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Career Ladder talks to the CEO at MML

Q: What was your first ever job?
I started working life as a development surveyor advising on letting, tenant mix /demand for large scale shopping centres including Blue Water Park in Kent.

Q: When did you first hear the term ‘facilities management’? and what did you think it meant then?
I first heard the term when I was working at Tesco. My initial reaction was it was to do with catering and filling up vending machines. Hopefully I now have a better understanding.

Q: What was your first job in the FM sector?
FM has been an important factor in many of my roles but before moving to MML, I would say my role as property director at Tesco most called on my FM skills.

Q: What made you choose FM as a career?
My career has evolved towards FM more and more over 20 plus years. My experience in the retail industry with Boots, Lidl and Tesco and running my own development business, made it a natural move to MML. I wanted to combine my knowledge of retail and FM to grow the company’s high street retail customer base.

Q: How did you progress through the profession to your current role?
I joined Boots as a development surveyor based in Nottingham and was responsible for looking after the development of various shopping centres including Bethel Square in Brecon and Boots Corner in Glasgow. In 1993, I accepted the challenge to set up a regional office for Lidl in Scotland and deliver a very aggressive expansion programme. From a standing start within three years Lidl had 26 stores trading and were operating a state of the art distribution depot and head office in Livingston. I then joined Tesco as a regional director responsible for expansion into Slovakia and Poland. Moved to Hong Kong with Tesco as property director responsible for store development and asset management in Asia before returning to the UK, setting-up my own development business focussing on food and non-food retail development.

Q: Do you have any qualifications or training in FM? And how have you benefitted from them?
My qualifications are very much a mixture of the formal and the practical. I gained a Bsc. (Hons) in Town and Regional Planning from the University of Dundee and then qualified as a Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (MRTPI), combined with 20 years plus property and retail experience.

Q: What is your greatest contribution to the FM sector, or your current role?
I believe MML is setting a new benchmark for the FM sector with our transparent approach to facility management in Retail. For our major retail clients, such as the John Lewis Partnership, we provide a complete 24/7 service 365 days a year taking care of all its facility management needs, freeing its management to focus on the growth of the retail business.

Q: What’s changed most since you started in FM?
The UK market in particular is maturing quickly and this will lead to continued pressure on pricing from customers. It also ensures that companies such as MML must continue to work ever more closely with their customers to understand their future needs and innovate with their services.

Q: If you could do one thing differently in your career in FM, what would it be?
I would like to have spent more time in both Asia and CEE where the FM market is remarkably undeveloped but the opportunities are enormous. This is why MML is focusing on development in both Europe and Asia, particularly through our relationship with the Mulliez Groupe.

Q: What would make the biggest difference to the FM sector? And how can that be achieved?
I believe that more and more, customers are looking for a totally transparent form of FM which allows them to track their spend and prepare accurate budgets. The way to achieve this is through the managing agent which allows an open book approach, total transparency and a close working relationship with the customer.

Q: What advice would you give to young people coming into the profession now?
When I started in business, my boss told me never to be intimidated in meetings because no matter how senior or experienced they were, everyone had made mistakes along the way. It is advice that I always pass on. In today’s world of electronic communication, I would also advise people to consider talking rather than pressing “send”.

Q: What qualities should a good FM possess?
I always think a good FM is the person that can ask the right questions to predict the future needs of the business and its people and deliver on those expectations. When you have great FM, the rest of the organisation hardly notices it is there and can concentrate on its core business.

Q: Who’s your mentor and why?
My mentor is Terry Leahy, former CEO of Tesco. He had the vision to grow Tesco into an international retailer competing against the likes of Walmart, Metro and Carrefour and was an inspirational boss who had an uncanny knack of going straight to the heart of a problem.

Q: What are your long-term goals for the next 7-10 years?
To grow MML into a truly international business through expansion across Europe and Asia. To expand our range of services and to diversify into additional sectors to retail, such as leisure, health and education.

Q: How would you describe what you do to a stranger at a dinner party?
I listen. Far too many people are self absorbed and happy to talk about themselves but you get far more out of people if you ask questions.

Q: What matters more: challenging/interesting work. The opportunity to work flexibly by time or location or job security?
The things you value most in your work life can change throughout your career but interesting and challenging work will always keep you motivated to achieve. I will never forget that the opportunity to expand Tesco into China came from a random conversation on a flight between Taipei and Hong Kong. When great things can happen at a moment’s notice, you know you are in an interesting role!

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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