In 1993, John Crawshaw became the first director of the BIFM. Former BIFM chair Lionel Prodgers talks to him about the early days of the institute
25 November 2010
Lionel Prodgers: You were the first director of the BIFM, how did all that come about and when did you first hear the term facilities management?
John Crawshaw: After 29 years in the army I decided that if I was going to get a decent civilian job I had to leave before I was 50. I was fortunate to get a super job as director of administration of the consulting arm of Ernst & Whinney. I was the first non-accountant in the firm to have such a senior executive position. It was tremendous fun. There were only eight partners and 50 consultants, but over a three-year period, we grew to 40 partners and 500 staff.
We were one of the first companies that went into 'chicken coups' - individual work stations that didn't belong to an individual but were available for all to use.
One of the first developments was with the eight partners. It was decided that we'd have a clear desk policy. So, I went in on the Saturday morning of the second weekend and they still had all their papers over their desks. So I picked them all up, put them into individual black sacks, tied a label on each one and left them in my offices.
In the end, I had senior executive consultants charging in and saying 'some so-and-so has removed all my stuff, where is it?', and I would say 'it's there with your name on it, you didn't clear your desk". And after that it worked. All sorts of organisations were looking at the better management of office space. It was a very exciting time.
John deLucy had just joined the main firm as the facilities director - I had never heard of facilities management at that time. He and I met and he mentioned he was a member of the Association of Facilities Managers and that they were looking for a chief executive. I joined the AFM in August 1991.
L: Were you the first permanent employee?
J: Not quite, there was a secretary and a membership secretary but rather like my job at E&W it was another greenfield site. Between the 22 members of council, not everyone was convinced that they needed a full time employee, let alone an ex-army officer to do that job, so there was a degree of persuasion.
Initially I was only responsible for the development of the membership and had no idea of the financial situation and people were reluctant to let go of what they had been doing on a voluntary basis - running the magazine, being treasurer and organising the conference. I had to bring all those people in, and then I discovered that we only had enough money to pay our salaries for another two months and the rent for another six, and that was all there was.
The press started to take an interest in this new thing facilities management, particularly The Times. FM had a Small Business supplement every month and we were able to put over very gradually what facilities management meant and didn't mean. But we needed to get bigger. Economies of scale in terms of members was vital. We couldn't afford to continue with between 200-300 members and our merger with the Institute of Facilities Management (IFM) was a natural progression.
L: Can you remember how long the discussions took between the AFM and the IFM?
J: Talks about a merger had been going on before I joined, but it never came to much. For a while the AFM talked to the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) in the US about merging with them but again that didn't come to anything. There was pressure from within the FM industry for us to consolidate. People were asking why there were two organsiations in this country when America was a bigger country and yet they only had one.
The IFM was a subset of the Institute of Administrative Management. They had a broader base, but it was very much London-based whereas the AFM developed a regional structure around the UK which was run by volunteers.
A huge amount of development was done by individual people who were real enthusiasts and very much prepared to give up their free time to run events. The IFM did not have that structure. The AFM had companies as members too, as well as individuals and it was that which differentiated us from the IFM. That was a point of friction which stopped dialogue for a very long time.
Eventually the two councils started talking and it was agreed that provided the terms were right and the titles were right, the merger could take place. We put out about four different titles to be chosen and the membership decided on the British Institute of Facilities Management. I was allowed to stay as director of the new BIFM.
L: So what were the challenges of being director of this new association?
J: There were two challenges. One was financial; you couldn't do anything without having money and so things like the annual conference and awards, the latter developed from the IFM, were important as they made us a lot of money. There was also sponsorship which brought in the commercial aspect, which the old IFM did not like. We never, for example, paid for a single venue for members' meetings, it was always done in the premises of members. We tried to keep down the cost of membership but I had to raise subscriptions in order to start paying the salaries.
L: So growth really took off?
J: Once we were one body it was very much easier. It cut out a lot of public debate. There were people who said I'm not joining the AFM because I'm a member of the IFM, or I'm not joining either because I don't know which to join. We got members because people wanted to know what was happening and how to do things better. For instance, people who belonged to a company say in Slough would join the Home Counties group to see how other people were doing things, to answer questions like 'how did they run the catering contract in house, and why?'. When I left in early 1998 I think we had about 3,000 members.
L: I'd been the chairman of the BIFM for three months when you said "can we have a chat?"
J: Yes, I had been diagnosed with cancer and we were living in France and I was commuting so there wasn't a great deal of quality of life. And the other thing is that after six to seven years, I'd run out of steam a bit and the institute needed taking on to its next stage. When you've been in any job for that period of time, you develop change but gradually the amount of change you generate lessens. Most people are very reluctant and don't have the ability to stop and start again but most organisations do need a change in that top end of the infrastructure to take it to the next stage.
L: So what were the low points and high points of your period of office?
J: I always found working to a council of 22 people very difficult and trying to get change approved or the authority to do something such as employ somebody else was a real struggle. And if you go to 22 people you get three people saying I'm not sure you should.
But there were many high points. Going round the country and meeting people from all sorts of FM backgrounds was fascinating, as was working in a commercial environment and having direct responsibility for the bottom line.
L: What's changed since you left FM?
J: It's interesting that really nothing much has changed. The subjects are deeper perhaps, but they're still the same subjects. I still get FM World, and a few years ago I was asked if I would make a contribution to the magazine about what had changed. And I said that reading the magazine I don't think anything has changed.
The big desire during my time was that facilities management should be in the boardroom. I can remember many people getting upset about the fact that it was hugely important but wasn't in the boardroom. And still the major problems was reaching a definition of what facilities management actually is. It was, and still is, poorly defined.
History lesson: the FM journey
The BIFM has launched a project to create a comprehensive archive of the history of facilities management in Britain, including the institute's own development. The BIFM wants to hear from people who were around in those pioneering days. Of particular interest are those FMs with insight and knowledge of the two organisations that came together in 1993 to form the BIFM - the Institute of Facilities Management and the Association of Facilities Management. If you have any hard copy material about the early days of what we now know as FM, please get in touch with the BIFM. Information is needed on the development of the BIFM, or its predecessors, for the period prior to 2000, such as minutes of the association's councils, specialist groups, regional groups, members' newsletters, conference programmes and papers. Many of these documents may be tucked away in people's personal archive boxes in their store-rooms or roof space. Please contact Graham Briscoe at [email protected] with details of what you have. All material donated will safely deposited and catalogued for retention in the BIFM archives.
John Crawshaw career file
Born: 1937 in England, spent early live in India
Lives: near Uzes, France with wife Penny
Education: Uppingham School
1955 - 1957: Articled clerk, chartered accountant
1957 - 1986: British Army. Started as a national serviceman in the rank of gunner and subsequently commissioned. Converted to regular army and served in the airborne regiment (7RHA) and Parachute Brigade; rising to rank of colonel, having commanded a regiment in British Army of the Rhine (Germany) and on active service
1986 - 1991: Director of administration, Ernst and Whinney (later Ernst and Young) responsible for administration, finance, training and HR. As a member of the management team he assisted in the development and growth of the consultancy to a £5m business over five years
1991 - 1998: Director of the Association of Facilities Managers (AFM). On the merger with the Institute of Facilities Management in 1993, he was appointed director of the British Institute of Facilities Management. Over seven years in these two roles he became a recognised name within the FM Industry and played a significant part in the development and recognition of facilities management as a professional practice within the UK and internationally.
His achievements include the introduction of a professional qualification and the provision of training and development for individual members and organisations, which developed a strong revenue income for the BIFM
1998: retired as a director following a serious illness. Crawshaw was for a short time non-executive director of the Resource Administration Group plc, resigning in August 1999
1999-2001: founded and managed Catalyst Management with Jane Bell, Graham Riche and John Swift until he took full retirement in 2001