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16 January 2019
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Partner in prime

FM recognised at board level? A dream for many, an entirely undesirable ambition for others. But what if there was a third way? A professional status for FMs that could transform how they and their department’s contribution are valued throughout an organisation? Ruffer’s Emma Potter has achieved just such a status, as Martin Read reports

Emma Potter
Emma Potter, facilities manager at investment firm Ruffer, on the benefits of being a partner in her business (©Paul Stuart)

12 August 2016 | By Martin Read

Emma Potter is facilities manager for investment firm Ruffer, a position she has held – having worked her way up from office junior – since 2008. 

But this isn’t the typical story of an enthusiastic young FM blazing a trail. Because in 2011, after seven years’ service, Potter was invited to become a member in Ruffer’s Limited Liability Partnership. Today, she’s one of roughly a fifth of Ruffer’s workforce with partner status.

As is the case with LLPs, the company’s success is her success, and vice versa. Potter says, “partner status recognises the people upholding, maintaining and innovating within the company in order to keep its values alive. As partners, we become guardians of the values of the company.”

So how did this all happen? In 2011, Potter was managing a team of six servicing reception, catering and facilities for 150 staff with around 100 suppliers. Having taken on a more active role in IT service delivery as well as business continuity planning alongside the firm’s COO and IT manager, Potter found her FM projects were many and various. Then, one day in March, the MD asked to speak to her just as the firm was gearing up for a major refurbishment and the acquisition of 22,000 sq ft of office space.

“I was a little nervous,” concedes Potter. “I’d been trying to get our board to agree on a new office layout, and I remember steeling myself to reassure the MD that everything was OK. Instead, he said: ‘The board and I have decided that we’d like to invite you to become a member of the firm. You’re not going to cry, are you?’”

Welcome recognition
“It was the first time anyone from the FM function had been afforded partnership status,” says Potter, “I was ecstatic!”

Other than the then IT manager and operations director, the firm’s partners had all come from research or front office – the revenue-generating departments. But Potter says that she’d always hoped to have FM recognised through partner status.  Here was recognition that good support staff can be as valuable as those who generate the revenue.

“I was in shock, but I also had this profound sense of a definite increase in responsibility. I was immensely proud, but worried too, because I knew I would be under much more scrutiny than before. And I was concerned about how I would now be perceived internally; I didn’t want to suddenly be seen as unapproachable.”

How has being a partner changed the way Potter and her department are viewed?

“The behavioural aspect of having partner status is as important as the FM job itself. For me, the simple fact of being asked to become a member reaffirmed to me why I was doing the job. But now I’m not just representing myself, but also my department and the business. It’s put a microscope on what I’m doing in my team in a brilliant way. It’s given me exposure at a senior level that other FMs may not have.”

And the level of accountability has been transformative. “It’s never a question of “I’ll see what the boss thinks”, but “what do I think?” You are accountable for what’s going on in your department – the spend, the budget, the rates review.”

Emma Potter

Already a student BIFM member, having just started her Level 4 qualification, Potter suddenly became acutely aware of her knowledge gaps. “I needed to make sure I was expert in the subject matter, and not just through experience. So I did my BIFM Level 6 at the beginning of last year and I’m toying with the idea of the diploma. And there will be more, perhaps an MSc.”

Potter is an integral contributor every quarter to the company’s support committee, which provides oversight of all the support functions in the business. She also takes part in monthly managers’ lunches to discuss all issues set to affect the business – recently presenting on her ongoing office re-fit project.

The words ‘collegiate’ and ‘empathy’ come up frequently in our conversation.

“It’s important to me to ensure I deal with projects sensitively, addressing everyone’s requirements. I’m told I’m good at making people do things they don’t want to do, but which need to be done. I try and make people see the other side of a problem. For example, when we took away everyone’s Blackberrys it was met with mixed response.

“I truly feel responsible when things go wrong or when someone’s frustrated about a service or a situation. I always think of a great Maya Angelou quote – ‘people will forget the things you said and did but they will not forget the way you made them feel’. This is so true in a support role.”

Potter gets constant reminders of her partner status. Occasionally she’ll be asked to check bank statements for client payments, and operational staff will often ask her to sign off on a particular trade when they require authorised signatories. It’s an unusual request of an FM and an indication of her level of responsibility. And it means newcomers appreciate the importance Ruffer places on FM provision.

Today FM reports into chief operating officer David Francis, a member of Ruffer’s executive committee, which also includes IT development, IT infrastructure, operations, risk & performance and the product team. “This allows a level of executive exposure that is hugely valuable for me personally, and the FM team.”

Next steps
What do her FM peers think of how Ruffer does things? “When I explain our structure to other FMs their reaction is ‘that could never happen here’. But FMs are often worried about overstepping the mark. The response to my ideas for the new space we are refitting [Potter is seeking to cut 120 desks and introduce informal collaborative spaces] was that I was going too far.

But it’s my job to hack the space and push for it. FMs shouldn’t be afraid to push those boundaries. If you present a proposal that is costed correctly and well thought out, what’s the worst that can happen?

“In FM we can get too bogged down in the day-to-day fixing of things. But if you look at the whole service and explain any weaknesses and how you are going to address them, that is hugely powerful. Senior management loves you to come to them and say, ‘this isn’t a problem yet, but it could be and I have a solution for it’. Be pre-emptive, not reactive.”

Ruffer comprises 235 people, of whom 48 are partners. It continues to expand, and is now adapting to an imminent new financial regulatory regime taking effect next year.

Out of hours, Potter chairs the local Victoria Building improvement District (BID) Sustainable Prosperity group and is a member of the Victoria Neighbourhood Watch forum for businesses and residents. She has also been secretary of the BIFM’s Catering & Hospitality SIG for six years. “I can’t imagine being at another company,” says Potter, “and I still love what I do!”

Emma Potter
"The business relies on me to deliver effective systems and services that add value to the core investment business and, in this way, I am every bit as responsible for client service as our fund managers" (©Paul Stuart)

3 key benefits of partner status

1. Being a role model:
“I genuinely feel that it is my responsibility to represent the business. Inside or outside of work, I always have the Ruffer hat on. I see that dedication as important from an FM perspective, but also as a young female too.”

2. Exposure: 

"Being a partner gives me the confidence to really push forward ideas that perhaps I wouldn’t have been as self-assured to present before.”

3. Scrutiny: 

"You really have it hammered home that you, and only you, are accountable. There’s a much more structured reporting element to my interaction with the rest of the business, through committee and members’ meetings. But I benefit personally from it, and the business gets someone who is completely invested and who has an interest in the sustainability of the firm.”

FM projects at Ruffer

Having helped run a graduate recruitment programme back in 2006, soon followed by her first relocation exercise, Emma Potter has since been involved in a plethora of FM projects.

Since her promotion to facilities manager in 2008, Potter and her team have implemented a disaster recovery and business continuity programme, facilitated ESOS compliance and established a volunteering policy enabling staff a yearly allowance to participate in a cause of their choice. She’s currently on her fifth office re-fit.

“In the year I was made a partner we took on another refurbishment and extension of our client area. The lease came up for the adjacent space and we had to negotiate it. A lot of legal aspects suddenly came under my remit from lease breaks to dilapidations and insurance.

“In 2012 we were able to expand and now have about 35,000 square feet. We have six leases for the floor and we’re considering refitting about 18,500 square feet.”

“This will be the first time that the office will be split into two different areas of the floor. We currently have an open-plan office – no one has their own office here. The feedback we’re getting is that if you’re going to split us we need an area where we can meet in the middle. So we have a portion of the office that is trying out a more collaborative working environment whilst implementing additional rooms when quiet-space is needed”

Potter is also considering the introduction of a room-booking system – and it’s on the IT side that most complexity comes.

“Like most firms, Ruffer is becoming increasingly technology-dependent and we are heavily involved in project initiation and management. Resilience is hugely important and I’m very focused on business continuity planning and awareness.”

“The technology side of financial services is huge now. We have a tech development team of 10, whereas five years ago we had four. We also have a tsunami of regulation about to hit us in 2017, as all financial companies do.”

Ruffer’s FM requirement

Formed in 1994, Ruffer is a privately owned investment company working with individual clients, charities, pensions, trusts and institutions. While it maintains satellite offices in Edinburgh and Hong Kong, Ruffer’s head office is in a multi-tenanted building on London’s Victoria Street. Core infrastructure is managed by the landlord, with FM delivered mainly in-house by Emma Potter and her team (see below).

FM manages more than 120 suppliers to a budget of £4 million, of which 78 per cent goes towards the building. Potter manages five leases (the result of a complex sub-lease structure) and one assigned lease.

Space occupied: 35,300 sq ft, of which 9,327 is sub-let to Instant Managed Offices (which, in turn, sublets to Serco)
Number of Ruffer staff: 234, including six in Edinburgh and five in Hong Kong. 249 desks are supported in London, 11 in the remote offices

FM staff: 8, of which 2 (chef and waitress) are contracted in

FM contractors:
- Image Office Cleaning (daily cleaning, quarterly kitchen deep clean, annual carpet clean, blind clean and office equipment)
- Land Securities: Security for the building (settled by the service charge) Ultimate Security Services;  24/7 guards, security card access, guarding of loading bay and car park area
- Advanced 365: IT supplier with four people permanently on site
- Imtech Inviron: annual PPM maintenance contract covering in-house data centre, client and staff kitchen areas as well as elements of the main office
- PBS: printing
- Catering provided mainly in-house, using Blues Agency for temp staff (Chef duties include fine-dining lunches for clients and canapé events)