The new BIFM deputy chair has strong opinions about industry issues - from the "disaster" of PFI to the core business value of FM - and he's not one to mince words
by Cathy Hayward
FM World magazine: 14 December 2007
He is the enfant terrible of the FM sector, and has never shied away from (constructively) criticising the industry and institute. But when FM World met up with Dave Wilson, shortly after he took up the BIFM deputy chair mantle in October, he was enthusiastic about his new role.
"When I was in the International Facility Management Association (Ifma) I perceived the BIFM to be slow, bureaucratic and narrow-minded. I don't necessarily think that is the case, but I wanted to change that and work within the institute." And he is clear about the role of the BIFM: "Its mission should be to make facilities management more important within wider business. If you think we're non-core, try to do it without us. If you look at a business continuity plan, we're it."
But Wilson, who has been on the BIFM Members' Council since 2005 and a board member since 2006, also has a list of issues he wants to challenge the institute about - the key one being resources. "I don't know what Global FM is for, but we have to make sure we get something useful out of it," he says.
FM's international remit is a major interest for Wilson, who is also a school governor and Labour party member. "Associations and FM businesses can't ignore the international marketplace. Even a single-site manager in Dudley is affected by international events," he says.
This is reflected in the numerous roles he has played in FM organisations outside the UK. He has been a member of Ifma since the mid 1990s and secretary of Ifma Europe. He was president of Ifma's UK chapter, later the BIFM international special interest group (Sig), while also completing Ifma's Chartered Facility Manager qualification. He was chair of the Euro FM Practice Network Group, and is currently vice-chair, and has made presentations at Ifma's World Workplace and EuroFM conferences.
Despite this international influence, Wilson doesn't believe in the concept of the international office. "Consistency is not more important than productivity," he says. But he believes that cross-border contracts, both European and international, are where FM is going. He predicts that there will be two to three service-provider players in the market within a few years.
While Wilson is keen to point out what can be learnt from the practice of FM in other countries, he sees key differences between the practice of FM in the UK and US. "The US is very focused on buildings, but we're here to make organisations more productive not to keep a building running for the sake of it. "
This people-centric view of FM reflects Wilson's background in catering. He started his career working for a family-owned hotel business in Perthshire. He then moved into local government catering at Aberdeen City Council and later Hull City Council, where he studied for a postgraduate diploma in management studies. "Catering is a great background for FM. It's about a service mentality. Caterers make good FMs because caterers see people, whereas some FMs just see buildings."
His grounding in catering also gave him experience of the early days of compulsory competitive tendering, first in catering, then cleaning and grounds maintenance.
As a self-declared "professional northerner" it was a hard decision for Wilson to move to London, but it was the only place where he and his wife could both get good jobs. His spell at King Edward's Hospital Fund for London marked his move out of catering into an FM-focused role.
But it was his catering background that secured him the position of managing consultant at CBX, an FM specialist business created by a management buy-out from Rank Xerox in 1994. The firm recruited people from hotel backgrounds, and, says Wilson, was a very forward-thinking organisation. It encouraged people to think about strategy and to be proactive. As well as managing customers worth £15 million and setting up the new HQ building for Channel Five, Wilson also got to know some of the leaders of the FM sector, including Oliver Jones and Lionel Prodgers. And he was encouraged to be an Ifma member, which set him on an international course.
When the CBX managing director left he persuaded Wilson to go with him to Summit Group, which was negotiating to buy the Chesterton Group. The deal fell through, but Wilson stayed. He changed the organisation's name to Edifice and was MD from 1998 to 2003. Edifice provided FM consultancy services to international clients such as WPP Group, Cable and Wireless, J Sainsbury, O2 and Canada Life Assurance.
When the company failed to conclude a couple of major deals Wilson moved to Mace Macro, initially as director of consultancy. In this role he built the consultancy team revenues from zero to £1.5 million in 18 months and trebled revenues in Scotland. In March 2005 he was seconded to Reuters for 14 months as UK and Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) FM. He was responsible for Reuters facilities across mainland Europe. After taking a crash course in French, Wilson saved £1.35 million in his first nine months and "took an axe" to the supply chain, formulating and implementing an EMEA-wide FM strategy.
Wilson's last year at Macro was as corporate services director, responsible for marketing and business development, IT, legal, commercial and contractual management, procurement and performance measurement. Wilson is diplomatic about why he left Macro, simply saying that he didn't agree with MD Bill Heath on the thrust of the business (Heath is known to be keen to expand into the Dubai market, for example). Wilson has since set up his own consultancy on change management strategy.
But ask Wilson about the Ifma and BIFM decision to sign an International Memorandum of Understanding (IMOU) in April 2004, and he is anything but reticent about expressing his views. "We were not told about it in advance and the first I heard of it was when it was announced at the BIFM conference. I was so angry," he recalls. "Once there was the IMOU, there was no point in the chapter and we agreed to merge it in with BIFM."
He acknowledges that there is no point in feeling aggrieved, but clearly some frustration remains. He stepped down as chair of the BIFM international Sig in October this year, replaced by David Millar.
Another area of aggravation is the government's continued use of the private finance initiative (PFI). At a BIFM north region meeting a couple of years ago, Wilson described PFI as a "debt to our children" and he maintains that PFI is a "disaster area".
PFI has driven people to a narrow interpretation of performance, Wilson argues. "It is a technical view of how we measure success - not about whether customers are happy, but about changing a certain number of lightbulbs. We still need to be responsive to local needs, but PFI mitigates against that."
It is a typically robust and passionate argument from someone who has been at the centre of the international FM stage for several years and looks set to steer the sector, and institute, in the future.
QualificationsCertified Facility Manager, Ifma
Postgraduate Diploma in Management Studies
Higher National Diploma in Hotel and Catering Management
MembershipsIfma member; chair, Euro FM Practice Network Group (2005 -2006), vice-chair (2007-date); president, Ifma UK chapter/BIFM international special interest group (2005-2007); secretary, Ifma Europe (2003-2005); BIFM member and member of Members' Council (2005-date); BIFM board member since 2006, BIFM deputy chair (October 2007-present)
Career2007 Set up own consultancy business, Stratus
2003-07 Director, Mace Macro
March 2005 - May 2006 Secondment to Reuters as UK and EMEA facilities manager
1998 - 2003 Managing director, Edifice
1995-98 Managing consultant, CBX
1993-95 King Edward's Hospital Fund for London, conference services manager/facilities manager
1990-93 Hull City Council, client services manager
1988-90 Hull City Council, civic catering manager
1986-88 Aberdeen City Council, catering officer
1981-85 Self employed, Atholl Arms Hotel, Dunkeld, Perthshire