Years after experiencing employment disadvantages first hand, our Head of Projects Agnes Becsei is now dedicating her time to giving historically hidden workers their chance to shine through our Evolve initiative.


Here, she shares her remarkable journey, from her first break in the English cleaning industry after moving from Hungary to the support of managers who recognised her talent, and eventually becoming a mentor for those encountering similar barriers in FM.

Agnes’ Story

I had built a life in Hungary as an accountant and military sergeant. But after having my daughter, I wanted to give her opportunities that I never had. I came to the UK with just £230 in my pocket and started from scratch.


My partner at the time was able to provide some support and income, but I felt so isolated being in a new country. I barely spoke any English and I needed help with everything from doctors’ appointments to setting up a bank account. My qualifications didn’t really apply in the UK because of my limited English. My only option was to take on a cleaning role.


A station manager gave me a chance despite the language barrier, and I just had to work things out for myself. My first job was cleaning EasyJet’s offices and aircraft at Luton Airport, where I stayed for nine months.


In 2009, I moved to City FM as a part-time cleaning supervisor in a supermarket and quickly learnt English, albeit in a highly pressured environment.


Nine months later, I became the Store Cleaning Manager and, within two years, a Regional Manager. I credit this progression to my Regional Manager, who glanced at one of my spreadsheets one day and noticed the technical skills I had gained in accountancy. Thanks to my Regional Manager’s attentiveness and mentorship, I was able to progress in ways that would have ordinarily been challenging had my work gone unnoticed.


My progression was definitely needed financially. Not long after starting my first part-time role, I became the sole income provider at home. It was really tough because my minimum wage job had to support not just me, but also my daughter and cover all our living expenses. My wage wasn’t even enough to cover my rent, and I had to take as many extra shifts as I could. A 15-hour day was normal for me!


For many months I could only afford to feed myself a sandwich each day. I didn’t claim any government support because I didn’t want people to discriminate against me as a migrant.


All I wished for was to give my daughter a life different to my own. So, even after my relationship broke down, and my family pleaded with me to go back to Hungary, my daughter was my driving force for me to keep going. At just four years old at the time, she had no idea about the hardships I was facing.

A helping hand

With my Regional Manager’s help, we eventually became peers. I ran the company’s top performing London region. But even more valuable than that, my Regional Manager became part of my family. It was her guidance and empathy that provided me with a way out of poverty and a pathway to a better future. This would never have happened without someone seeing something in me and giving me a chance.


I feel lucky that someone saw my value and believed in me.


“It’s so hard to get spotted in the cleaning industry. Often managers aren’t on the ground, so skills aren’t spotted but there’s so much untapped talent there.”


The cleaning industry struggles to recognise people and their talents. It’s hard work to be noticed and can take years if no one is willing to see past mops and buckets.


Cleaning is a hard industry to leave because it doesn’t upskill you for anything else. It’s also hard to progress within as the opportunities for supervisory or managerial positions are limited. I was fortunate that my Regional Manager spotted me and my potential and vowed to do the same for others.


With just one chance and someone who believed in me, my career took off. I embarked on my journey as a National Operations Manager at TCFM, where I had the opportunity to work in the world of distribution. From there, I made the move to SBFM.

Putting the Right Foot Forwards

Before I joined SBFM, I’d heard the company was passionate about making a difference, in all ways. This really inspired me. The company’s Evolve initiative addresses wider, systemic issues. It narrows down where and why people are facing barriers to employment and career progression and extends a helping hand.


Evolve is an industry-leading initiative which provides sustainable employment opportunities for disadvantaged groups, increases the earning potential of colleagues, and raises individuals above the poverty line.


As a business we employ thousands of colleagues in frontline cleaning roles, and it is our ambition to offer careers, not jobs.


By collaborating with our Impact Partners, such as non-profit organisations and local authorities, we can recruit from a wider talent pool including groups who find it difficult to work, offering them stable employment, removing barriers, and providing colleagues with the opportunity to develop a career, either with SBFM or with a client who is an Evolve partner.


We work closely with our clients (Evolve Partners) to provide training, mentoring, and coaching to upskill colleagues, giving them the skills, knowledge, and confidence to apply successfully for a role with the client when it becomes available, and reach their potential.


I’m pleased I can continue talent spotting with a structured programme around me to help mentees. As someone who has been ‘evolving’ employees throughout my career, I really resonate with the programme and the community it’s building and nurturing.


From my own struggles, I have built up resilience and empathy which means I can relate to others. Life experiences make you more open and understanding. You’ve never walked in someone else’s shoes, so empathy is critical.


I’m honoured to be on the Evolve committee, where I play a role in supporting individuals from disadvantaged groups – including those with mental health challenges, disabilities, and veterans – as they engage with the initiative. I also champion support for people coming from abusive backgrounds.


In this position, I’m working with organisations that I have a personal connection with including Shaw Trust, a social purpose organisation challenging inequality and breaking down barriers to enable social mobility.


I’m proud to have helped 15 people out of the minimum wage poverty trap, supporting these mentees to progress from cleaners to Regional Managers or higher during my 17-year career. Now, with Evolve I can help many more.


“For me, I had a happy ending, but had to work incredibly hard for it. I consider myself lucky to have been found. But there are many cleaners that simply are not.”

Meet the Mentees

Mentee: Simona


In one of my previous roles, Simona joined my team as a Supervisor, and I promoted her into a managerial position. I’m so proud that she is now a Director of a family-owned cleaning business.


Simona is from Romania and had come from an office management background before moving to England and becoming a cleaner. She lacked confidence and didn’t think she could fit into the retail environment.


I told her that it doesn’t matter what you are managing. Being a manager is all about people. If you know how to lead, you can lead and manage people no matter the setting. I encouraged Simona to believe in herself. I knew how she felt because I’d been there. Before long she was flying, as I knew she would.


Mentee: Idy


Idy was a Supervisor in a branch of Asda where I was Regional Manager. He should have been in charge but didn’t know how.


I took some time to understand him and what his motivations were. I discovered he held a university degree. He was highly qualified but not getting noticed. I pushed him to step up and cover the Store Cleaning Manager role for three months. He did a great job, so I made the role permanent. From there, he progressed to a regional position.


We’ve worked together at various companies for over 12 years, including now at SBFM.


Mentee: Roberto


Roberto was a highly regarded Store Cleaning Manager who was great at his job in every respect. The retail client didn’t accept anyone with a criminal history as either direct staff or through contractors and when they discovered Roberto’s previous criminal conviction, they instigated dismissal.


I did everything in my power to keep Roberto. We lost one of our best Cleaning Managers because of unfair judgement about something that happened in the past. That was the criminal part. What message does that send? You can’t move on or find normality. He had a wife and two children to support. This could have pushed him back to criminality again by depriving him of his income. 


Roberto’s criminal conviction was cleared from his records a year later, so he became more employable again. After what was an extremely tough year mentally and financially, he got back on his feet.


It’s not just language barriers, skills gaps, low confidence or criminal convictions we need to address. I’ve worked with so many people with severe autism on my journey. I’ve thought outside the box to support and encourage them to progress. It’s about thinking differently and wanting to help. My military background programmed me with the mentality to “never leave anybody behind”. If people are willing, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help them.


“Somebody gave me an opportunity when I needed it most. I make it my prerogative to do that for others.”