Open-access content Monday 14th September 2009 — updated 12.51pm, Tuesday 26th May 2020
A familiar face on FM's global stage, Ikea's Helena Ohlsson tells FM World about her task to bring organisational harmony across international borders and what she's seen on her travels
by Cathy Hayward
17 September 2009
With responsibility for the development and implementation of an FM strategy for 25 countries from Australia to Canada but based at the Ikea global HQ in Helsingborg in southern Sweden, Ohlsson is used to seeing the inside of airport lounges. And that's without taking into account her voluntary work within the FM sector. She is currently a board member for the International Facility Management Association (Ifma) and chair of Euro FM's Practice Network Group. Both roles require considerable travel and have led to a plethora of speaking engagements at FM events such as the 2008 Swedish FM conference FM day, the Madrid SMI conference where she spoke about PPP/ PFI solutions and sessions at the EuroFM annual conference where she has been on the organising committee.
"I spend only 50 per cent of my time in Sweden at the moment," Ohlsson says, explaining that since joining Ikea a year ago she has been on a continuous global road trip finding best practice FM in Ikea at country level and working to develop it into a definition of what should constitute global Ikea FM good practice. "Once this is accomplished we will give individual countries priorities and guidelines but the 'how to' will be left up to the countries," she explains. "Much of FM is down to culture and that differs from country to country."
Territorial gainsAnd there are vast differences between the territories in which Ikea operates. Europe is the biggest market making up around 70-80 per cent but there are strong presences in North America and growing markets in Australia and Asia. In some of these countries the stores are clustered close together and FM becomes more centralised but in many countries such as Australia there are stores that are geographically spread so there is a risk of local practices developing if FM is not steered nationally.
Ohlsson started the newly-created role last year by gathering all the 25 Ikea FMs together in Sweden and discussing the idea of a standardised model of FM. "We were all surprised that we were facing fairly similar challenges such as communicating what FM was about and how it can support the core business. There was a general feeling that unless you carefully define the scope of FM it is seen as something that can do everything that no-one else want to do."
Her aim is to create a sense of "togetherness" with FM teams across borders who communicate virtually, although the group will meet up once a year to benchmark global best practice.
The idea of standardisation is a typical Ikea strategy; the same successful model is replicated in different countries with the identical "blue box construction" visible throughout the world. It's an area in which Ohlsson herself has plenty of experience and was what attracted her to the role. "Ikea is a really interesting company and as a Swede I've followed its progress from birth; it's part of our culture. Also everything that attracted me to the FM industry is in this role," she says.
Ohlsson is an architect by training who, after graduating during a period of economic crisis in Sweden, found herself working less on new builds and more on projects focusing on the impact of the environment on people's psychology. "I discovered I was more interested in what happened after the building was built."
After being one of the first graduates from the FM diploma in at Chalmers University of Gothenburg she gradually got involved with Ifma Sweden at a time when FM was more commonly known as industrial or office planning and soon became chapter president. This then developed into involvement with EuroFM and her latest role as an Ifma board member where her role is "to highlight the I in Ifma", she says. "Ifma can be North-American-centric." She is supportive of the concept of Global FM as "it's important that there are international FM organisations and best practice FM is shared across the world."
This global connection is more important than ever during challenging economic times says Ohlsson, pointing out that the global recession is affecting different countries in different ways and at different times. "Some see FM as a solution to get out of the recession as the function can add value and cut costs. Where FM is less developed it is less affected," she argues. Sustainability offers a ticket out of the recession and an opportunity for FM to be considered as a true profession.
Supply and supportIkea is Ohlsson's first dip into client side FM after a career working the other side of the fence. But she argues that the differences are not huge. "Facilities management is not the core business in Ikea but they still expect best practice FM to support that core business and that's no different from supply side organisations."
Ohlsson started her career with a five-star apprenticeship in FM at Skanska, another major Swedish name, where she was involved with budgetary control, negotiation and service contracts for clients such as Ericsson. In 2006, she moved to the UK and joined Johnson Controls as principal consultant helping to drive the consultancy division into Europe with involvement with clients as diverse as BP, Cisco and the BBC. She took these skills to FM software company Service Works Global where as a director she once again led the drive to grow the business into Europe and also tried to bridge the gap between technology and FM practice.
Ohlsson talks about the world of FM with a fluency and understanding that few of her generation has mastered. She was in Sweden at the dawn of the FM market, but has managed to retain a fresh outlook into the nature of the profession, and through her extensive travels developed global best practice solutions to local FM problems - something epitomised in her current role. Having just been voted the most influential FM person in Sweden by 1,400 Swedish FM professionals, the only question is when she will translate this to a European or global level. Ohlsson seems set to spend a lot more time in airport lounges.
Helena Ohlsson: Career Profile
Lives Malmo, Sweden but works globally
MSc Architecture, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg 1991-96; Facilities Management, Chalmers University of Technology 1997; Dipl. Facilities Management, Chalmers University of Technology 1998-2000; Ahrens University of Rapid Growth 2003-2004; and International Development Studies 2006, University of Gothenburg.
In addition to her mother tongue Swedish, Ohlsson speaks English, some French, German, Russian and Spanish
Memberships and voluntary work
Member of Ifma, EuroFM and NordicFM groups;
board member of Ifma Sweden 1999-2007;
president of Ifma Sweden 2002-2005;
board member of EuroFM (chair, Practice Network Group) 2007-2009; and board member of Ifma (International) 2008-2010.
2008-present Global facility manager, Ikea
2006-2007 Principal consultant, Johnson Controls
2005-2006 Project manager for Ericsson, Coor Service Management
2000-2004 Various roles including FM manager, project manager, contract development and regional development
1998-2000 Consultant Wickenberg Bygganalys AB; LillhagsParken - development of a new city area in Gothenburg
1997-1998 Research project, Department for Technical Acoustics, Chalmers University of Technology 1998