20 January 2014
Telephone calls during the evening are rarely good news; even though it is a while since I was last on a call out list any call after about six in the evening is usually either trouble or some poor soul trying to earn a crust making cold calls.
So when the Berkshire Belle answered my mobile for me the other week it was a pleasant surprise to hear from a former colleague trying to get a few of the old gang together for lunch.
We had all worked together in the eighties and nineties, but I moved on from their ranks in 2000 and although some our paths have crossed since, most often at funerals, it is a long while since we have sat around the same table. And by a strange coincidence sitting at an adjacent table were a couple who had also been part of various teams of mine.
These were people who had worked with me back in my logistics days and then later many of them had come with me when I moved over to facilities management. I have mentioned this team and their diverse backgrounds before, observing that it is unlikely that any recruiter would have brought us together, but how well the team gelled, thrived and succeeded.
Over a ten year period we blazed a trail in FM not because we were FM people, but more because we weren't. We were very good project managers, but above all we looked at what the people who used the properties needed, found ways of meeting those needs and made things happen. We were corporate landlords, but we didn't follow any landlord model. We raised specifications and paid two or three percent more than we might have done, but we did that strategically and it paid off. On one part of our portfolio we took over a million pounds off our cost base in each of three successive years whilst improving the properties.
Something that I had lost track of a bit until the team reminisced about it was how we were often pilloried for things that are common practice these days. Our green and CSR credentials were impeccable by today's standards, but twenty years or so ago we were regarded as a bit eccentric; green commuting, energy reduction, wildlife areas, looking after neighbours, encouraging cycling and persuading 'bus companies to change routes were all seen as way beyond the remit of an FM team at the time. It was only after we read about the founding of BIFM early in 1993 that we included FM into the job descriptions of what had, until then, been the Property team.
Times were good because we made them so. Sure we had our share of corporate politics and difficult people, but we set out to enjoy ourselves regardless of how tough things got. As long as we helped deliver the corporate objectives we were happy.
It was good to sit with the old gang again, to talk about the old days and to catch up with what people have been doing since. I have long followed the path of moving forwards, of only being as good as the job in hand, but every now and again it is good to look back and see how far you have come. And it is always good to enjoy the company of good people.
John Bowen is an FM consultant