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Career Ladder talks to the Head of Property & Facilities at Close Brothers Asset Management

Q: What was you first job in the FM sector?
After a few years as a Barristers clerk I joined a law firm as a Facilities Assistant. They were a national firm and the London office wasn’t significant in size or headcount and therefore I was part of a small team of three.

Q: How did you progress through the profession to your current role?
Being a Facilities Assistant in a small team allowed me to absorb knowledge from those above me within the structure, locally and regionally, and therefore when opportunities arose I was confident enough to put myself forward for the opportunities. I’ve also been blessed with very good line managers who have seen potential and have invested in me – time and financially. I look back at those times and adopt some of those principles into my management style and appreciate I wouldn’t be where I am today if those investments were not made in me.

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 am a member of BIFM and completed a Level 4 qualification a few years back, when time was kinder to me to complete such tasks. IOSH previously served me well and I’m soon to complete NEBOSH. Qualifications and training are great on the basis that you start applying your knowledge into day to day activities. The confidence naturally increases the more you apply it.

Q: What is your greatest contribution to the FM sector, or your current role?
Since my last article I was approached by a few rising FM professionals about career development. Having the chance to meet with them and discuss my journey and their current journey was great and I hope I offered some sensible advice that can assist them in the future. In the role I’ve just completed a restructure which has added another layer of resilience in management to the department and has mitigated any single point of failures. The structure also provides developmental and career progression routes for the whole team.

Q: What’s changed most since you started in FM?
The focus on the environment, appetite for TFM contracts and the increased number of opportunities for networking. Trying to be an SME on every piece of industry or legislative change is tough but having the increase in events to serve us is a great benefit.

Q: What personal qualities do you think are most needed for a successful career in FM?
Being able to communicate effectively is a skill. Not just who can shout the loudest in the boardroom but who articulates themselves effectively, can listen well and be pragmatic too. FM is a challenge and therefore being able to think proactively and outside the box will serve you well.

Q: If you could do one thing differently in your career in FM, what would it be?
Tough question as I look back at my career and whilst very fortunate to be occupying the role that I do, still feel my career is in my infancy with plenty or areas to develop within. I’m a huge advocate for personal development and enhancing the industry but declined a few opportunities earlier in my career to present to a group of apprentices, via a college, about career progression. The irony is that at that stage of my career my developmental area was presenting to others!

Q: What would make the biggest difference to the FM sector? And how could that be achieved?
Continue to enhance what we do and what FM’s are responsible for! Graduate schemes, training, degrees, seminars, bigger promotion on world FM day etc. It’s improved from 10 years ago but a greater push is still required.

Q: What advice would you give to young people coming into the profession now?
One of the key skills in FM is the ability to communicate effectively and being able to articulate yourself in a measured and professional way. It’s a skill that I think is being lost within the next generation due to the usage and ease of social media. Being able to talk openly, listen carefully and be diplomatic doesn’t come naturally to everyone and therefore I’d be seriously thinking about good effective communication skills for those coming into the profession now. Understanding the profession and the value that it adds is what I would be encouraging them to learn about.

Q: What are your long-term goals for the next seven to ten years?
I’m extremely proud to say that I have a young family and if my career remains good to me I’d love to continue to support them as much as I can. I have no desire in accepting that my knowledge to date is something I’m satisfied with. Seven to ten years is a long time and if my career can develop at the trajectory it has to date then I’d be more than delighted. I have met some really good FM and RE consultants and trying to enhance my network of connections could be a huge benefit if the consultant route was something I would entertain in ten years plus from now.

Q: What do you predict could be the main changes to the FM sector over the next few years?
The environmental and sustainability aspect is going to have a stronger focus. Businesses can make immediate changes and offer alternative solutions to businesses but in some cases FM’s are met with stronger challenges than expected. Electric Vehicle (EV) charging units are likely to become a more permanent requirement. I’m currently installing these across our portfolio to support the increase in Hybrid vehicles within our fleet. What is quite surprising at this stage is that commercial landlords of our leasehold properties (and generally!) are not prepared to be the trailblazers and innovate by installing these as common assets for all tenants. There seems to be a view of letting the dust settle for a few years and establish how businesses within their building/s are considering the use of hybrids. Unfortunately for us, amongst our building/s we seem to be the front runners and therefore are installing our own assets. I suspect a few years down the lines we’ll be approached by the landlords to consider centralising the units with a commercial deal to be had. Watch this space! Finally, resilience! Increasing pressures on protecting our businesses in a cyber and physical capacity coupled with really challenging internal business continuity and crisis management plans. There is one thing reading the plan as opposed to testing the plan. The GDPR has forced us to become more robust with internal controls and processes and that comes at a cost in some cases. The investment vs a data breach to the ICO = invest!

Q: What are the greatest challenges of working in FM?
Money off of the bottom line, developing your department and enhancing their skills, increasing operational efficiency and enjoying it is a great challenge.

About Sarah OBeirne


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