Open-access content Tuesday 12th July 2011 — updated 3.30pm, Tuesday 26th May 2020
In the fifth in a series of interviews with key players in the development of the profession, BIFM vice chair Ismena Clout talks to the organisation's first chairman about her career in FM.
30 June 2011
IC: When did you first hear the term 'facilities management' and in what context?
MS: I was group administration manager for the publisher Longman and first came across the term when we were working with DEGW, who were producing a magazine called Facilities. Group admin was a true facilities job, and in my opinion it still is, where it still exists. My role included responsibility for building maintenance and running the estate, as well as all the property elements. I was dealing with rent rates and lease reviews as well as things like fleet management. It was such a long time ago that I even had in-house catering and maintenance teams, as well as a telephone exchange with wires that crossed. That's when I first heard the term FM - and it struck me then that it absolutely described what we do.
IC: So how did this new FM role come about?
MS: I was in human resources and my bosses thought it would be good for my career development if I was to take on a line management role. I was offered either group admin or shipping manager, and chose group admin because it gave me a larger workforce. It was a two-year secondment, but once I'd completed those two years I didn't want to go back to HR.
The group admin role got me involved in everything. I loved it.
I think my key achievement in the role was in recognising that we needed a property strategy. At that time, back in the early eighties, IT was taking off and our buildings were beginning to suffer. We were quickly moving from telexes to faxes to everybody having PCs, and while we had a lovely building from the 1960s, it was very difficult to adapt it to these new circumstances.
I ended up formulating, developing and ultimately getting buy-in from all parties for a property strategy. That meant a wholesale relocation out of a number of different premises; the sale of that 1960s building; and the development of a new HQ. We also chose - and this was nack in the 1980s - to make it a sustainable development, as close to a Breeam 'excellent' rating, as we could bearing in mind its size
I stayed with Longman for about 16 years, four of which were spent getting buy-in for the strategy and another four on the development and relocation.
IC: And then you moved on?
MS: I left Longman in 1996, at a time when the outsourced market had just opened up. At that point I'd completed my time as BIFM chairman, so I had some profile in the industry. I went to Chesterton Facilities and Property Management (later Chesterton Workplace Management), initially as their HR director. They'd taken on a major British Gas account and over the next couple of years I was able to use my HR and operational background to help them develop an internal workforce to service that, and other clients, as the business grew and changed.
I'd say my key achievement there was survival! Although, of course, it was about learning, too. It was a time of great change for the industry, and all of us were trying to find how to turn these entities into service bodies. Clients were learning, too, so it was very new and difficult. But we did survive, and we did good jobs on the contracts we ran.
After that I moved to WSP, where I became managing director of their fledgling FM division. My main achievement there was in winning and implementing a lucrative contact to provide help desk contracts to Royal Mail. It was quite a contract, for 3,500 premises. We had three months to implement the system, from winning the contract to going live on 1 April 2000. That contract was innovative and challenging to bring off, and it led to an enduring partnership between Royal Mail and WSP.
IC: It must be satisfying to have worked on so many firsts, having to think of so many things from scratch - unlike today, where you're often having to work with what's already in place.
MS: But wherever you are, you always feel part of the vanguard - it's never quite a case of repeating the past. You're always tying to push boundaries and do something different.
IC: So what happened then?
MS: I left WSP in 2002, and I've worked in consultancy and interim management ever since. I'd say my consultancy highlights include working with the Metropolitan Police to decide on their FM strategy, especially in the context of an organisation going through immense business and associated property change. I worked with them initially as a consultant, then moved into an interim management position. In total, I've spent four years of my life engaged with the police. That contract with the Met is something I regard very positively.
In the last few years I've done much more work in the public sector. I've been involved in helping HM Treasury think through how they address FM across government, especially the central government estate. That's led to an FM group working within the government property unit, looking precisely at those issues.
That work has been conducted in parallel with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), dealing with the challenges involved across a very diverse estate. The government is going though such immense change, and having to overcome significant challenges over its entire cost base is really interesting.
IC: From all of this, what would you pick as your career highlight?
MS: It has to be the last one, the MoJ. Some of the work I've done there, looking at how their services are delivered and configured, has been very successful. I'd say the most pivotal experience was the longest one - my time with Longman. I went from being a hands-on FM delivering service, right through to working with others to create a new building, having thought about those issues up front and really got to grips with how FM can influence the site.
IC: Perhaps you're most proud of the last job you did because you get to use everything you've learned thus far in your career?
MS: When you have an interim management role, as I've had for the last two years, you get really engaged with the people you're working with. They become very important in your life.
IC: What's been your greatest learning experience?
MS: Working in the supply chain, undoubtedly. Suddenly, from being a client yourself, you're in a different role and have a very different relationship to your end user customers. It can be frustrating to be in that space because you often aren't able to do as much as you're capable of doing for the client. While I frequently hear clients say that most contract innovation and change is driven by them, when you have been part of the supply sector and now, still working with them as a consultant, you know the capability and all the potential is there to do more. I am still disappointed that often as a result clients do not get the best that can be offered by their suppliers.
IC: Is the constraint of the negotiation of the contract partly to blame?
MS: I think so. As things become more formalised and procurement departments get involved, that can create limits to what people are able to achieve, and that's a pity. That said, I'm optimistic because there are lots of good examples of great partnerships.
IC: What would you consider to be your most important contribution to FM?
MS: I would say that was during the period in the 1990s when I was BIFM chairman. Back then we really helped put FM on the map. It wasn't just down to me, far from it, but that period coincided with the moment when we began to reach out to some of the other professional bodies get some recognition. Also, our first formal education qualifications came out during my time in office. That journey is still progressing, and everyone who has come before and after me helped move things on a step in the right direction.
IC: You're the only female so far to hold the chairman's position so far.
MS: Yes, and I really had to be pushed to go for that role. It wasn't on my set career path at the time. That said, I'd certainly encourage anyone else to go for it.
IC: What's frustrated you about working in service management, and what have you enjoyed?
MS: The way the supply sector engages with the planning sector; I still feel such a lot of potential is being lost and it's no one party's fault. It's the way that the two parties engage with each other, possibly influenced by the procurement approach to life.
Also, we're still having some of the same debates about how important FM considerations are, up front, in the design process. The stoppers are exactly the same - people are just guarding fees. There isn't any room to bring in third party expertise. I think that's the stop.
In terms of enjoyment, I love the breadth of FM and the practicality of it. You have a day when you're having a practical problem, crisis solving, before having to think about your estates very strategically and how you can meld that with the way your business is changing. It's unique.
I'm also interested with the idea that sustainable development is moving into our zone of influence. It's good for FM and FM practitioners. The responsibility on us is increasing, which is good. The FM sector is beginning to engage with how far it can push for change.
IC: So how do you think the challenges you faced at the beginning of your career compare to the challenges faced by the current generation of facilities managers? What do you consider the biggest challenge for the next generation?
MS: Many of the issues are the same, but the context has changed. It's become a lot more professional, and because suppliers are more professional there is more opportunity - but it can be a challenge to anyone unable to engage with suppliers successfully.
I'd also like to see the remit of FM grow, and in particular I'm interested in the whole issue of space and accommodation provision.
I think some of the challenges are going to involve people in traditional FM roles beginning to expand their remits. In the work I've been doing with the MoJ I've become particularly interested in the issue of space and accommodation provision as we move forward. It's clear that barriers to space rationalisation are not so much to do with the property market but more to do with IT and IT infrastructure, making sure that IT works in harmony with the building. One of the challenges is for FMs and estates people to work with ICT colleagues in a way that is quite different to how they do now. That could transform the way things are done.
IC: How would you sum up facilities management in three words?
MS: Can I have six? How about "everything else nobody wants to do"? That was how it was characterised when I first came into the sector, and I think that still holds some truth. But actually, I love doing the things that nobody else wants to do - it's fantastic! It gives you the scope to do them well. You can make those jobs things that people actually do want to do. Somebody else said to me recently that FM is about 'making it work' - the 'it' can be whatever you want it to be.
IC: If you hadn't become a facilities professional, what career path would you have followed?
MS: I'd have probably stayed in HR. But if I'd known about this profession while I was at university, I would probably have still gone for it.
IC: What advice would you give to today's facilities managers?
MS: Get a qualification, and get as much experience as you can in as many different sectors. The real challenge in FM is translating what you know as a professional into what's right for your business. You can only succeed in this if you understand the business, having seeing different businesses. The more you learn, the more you can bring things back to your employer. I like the fact that in FM you get different people with different skill sets.
IC: How do you see the facilities management profession looking in 20 years time?
MS: I'd like to see the term 'facilities management' being used to describe a wider degree of infrastructure services, just as we fought for in the early days. I'd like for it to move into true facility management, where the property element is also subsumed within it.
IC: Being the first chair of the BIFM, you must have had a vision of where you wanted the institute to go. In your opinion, has the BIFM met this vision or exceeded it?
MS: I don't think I really did have a vision because my job at that time was to craft two different entities [the AFM and the IFM] into one. We always had tensions around that vision, particularly around corporate membership, individual membership, education, qualification and experience. I think we did, and still are, managing to keep those things balanced.
I think that we have quite rightly focused on members and qualifications and that is the bedrock. For me, the area we need to grasp now is how we work with corporates to deliver vast swathes of change and activity. These organisations have the potential to offer so much more than their clients are letting them do at the moment. But there's a big industry out there and it's getting bigger.
CAREER FILE: MARILYN STANDLEY
Name: Marilyn Standley
Born: Caernarvon, North Wales
Education: Hull University
Qualifications: Degree in Psychology
2006 - 2011: Managing director, Concerto Consulting
2002 - 2006: Managing director, Facio Consult
1999 - 2002: Managing director, WSP's Facilities Management division. Implemented award-winning FM helpdesk solution for 3,500 Royal Mail properties.
1993 - 1993: Elected to serve as the first chairman of the British Institute of Facilities Management.
1993: Involved with the Association of Facilities Management before its merger with the Institute of Facilities Management.
1982-1996: Initially a personnel manager, Standley was seconded to become group administration manager for the publishers Longman. By 1989, she had been promoted to project director for the company. Projects included planning, land acquisition and relocation of the firm.