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Career Ladder talks to the MD of FM Services at KBR

Q: What was your first ever job?
I was a structural steel draughtsman for a South African company known as Dorbyl. I started as a learner draughtsman and produced detailed fabrication drawings for large industrial buildings. As part of my learnership programme, I studied structural design at the local technical college and learnt a lot about how buildings were designed. I can’t say that this role had any influence in establishing a career in FM, but I learnt at a young age that I wanted to move into a management role rather than sitting behind a drawing board for the rest of my life. I did however learn that you could be more productive working as a team rather than trying to do it on your own, something that is critical if you want to be successful in FM.

Q: What was your first job in the FM sector?
I was general manager for KBR delivering the London Borough of Ealing (LBE) hard and soft FM contract. I managed the full range of business disciplines and the P&L, delivering planned and responsive maintenance to social housing, education and public buildings covering mechanical and electrical, building fabric, fire alarm and emergency lighting, energy conservation, tree management and transport services. I was fortunate to identify a number of initiatives which resulted in significant cost saving efficiencies and took the business from a loss-making operation into profitability within six months, while at the same time improving customer service delivery. I was also responsible for transitioning our engineering operatives to handheld devices for both planned and reactive task management which saw an increase of around 30 per cent in productivity. I am a firm believer in using technology to support the delivery of FM and also for monitoring performance and service quality.

Q: What made you choose FM as a career?
When I started researching what FM meant, I thought that the breadth and depth of FM services would offer a significant career challenge as you need to have an in depth knowledge of all the services that fall under FM to be an effective manager. I liked the sheer variety that a career in FM offered together with the opportunity to develop knowledge in areas as diverse as social housing, educational and healthcare facilities, public buildings and corporate offices. I was also attracted by the idea of being able to make a positive contribution to some of the lives of the people we were delivering services to, especially those in the forces when I went on to working on our MoD contract. We had a statement on the MoD contract of “Making Soldiers Lives Better”.

Q: How did you progress through the profession to your current role?
I have only really been in FM for 10 years and have been fortunate to progress quite rapidly into my current role. After my 18-month stint at the London Borough of Ealing, I worked as a garrison facilities director on KBR’s Project Allenby/Connaught, an £8 billion, 35-year, PFI contract with the MoD where we deliver TFM. I was responsible for the strategic and operational hard and soft FM, managing eight direct reports, 320 staff and some 900 contract staff. This experience provided me with a thorough understanding of FM and I use this experience in my current role as MD for KBR FM Services.

Q: What is your greatest contribution to the FM sector, or your current role?
I believe that the emerging FM Integrator model, that I have strategic responsibility for growing, has something unique to offer clients and can be considered quite a disruptive model to the traditional FM models that we see available. The Integrator model is a matured and adapted version of the managing agent model, where one outsourced organisation is responsible for offering the client a cohesive solution by integrating process, technology, reporting and performance measurement/management across all service providers in the supply chain. I am really encouraged by the clients that we have secured in a short period of time and the benefits that the Integrator brings to our clients is being recognised within government agencies with a high rate of interest being shown when talking to prospective clients.

Q: What’s changed most since you started in FM?
The pressure on clients’ budgets which has unfortunately driven down prices which in turn has resulted in a lowering of service standards in some sectors.

Q: If you could do one thing differently in your career in FM, what would it be?
If I started in FM earlier on in my career, I would definitely go through a formal qualifications path and combine this with hands-on site-based experience. While FM can be regarded by some as a non-complex operation, I don’t find this to be the case with FM now moving into a more strategic offering. It can take quite a few years to gain sufficient knowledge to be able to make a difference and to understand what works best for a diverse client mix and I think that a formal education in FM can speed up this understanding.

Q: What would make the biggest difference to the FM sector? And how can that be achieved?
The FM sector is typically party to a great deal of data but often does not effectively analyse that data in order to make strategic decisions for the core business. I see the use of data helping FM suppliers understand how their business and how the estates that they are providing FM to could be better utilised and managed. I also see an imminent surge in the investment in improved monitoring through BMS and IoT sensors and being able to move to a more predictive approach to FM where algorithms will improve the predictability of an event or failure where we can take proactive steps to prevent this from happing. I believe this will deliver savings to clients without a drop in service standards.

Q: What advice would you give to young people coming into the profession now?
Undergo a formal training path in FM.

Q: What qualities should a good FM possess?
Hands on skills with the ability to predict when something is going to occur but also to be able to respond quickly to a reactive event.

Q: What are your long term goals for the next 7-10 years?
To further develop the FM Integrator services and create a data analytics service that sees the better use of technology to deliver improved property services.

About Sarah OBeirne

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