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FM: Working abroad - Brian Crockford

Brian Crockford, senior services manager, real estate & facilities, Microsoft, Seattle, USA

After working as a management surveyor, I left London in 1995 and travelled around Asia. As my funds ran out, I headed back to London but decided I wasn’t ready to settle back there and so begged and borrowed enough for an airfare to Hong Kong, which was still under British rule and didn’t require a work visa, and where I knew some people in the real estate business. After a couple of weeks, I landed a job with Hong Kong Telecom heading up a team of building management staff looking after 6 million sq. ft. of offices and telephone exchange buildings.

In 2005, I joined Microsoft to head up the FM function for Asia for a portfolio of about 3 million sq. ft., before seeking out a new opportunity with Microsoft at their corporate headquarters in the USA in 2012. After spending more than 12 years working in Asia, this represented a significant personal and cultural challenge.


What did you get out of the experience?

Incredibly diverse experiences in countries with deep and fascinating cultures, which have led to many long lasting friendships. My Asia-wide roles were particularly rewarding. Often I was tackling the same issues but the approaches – and resulting experiences – could be entirely different according to the country. Such diversity has helped me become agile and open to different ideas and approaches, as well as confident to take on new challenges. 

What would an FM need to know before making this decision? What are the barriers/obstacles in place?

It is a good idea to understand the level of maturity in a market and also what legislation and building codes/guidelines exist. Language can also be a barrier of course, but a willingness to learn at least some basic words, and a desire to learn about the culture of a country, goes a very long way. And all the more better if you have diverse taste buds and are adventurous in what you try eating!


What are the key differences in the way an FM works in the UK and in other countries?

It’s clear that FM is a highly evolved and respected discipline, supported by many strong service providers, well trained and professional people, significant legislation and building codes. FM was largely viewed as a “blue collar” discipline in Asia but over the last few years this has changed and FMs in Asia have a much better grasp on the softer skill sets that are needed to provide and manage modern, flexible and open workplaces and the people that work in them, often with very high expectations.


Any advice for FMs looking to work abroad?

Think about what you wanting to achieve at both a personal and career development level and continually revisit that as you move through your time abroad. Be prepared to be extremely flexible to get to the end result. Relationship building and trust is very important – especially in Asian countries – so work hard at that. And finally, have fun – it makes working so much easier and you’ll be much more successful!

Emma Potter