changing the nature of work a

Mark Dixon knows what it's like to be a customer of his own company. The founder and CEO of the Surrey, England-based Regus Group, a $1 billion company that sets up and manages office space on a contract basis in 60 countries, primarily works out of Regus offices in Stamford, Conn., Dallas and London when he's not traveling around the world visiting other offices in his business empire.

And being a man on the move has its advantages—especially when you've made headlines in the British press. Dixon, 45, caught the media's attention in April after he forked over a $60 million divorce payment.

Dixon launched the Regus Group with a single office in 1989 in Brussels, Belgium. He discussed business and technology with Baseline managing editor Anna Maria Virzi during an interview at his Stamford office.

You were once a hot dog vendor. What did you learn from that experience?

It's the world's worst business because you're up all night. You smell of onions. It's terrible for your social life. But it's a very profitable business—a great place for entrepreneurs to get started. I bought my first van for $1,000. Then I got a second van. I ended up with six vans.

How did that help you today as a CEO?

Dealing with people. You would start at 9 p.m. and finish at 4 a.m. You'd get the whole breadth of humanity—sober and drunk, nice and terrible people—coming by your van. They wanted immediate service.

With 200,000 people using your offices on any given day, how do you juggle the technology demands of multiple clients?

We provide telecom and information-technology services. When you take an office—let's say it's a branch office with three people—we connect you immediately using broadband Internet access or a virtual private network. It's quick, easy and much cheaper than setting up your own connection. Our new centers have wireless, and we're retrofitting our old centers. We are networking the services so that you can use them easily and effectively. You don't have to buy as much equipment.

How many offices do you have?

I live in Connecticut and Dallas, so I use the centers there. Also London. I'm a customer of Regus.

Have you ever had any unusual requests to set up offices? Could you accommodate [former Tyco CEO] Dennis Kozlowski if he wanted to open an office in Sardinia?

We do a lot of interesting projects, but they're interesting not in that sense.... We've done election campaigns ... We have presidents, not U.S. presidents, but other country leaders.

What trends do you see with office space?

The use of real estate is changing fundamentally. Not rapidly. Key drivers are technology, changing work habits and efforts to reduce costs. U.S. companies, in particular, are under pressure to drive down costs ... to trim out fat. And U.S. companies have a big office infrastructure. As a result, a lot of corporations are moving their employees into a telework or mobile mode. They want their people [to work] from a cheaper location.

What is the impact of technology?

With BlackBerrys, wireless, laptops getting smaller, people can work in a connected way far more effectively than they could even three or four years ago. That change will get even more apparent in the next few years as video-over-IP starts [to take off].

Your name has been in the news in the British press, about a payment you had to make in a divorce settlement.

$60 million.

Did you ever expect, as you worked as a hot dog vendor, that 20 years later, running a global company, you would ...

Well, did I ever expect that? I like building up businesses, and this is what I do. This is my fun. I find it fascinating. I'm not really that focused on the money. I've always been successful in making money for myself, for investors, for my ex-wife.

Those were your shares in Regus that you sold [for the divorce settlement].


Not the company's shares?

No. Now, Dennis Kozlowski wouldn't have gone and made that payment.

This article was originally published on 2005-06-10
Executive Editor
Anna Maria was assistant managing editor Forbes.com. She held the posts of news editor and executive editor at Internet World magazine and was city editor and Washington correspondent for the Connecticut Post, a daily newspaper in Bridgeport. Anna Maria has a B.A. from the University of Rhode Island.
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