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17 January 2019
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Newcomer of the year - Pleun van Deurssen

Four women made up the finalists for the Newcomer of the Year award this year. Here, we catch up with this new generation of FMs, including winner Pleun van Deurssen, to find out more about the people set to take the profession forward in the next 10 years.

Pleun van deurssen

21 November 2016

What challenges do you think remain for women coming in to a historically male-dominated profession?

PvD: I am lucky enough that I haven't experienced many gender related challenges in my career so far for being a woman. Both my client and all contractors on site have never doubted my skills or knowledge and my staff have never treated me different for being female. Listening  to other women in the industry we sometimes still face the fact that a have to prove ourselves more in order to get the same recognition. Saying that, I do think that the industry is changing and that we are more equal to men in many ways, but we would have to continuously keep up to speed with both hard and soft service skills - but same goes for men.


Looking back, is there anything you wish you knew about being an FM before becoming one?

My bachelor degree in facilities management at the NHTV was a very practical one with many opportunities to do work placements and internships in order to prepare ourselves for the industry. Something I wasn't really trained in before becoming an FM was human resources. I gained some back-of-house experience during my time as a training coordinator but the practical site to it, such appraisals and performance reviews, was something I wish I had more exposure to. In hindsight it would have been good to have some knowledge or experience, but in reality you only get the full understanding of it when operationally involved.


Was there anything in particular that you were able to bring into UK FM from your education in the Netherlands?

The Netherlands is one step ahead of the FM industry in the UK. During my degree at the NHTV, but also at academies in Rotterdam or The Hague, we are very much focussed on customer service and workplace management. Hostmanship (the art of making people feel welcome) is something we learned in university and always stayed at the back of my mind in everything I do. Why do something straight forward if you can do it better with the same amount of money and effort? Incentive FM is a very good company to demonstrate this with our "freedom within a framework". I can make my own decisions on how to run my site as long as it is within certain boundaries. In my opinion customer service is key in everything we do, and it doesn't matter which site we work at and if we deal with contractors, clients or our own colleagues, we treat everyone the same and would go the extra mile for every party. That's what makes us different and boosts the morale and respect within our own team. Everyone knows that I am very approachable and always willing to help out. In return I have never heard "no" for an answer or had any issues with anyone within my team in the time I have been here.


What has been your biggest career challenge to date – and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge to date was setting up and getting involved in my very first operational site. I started with a client who didn't understand FM, didn't know Incentive FM and didn't know the possibilities an outsourced FM supplier could offer. I had no office and no staff, nor a building to manage. Everything had to be organised from client requirement meetings and a budget sheet. The many mobilisation meetings helped me understand the clients' needs and their expectations. The management development training I had with Incentive FM gave me the tools I needed to run a site successfully. As soon as my first site was operational I was involved in the erection and mobilisation of the new building six times the size of the smaller one, with facilities for construction workers up to project director. Being a young female manager came with its challenges when dealing with construction workers day in day out as they were testing my boundaries and see how far they could go. Within a few weeks I marked my grounds and everyone respected me and the position I was in. I have been consistent in my approach, being friendly but direct with me in charge of the building - not the workers. Due to my consistent performance and successful mobilisations, I became a trusted advisor for the client, who now come to me or my team with any enquires they might have related to facilities or building management.


Do you believe your end-user client is an ‘intelligent’ one? In your experience, is understanding of FM’s value to the wider organisation changing?

As most clients, FM is not their core business nor their expertise. My client didn't have much experience with an outsourced facilities solution before, but they did involve me in many development and progression meetings in order to get my view on the use of the facilities of the building. In that sense I think the industry is changing and people engage with facilities managers or experts at an earlier stage. However, many design issues could be prevented and a lot of  money could be saved if the architect, the construction company and the facilities management organisation would be talking to each other from the very beginning, before the building gets built and before tenants occupy the building. 


Which individual would you name as the most important to you in your career thus far, and why?

That would be Bill Pollard, co-founder and group services director at Incentive FM. Four years ago he got in contact with the NHTV to recruit for a graduate student to help during the a large IT implementation. That lucky person was me and I moved to the UK to finish my degree. Bill was my mentor during this time and continued being one along the way. Regular catch ups result in quick career progression within the group and set challenging but realistic goals for the future. He keeps me on my toes and always challenges me when making certain decisions in my career; from operational challenges to personal career opportunities, internal or external.


How would you like to see the FM sector to change during your lifetime?

The people on the ground are key in the success of any organisation. Sometimes companies are more focussed on growing their business and increasing their profit and by doing so, they tend to forget their staff. I think to differentiate yourself in the future the culture has to be good and staff should be the companies main priority, especially in a time where technology is evolving. Therefore I would like to see that innovations and people work well together but that our focus lies on our people to optimise efficiency.


How would you sell FM to other young people considering it as a profession?

During my time at university I used to promote FM at high schools in the Netherlands. Being so passionate about the industry makes it really easy to convince people to work in FM. Facilities management is everywhere - you just need to find out what young people are interested in and link FM to their interest. Someone likes sport? Talk about FM in a stadium. Someone likes to travel? Use the great example at Heathrow Airport. We can't do without it, and how rewarding is it to be part of something big or something that works well?


What is your next personal professional development priority? What training is going to be important for you?

My first priority is to finish my Prince2 qualification to support and structure any future change projects. To build on that I would like to do different people management courses, such as emotional intelligence, in order to understand people's thought processes and different ways of working which will be influential in the change of FM. I have completed our in-house management development programme with Incentive FM. When I move into a more senior position, I would like to complete a leadership development course in order to manage my site(s) better and get the best out of all members of my team. In the long term, I would like to do my masters degree in organisational behaviour to elaborate more on  the people side of the businesses and why people or organisations behave in certain ways in different situations. I think that those training courses will give me the tools to focus on the human aspect which will drive both my career and the industry forward.

Emma Potter