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Career Ladder talks to the FM director at ACS Facilities

Q: What was your first ever job?
Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Apprentice. Well technically it was fine, culturally I think they weren’t quite ready for me in 1992, with that said it certainly made me stronger.

Q: What was your first job in the FM sector?
My first coming off the tools was a supervisor position for John Lewis managing the in-house engineers and external contractors. I owe a lot to that first step on the management ladder, to be able to work in the field I had trained in but under the comfy umbrella of a company such as John Lewis was the ideal experience to learn to be a manager. I was also blessed with an amazing manager that I even now will quote and wonder “what Simon would do?”

Q: What made you choose FM as a career?
I didn’t really, it seems to have chosen me. My qualifications and training are purely engineering, FM became my chosen path as it had the people and compliance elements that I enjoy.

Q: How did you progress through the profession to your current role?
I started in an engineering apprenticeship, to on the tools, shift work, supervisor, contractor, senior engineer, client, technical manager, head of technical services and now FM director. It has been an eventful 25 years in which I have seen huge changes in the industry from opinions and attitudes right through to the trends and goals and in many cases the full circle of them back round again. I have been very fortunate to have had some wonderful jobs in some amazing places some of which I miss everyday but to grow and continue to learn often hitting your head on the glass ceiling is without doubt the time to move to pastures new even when a little bit of your heart sometimes stays behind.

Q: Do you have any qualifications or training in FM? And how have you benefited from them?
I am a Mechanical and Electrical Engineer so have spent my career mainly focusing on technical detail and compliance but I have also qualified in IOSH and L8. I enjoy studying and learning new things now more than I have ever done. When you are able to focus and know not only your strengths but true interests, couple it with decades of field experience it creates an exciting journey.

Q: What is your greatest contribution to the FM sector, or your current role? 
This is something you can only know by being very unbritish and asking people – I think in your head you will always be the nerdy technical fault fixer and you rarely see yourself through the eyes of others. I have been privileged to work not only in some of the greatest buildings in the world but with truly wonderful people and being able to guide, motivate and lead teams in this field especially in this time of balance but also frightening and unnerving world is a privilege. I am also proud of the scars I have gained through true hard work which means I can make the right decisions for the buildings I care for and the people in them.

Q: What’s changed most since you started in FM?
There’s been so much but the biggest for me is the training. Across facilities and the technical fields as a whole, this has had such a turnabout due to the change in industry in the UK. The sooner a holistic spin is put on the world of training the better. There are many great people at the moment working tirelessly on training and diversity in this industry but without the industry engaging it will die, sadly along with many of the niche and in some cases main stream skill sets that are currently heading off for retirement. Anyone in this field can help keep the plate spinning – Lead, Inspire and Mentor the bright sparks coming up behind you!

Q: If you could do one thing differently in your career in FM, what would it be? 
Never worry about being right. In FM we can often be the big spending department that means so many different things to everyone else. The fact of the matter is if it needs raising/fixing/replacing/changing that’s what it is. We are there to ensure things are safe, working and compliant and we should never worry about saying so.

Q: What would make the biggest difference to the FM sector? And how can that be achieved?
Training, Training, Training!

Q: Are you a member of any FM association or body and if so what benefits do you think they provide?
It is only recently that I have looked at the FM associations, I think a little bit of me was proudly holding on to engineering without truly seeing that its fine to be both. After so many years of fighting to be heard in the technical world I struggled with letting that go without realising I didn’t have to. I think the associations and bodies provide a factual gravity point for its members to be part of a greater peer group whether this be for networking with likeminded people or keeping up-to-date.

Q: What advice would you give to young people coming into the profession now? 
Take time to really understand the buildings you look after, I mean this both from a technical point of view but also the company culture as both will arm you with what ever hurdles lie before you.

Q: What qualities should a good FM possess?
1) Great people skills, know who you are talking to and what you are talking about.
2) The ability to stay calm and in control, what ever the problem you are on it so you are already on the journey to fixing it.
3) Empathy. Always try and see it from the non FM point of view.

Q: What are your long-term goals for the next seven to ten years? 
Mentor more, with a 25 year career under my belt I would enjoy exploring the world of mentoring more.

Q: What do you predict could be the main changes to the FM sector over the next few years? 
I hope infusing technical training further into FM to provide future FMs with a holistic understanding of their environment. 

About Sarah OBeirne


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