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Career Ladder talks to Churchill’s Operations Director, South West

Q: What was your first ever job?
My first ever job was working for a local convenience store in Sandbanks on a weekend basis. I served the local residents (and some celebrities), beginning my journey earning a wage and respect, and also getting my hands dirty! Ironically, my first full time job was working for a cleaning company. At such a young age, there’s nothing like cleaning toilets to give you a true perspective of hard work and earning a basic wage – such a grounding experience.

Q: What was you first job in the FM sector?

Other than my start as a cleaner, it was coming to Churchill, where I started on the ground as a key account manager. In this role, I looked after cleaning operatives, managing a small amount of contracts, and equally managing several managers in a split role.

Q: What made you choose FM as a career?
It was by direct choice. I went for an interview for the role and having come from service sales for many years prior (and also being self-employed) I found myself in an advantageous positon. I really felt I could make a difference and bring a sharp and polished presentation to what was historically a dress-down environment. We are providing a facilities/cleaning service – so let’s dress clean! Churchill as a company very much aligns with this idea, and I’ve been with them since.

Q: How did you progress through the profession to your current role?
Hard work, commitment and dedication! In order to succeed in a such a demanding industry, it’s so crucial that you give yourself entirely to the role. You can’t do a nine to five and expect perfection, nor expect consistent resolution to client issues if it’s solely on your terms. I’ve always been dedicated to working whatever hours are needed – it always comes back to respect, recognition, and reward.

Q: Do you have any qualifications or training in FM and related areas such as health and safety? And how have you benefited from them?
I have attended many different training courses, including IOSH, health and safety, management, etc. These have definitely been useful in helping me understand my role and responsibilities, but I believe they only truly benefit you when you have the drive and determination to grow an enterprise. The best training I have received has been on the ‘front line’, getting to know clients and developing long lasting relationships.

Q: What is your greatest contribution to the FM sector, or your current role?
Commerically, I have helped both clients and my own company make large savings by improving service efficiencies. I’ve also worked a lot on charitable efforts, ensuring the industry gives back to the public. Improving standards and processes has always been a big focus of mine, but my greatest contribution is satisfaction of my last client! I am a firm believer in the idea that you’re only as good as your last shift.

Q: What’s changed most since you started in FM?
The margin! It’s constantly being driven down by the sheer volume of competition bidding for work and the hunger from prospective clients to pay less for more. Technology has also massively changed the industry, even from just five years ago. Clients now value data and evidence-driven change, and that only looks to increase with time. It’s exciting.

Q: What personal qualities do you think are most needed for a successful career in FM?
Being open-minded and accepting of the client’s needs. Tenacity, commitment, and a positive attitude are also crucial. A little bit of savvy also helps!

Q: If you could do one thing differently in your career in FM, what would it be?
I am very self-critical, so I always beat myself up on how much better I could have done something. Ultimately, I’m still on my FM journey and I can’t totally reflect on this until I’m there – but then the journey is constant – so my true answer is everything – we can always improve!

Q: What would make the biggest difference to the FM sector? And how could that be achieved?
From both a client and provider perspective, greater investment in technology that helps to drive effiency and guarantee an exceptional level of service.

Q: What advice would you give to young people coming into the profession now?
I think today, there is so much more available to young people working in FM and you really can travel the world in doing so. You can carve out a great career, no matter your background! My main piece of advice would be to gain an understanding of the client’s perspective and the realities of working on the ground – this experience really sets you up for more senior roles in the future. Maintaining a strong work ethic is also vital – hard work will always pay off.

Q: What are your long-term goals for the next seven to ten years?
To drive the business forward and get more involved with the industry as it changes and evolves over time.

Q: What do you predict could be the main changes to the FM sector over the next few years?
Data and technology will formulate more of an FM’s strategy and service delivery in the future – it’s already becoming standard in some cases. Clients want to see data in action – they want to see how a provider can use technology to improve service delivery and align with its main function. Concerns around sustainbility, a changing labour market, and Brexit will also force the industry to reassess its role and how it delivers service.

Q: What are the greatest challenges of working in FM?
The sheer demand of providing seamless perfection and value for money.

Q: What do you enjoy most about working in FM?
The challenge and uncertainty of what comes next and always feeling like the underdog, yet also having the satisfaction of proving the underdog is best placed to deliver! 

About Sarah OBeirne


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