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Career Ladder talks to CBRE’s alliance director, EMEA

Q: What was your first ever job?
I couldn’t wait to get out of education once I had finished at college. I had studied up to GNVQ Level 3 in Business Management, but classroom learning just was not for me. I had been working since the age of 15 alongside education as I was always fascinated by the work environment. My first job was working in a children’s indoor adventure play centre.

Q: What was your first job in the FM sector?
In 2000 I started as a service coordinator for a serviced office company, with duties that ranged from working on reception, planning client moves, through to inspecting the toilets! It was the best grounding I could have wished for by bringing together FM in a service environment.

Q: When did you first hear the term ‘facilities management’? And what did you think it meant then?
It was when our company rebranded the ‘logistics department’ to facilities management department. That was in about 2002 and I thought, at the time it was a step in the right direction for professionalising our industry.

Q: What made you choose FM as a career?
I was lucky enough to discover FM and I decided to stay in the industry as it offers a diverse range of opportunities to develop the widest range of transferable skills. The demands on the industry continue to grow and we continue to meet those challenges and innovate through technology, service focus and passion.

Q: How did you progress through the profession to your current role?
Through hard work, networking, producing results, being passionate and driving the performance of those around me. I hate hearing the expression “oh things would fall apart if I wasn’t around” – that tells me that you aren’t empowering or leading those around you to perform. I have always found career progression through developing my teams and suppliers so that I am no longer needed – just wanted!

Q: Do you have any qualifications or training in FM? And how have you benefited from them?
I completed a certificate in facilities management, I am a full member of BIFM and I enrolled in an MBA for FM in 2013. Interestingly, I found that even after all these years, I still did not learn effectively in a class room and so I pulled out of the course – some of us just aren’t suited to traditional academic methods and that’s OK.

Q: What was your worst ever interview?
Thankfully, I don’t have any horror stories of interviews of me, but I do have a few of where I have interviewed other people. Role play situations can bring out some shining stars but it can also bring out some amateur dramatics – my advice is to never act, just be!

Q: What was the best job that you never got?
I have always fancied working in the airline industry and I once went for the role of general manager for the airline lounges for Virgin Atlantic. I didn’t get the role but I have always keenly followed the Virgin organisation and Richard Branson as it’s a brand that continues to inspire, innovate and push boundaries.

Q: What is your greatest contribution to the FM sector, or your current role?
My greatest contribution is no doubt through the work I do as the deputy chair of the Young Managers Forum. Being an independent forum that provides an environment for networking, thought leadership, development and promotion of the future leaders of our industry I feel privileged to be a part of this wonderful network.

Q: What’s changed most since you started in FM?
Everything, every day. Change is the single constant thing about our industry and having the resilience and tenacity to accept that and embrace it, is one of the things that has enabled me to be successful. Our industry is cyclical and we work in a mature environment, so always look to learn and embrace new skills, so when the merry go round starts a new cycle, you can improve and bring new ideas to old situations.

Q: If you could do one thing differently in your career in FM, what would it be?
Honestly, nothing, because the mistakes that I have made have been the biggest lessons I have learned and I intend to make many more!

Q: What would make the biggest difference to the FM sector? And how can that be achieved?
We need to think about the legacy we are creating within our industry for the next generation of FM’s. I have spoken publicly about my concerns for us rushing to reduce the number in the bottom right hand corner of our budgets when pushing for investment would give a better return. We need to challenge what challenges we are given and create opportunities for FM to lead, not follow. We do not use the tools and resources that are at hand to create a stronger foundation for those who will come through after us to build on what we have done, not have to break it all down and start again.

Q: What advice would you give to young people coming into the profession now?
Network, network, network. Also, our industry can be like a pressure cooker. Our jobs can be incredibly stressful with the indication of a job well done being no noise from our customers, so when you can – have fun. It’s a tough gig and sometimes we take ourselves too seriously.

Q: Who’s your mentor (either in FM or outside) and why?
My previous managing director when I worked at Compass Group, Steve Davies is someone who I have always admired. He hired me into the organisation and we both knew he was taking a risk hiring me into a relatively senior position for my age, but thankfully it paid off and I have been grateful to him ever since. He would always take the time to talk, listen and guide. We faced a number of difficult challenges together but we have both gone on to be better professionals because of them.

Q: What qualities should a good FM possess?
Honesty, patience, commercial acumen, negotiating skills and a sense of humour.

Q: What are your long term goals for the next 7-10 years?
To work in a global capacity or to relocate to another territory to cover a different region such as the Americas or Asia Pacific, so essentially; global domination! (just kidding – sort of).

Would you, or someone you know, like to be featured in our career ladder column? If you’re an operational FM with more than 10 years’ experience in the sector, then email charlie.kortens@kpmmedia.co.uk

About Sarah OBeirne


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