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16 January 2019
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Planning for new arrivals

BIFM has been on an evolutionary journey over the last few years driven in no small part by the leadership of the now CEO, James Sutton. James is set to leave the institute next year, to focus on his new family, but not before a successor has been appointed. The search is on… 

James Julie Akin

18 November 2015 | By Martin Read

The last few years have seen major changes at the BIFM with a renewed strategic focus and intent; addressing the institute’s core purpose, who it serves and the priority areas of future development. 

James Sutton, was brought in to lead this strategic development process over two years ago and in July this year became CEO. 

James - former acting CEO and director of strategic development at the Chartered Institute of Marketing – began at BIFM back in June 2013 when he signed up for a six-month assignment.  For both James and the institute the opportunities were clear and James soon agreed to take on the permanent position of chief operating officer. 

“The opportunities available to BIFM and the potential to make an even greater impact on the profession were so strong that when the board asked me to stay on, I knew I wanted to stay and work towards these goals.” 

Nevertheless, some hurdles remained with the distance between James’ home in Buckinghamshire, BIFM’s Bishop’s Stortford HQ and the many and varied commitments resulting in significant time away from home. A difficult balance to strike between work, home, and James’ commitment to both staff, volunteers and members. Late last year, with BIFM’s new strategy and management structure in place, James advised the board of his intention to leave at a mutually convenient point during 2015.

But two events subsequently transformed this landscape: the resignation of BIFM CEO Gareth Tancred and James starting a new family, meaning James now faced a real dilemma. Having initially agreed to a gradual and controlled exit, his experience and understanding of BIFM made him the obvious person to take on the role of CEO and ensure continuity within the institute. At the board’s request, that’s exactly what he did.

Although James is due to leave BIFM, it is for the best of reasons, his family. Nonetheless between James and Julie Kortens, BIFM chairman, they hold a shared commitment to the institute and in managing the transition to a new CEO. 

Just this month Julie was asked by the board to stay on as chairman until the 2017 AGM; extending Julie’s chairmanship a further year to ensure a sustained focus on the institute’s strategic development and to guide and support a new CEO.

A professional body of work

BIFM chairman Julie Kortens was delighted when James took up the mantel of CEO earlier this year.

“So much of the work James had been doing for us has been central to our progression as an institute.” she says. 

“Having someone with James’ experience has made a huge difference, and he is doing a great job. BIFM is the natural home of FM, and what James is doing fundamentally affirms this. He’s given us a robust foundation to work with and build on.”

The institute’s strategic framework will not be affected when James departs. “It’s something we all believe in and have signed up to,” says Julie. “The incoming CEO will have their own approach, but our strategy is built around four strategic aims, each intentionally designed for the long term.”

All developments within BIFM during James’ time and the work underway now are in support of the institute’s mission and are driven by core insights he has gathered during his time with professional bodies.

“Building in longevity and sustained relationships is fundamental,” says James, “and a large part of this lies in generating employer demand. If the c-suite buy-in to the strategic value of the FM discipline in enabling and enhancing their business performance and ensure their HR function is tasked with providing relevant training and clear career pathways to have qualified and up-to-date FM professionals, then as a professional body we  stand in good stead. 

“Our proposition needs to be relevant to FM professionals throughout their career and we need to work with organisations so they understand how to develop and foster exceptional FM expertise for their business success.  

“The role of BIFM as a professional body, in my view, is such a critical one to business and society, if we take the challenge head on – we are the guardian of our profession. We hold a privileged position which should be that of a critical friend to the profession that we serve, we must not shirk the difficult conversations – we are here to challenge and progress the wider profession by harnessing the views and expertise of our members.”  

James Julie Akin 2

The recruitment process

James has committed to staying on as CEO until such time as an appropriate replacement has been found, supporting the board and working with the appointments committee.

“We will take the time necessary to find the right person, however our aim is to have someone in post by the AGM in July,” Julie explains.

The appointments committee includes Julie, James, a senior volunteer from members’ council and the MD of the executive search firm. By the time you read this, the position will have been advertised in The Sunday Times online and the BIFM website. The closing date for applications is: 14th December 2015.

The role

Julie emphasises the complexity of the role and the breadth of the skillset that is needed for the CEO role.

“You’re running an awarding organisation, responsible for the FM Professional Standards and managing a dynamic community in an active volunteer network,” she notes. “And then you’ve got membership, research, insight, training, CPD - and on top of that you’re also representing the profession on various government committees and bodies.

“With all jobs of this calibre there are a multitude of skills that feed in to form a great candidate,” says Julie, “such as professional body experience, commercial business acumen and an understanding of the sector”. Both Julie and James agree that whilst an understanding of FM is advantageous it is ultimately not essential as BIFM is not an FM organisation and expertise is drawn from the FM community and the governance structure.

James states “The person who does this job has to be able to manage a professional body and the complexity that entails. This is alongside balancing commercial success with the nature of a professional body serving a very broad audience within the FM community.” 

Julie James 3

Leaving a legacy

Looking at how the institute has changed during his two years, James believes BIFM has become more confident, inclusive and outward looking. He believes in the strategic vision and the huge potential for the future. He’s also full of praise for BIFM’s team, both employees and the volunteer community.

“What the staff at head office achieve is phenomenal especially for such a small team; they deliver what you’d expect from a body much larger in size,” says James, “and the team doesn’t end there. There is such a passionate, vibrant and active volunteer network and that means that we can do and achieve much more.” 

By way of example, James cites this year’s repositioning of the BIFM awards categories, to link to the BIFM’s aim of evidencing the business, economic and societal impact of FM. James is extremely proud of the collective effort around the awards process - and the awards in general.

“Our awards are first rate not just for FM, but across all professions. I’ve not been involved with an event quite like it. It has the most rigorous process I’ve witnessed from any professional body; the commitment of our judges and events team to run such a professional awards programme is extraordinary.”

The changes to ThinkFM, also adapted to align to the strategic aims, is in no small part down to James’ insistence that the event become an externally-facing, high level, single-stream event. Julie adds “To have a conference operating at such a fundamentally different level - that was a huge shift, and it’s a prime example of aligning BIFM activities to our new focus.”

James – next steps

BIFM’s board has been fully supportive of James’ dilemma throughout, and unanimous in their praise of what he has achieved.

“It’s amazing news that he’s about to become a father - but this has put an entirely different perspective on him being able to stay with us,” accepts Julie. “Speaking for the board, we wish James and his wife all the best for the future. He’s done an amazing job for us and we are all going to miss him.”

James himself accepts that he’ll leave with mixed feelings, but he is unambiguous: “My ultimate priority has to be my family.”


With his first child due and a commitment to seeing the BIFM CEO recruitment process through, James has not yet decided where his future lies post BIFM. But whatever it is, he’ll be keen to ensure a work-life balance which better reflects his new duties as a father and needing more time at home with his young family. In any event, it’s clear that when he does eventually leave, that BIFM will wish him well for the future.  

bifm's strategic intent