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17 January 2019
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Building a background for the boardroom

1 July 2013

We talk a lot about getting FM into the boardroom and similar ambitions to further our profession and in these aims, we are no different to many other specialist disciplines.

When wearing my purchasing hat, my colleagues are no different. However, when I have my logistics hat on, my colleagues don’t often have that issue, for they are usually firmly embedded at the top table. So how do they do that and what can FM learn?

I think that the crucial difference is that logistics is seen from within and without as a core activity. It is integral to the business and so those running it are as much business people than logistics people. I think that this is the lynchpin for FM – and any other specialism – if they want to be taken seriously.

Organisations of all sorts are made up of people and while we give those people functional labels, it is still about capability and the contribution that individuals can make. Of course, you need to be well grounded in whatever your specialism is, but if you want to get a place in the boardroom you need to prove yourself as more than just a specialist.

FM is a core business activity. If you think about it, every organisation operates from premises of some sort and they are crucial to success, so the importance of delivering FM, in any sense, is obvious. Or at least it should be, but perhaps we are too focused on what we do at the expense of why we are doing it. If we don’t understand and promote the significance of what we contribute, why should anyone else?

We are doing a lot these days to train people in FM from an early stage in their careers, even, as I wrote last week, to bringing in people from school or college. Having a formal qualification that they can work towards is a very good thing for the profession. But while the qualification does have some elements of general business, it needs to be supported by our young hopefuls developing their skills and awareness. That doesn’t necessarily have to be through formal education as long as they get to grips with what makes business tick.

I was fortunate over my career, through three specialisms (IT, procurement and logistics) before getting involved in FM, to have been given a lot of general management training. The management training scheme that I was put on back in 1972 saw me moving around every part of the business, including two weeks as a cleaner, and I’ve seen similar programmes in operation for graduates in several of the companies that I have worked for and with since.

That broad background helps understand where the organisation gets its funding from and how it spends it; how it sets its organisational strategy and goals and how it tries to meet them; where it sits it the broader picture and how it competes and survives.

If FMs can start to think of themselves as business people who specialise in FM and to equip themselves accordingly, then I see a chance for the profession to turn the corner.

John Bowen is an FM consultant