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Meet the Head of FM at Holman Fenwick Willan

27 February 2014

Harry Cox, Head of FM, HFW
Harry Cox, Head of FM, HFW

In an exclusive interview with PFM, Harry Cox, head of FM at Holman Fenwick Willan (HFW), talks about everything from energy efficiency to document services and security in a post-9/11 world. The full article will be published in the February print edition. Here are a few excerpts:

How important is the account manager in a contract?
I strongly believe the contract is only as good as the contract manager or director. The service that will be provided will be completely governedn by how good they are at doing what they do; if they’re good at what they do, their team will be good. And that was evident to me on one of the contracts on which I worked; one of the service providers had an exceptional account manager which made the contract work smoothly. On the other side, there was an awful account manager who wasn’t backed by management, resulting in a poor service delivery.

How do you decide on which provider you end up using?
I don’t have a preference to the size of service provider; I’ve worked with big international providers and smaller ones. I want the right person and supplier who will fit culturally, understands what we want as a client and delivers. I can understand why some FMs, when approaching a large provider, may ask: ‘Why are you really interested in us, we’re not a big company, you’re not going to get that much business out of us?’ But on the other side, if you get someone whose small, their support may be limited owing to lesser breadth of service provision. So I look at the broad spectrum when making a decision.

Are you under pressure to be more environmentally friendly?
I’m not under pressure to reduce or change anything, however I enjoy undertaking this work. I recently changed energy providers to move us from ‘brown’ to ‘green’ energy. It doesn’t mean much to many but it did to me. Then you look at the context – when you look at the environmental side, you think: well we could put that into pitches. When we’re trying to win sales, it has impact – we’re more likely to be chosen because of ‘green’ credentials
than a law firm who doesn’t have them. But there’s no pressure on me from above in that regard, possibly due to my proactive approach.

Do you get much involved in information communication technology?
The programming of the phones is a FM task. There is a front-of-house team that manages the communications. They also cover reception and answer the phones but the responsibility of programming is in the process of being moved to IT. When I came to HFW, FM looked after all the Blackberry’s and iPhones – within months I’d transferred the responsibility to IT, as it sits much better with their core function. We have interactive whiteboards but they’re used minimally but – again, that’s more an IT function. Fortunately, I have a great relationship with the head of IT – we work in partnership, as our teams do, which helps massively. As for the computer electronics side, we’re looking at interactive room booking, and getting that onto our Intranet site, which we currently don’t have.

Has working with lawyers taught you anything?

Yes, particularly on the contractual side of things such as terms and conditions. Working with lawyers who understand terms and conditions inside out has been a huge education for me in terms of negotiating contracts. It’s great to understand how far you can push negotiations – even big suppliers. They’ll compromise eventually.

Should the FM sector have ‘one voice for all?’
It will be very difficult to get ‘one voice for all’ in our industry. None of the industries have one voice, and that isn’t just confined to the construction-type industries. There are obviously various bodies which head up the FM industry.

As a BIFM member, what are your thoughts on the association?
BIFM should be up where RICS is, in my opinion. I believe they should go for chartered status. I feel that achieving this would create a much more professional environment. When I came into FM, I undertook my BIFM qualification; I sat through college for two years, one evening every week. Once successfully completed it gave me the honorary statues of, as it was then, BIFM Qal (now CBIFM). I found it frustrating that somebody who had experience could get the same grade without having to go through those qualifications for two years. This may not be the case now. I’ve only ever been a member of the BIFM so I don’t know how others operate.

Are there other options for you apart from BIFM?
I’ve considered joining RICS because they provide FM qualifications. The difference would be ‘proved continual learning’. You don’t tend to get that with BIFM – unless I’m stitching myself up! BIFM doesn’t expect you to continually learn and progress; the expectation is there but it’s not policed, so I could just keep on rolling my CBIFM – nobody’s asked me to prove what I’m doing. But chartered status is different.

Is there a precedent for, say, lawyers?
Yes, take the lawyers at HFW – you can’t just be a lawyer and that’s that. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which governs them, requires them to have continual learning and prove they can do their job competently. I believe that’s where the FM industry is let down because if it was chartered it would be considered a professional occupation. I know the FM profession is still relatively in its infancy as an industry but I think we should start to consider what we can we do to make our qualification and our professional body more robust within the marketplace. We are a proud industry and should be doing more to raise
this a career choice for the next generation.

What drew you into FM?
After college I was employed as an apprentice electrician for a couple of years, taking the electrician route because I was young, needed work and it was something to do. After being made redundant I fell by chance into working in document services, distribution etc, and worked in various insurance firms. I was soon promoted into management. After more redundancies I moved into sales, working in recruitment for a year. During that time I brought a client on-board who’d adamantly not used the agency for which I worked; I placed a few people with that client before ultimately placing myself there. For two-and-a-half years I undertook business development for a company that sold ID card and event solutions, during which time I met several FMs.

Was there a definitive moment when you realised you wanted to be a FM?
I remember meeting one guy, with the civil aviation authority in Gatwick, who took time to explain what he did as a FM. He was so passionate about it I thought: ‘you’ve got such a cool job. I want that job’. I found a vacancy and applied as a FM team leader with a mortgage company; I didn’t have the right qualifications or experience but fortunately the head FM took a chance and offered me the job. She became such a great mentor for me in all aspects of my life, not just work. I was fortunate and am still friends with her. My career escalated and I was soon running the FM for a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers. I’m now enrolled on the WIFM mentoring programme and am helping others achieve their potentials. It’s fulfilling and rewarding.

How did your career path with Lehman Brothers progress?
We went through a process of amalgamating the mortgage companies together, which required moving and consolidating part of the new business to London offices. I was due to be made redundant but got a FM job with LB in the corporate real-estate department where I looked after the UK mortgage capital division buildings. That’s where I attained much more experience. I worked with real-estate professionals where everybody shared their knowledge; it worked well. I was then made redundant – again! – and went to work for a niche firm, Accuro FM in Victoria. This role furthered my experience and exposed me to FM in the public sector. How did you end up at HFW? I left Accuro to work for Cushman & Wakefield FM where I looked after the operational management of the UK Nokia portfolio – seven of them in total. I eventually left there owing to the downturn in the Nokia market share, which had a direct impact on the FM contract with buildings enclosures. I then came to HFW, international law firm in the city, where I’ve been for 22 months.

How did you end up at HFW?
I left Accuro to work for Cushman & Wakefield FM where I looked after the operational management of the UK Nokia portfolio – seven of them in total. I eventually left there owing to the downturn in the Nokia market share, which had a direct impact on the FM contract with buildings closures. I then came to HFW, an international law firm in the city, where I’ve been for 22 months.

What keeps you up at night?
Trying to resolve the failure in our City’s transportation infrastructure, and if I will make it into work and back home! OK, if I had to pick something it would be people – they’re unpredictable. No matter where you work, you’ll have responsibility over staff entering the building, although you won’t have control over various personalities or the unpredictability of people. One thing explained to me when I first got into FM is that most organisations’ two biggest expenses are real-estate and people. You (the FM) are in charge of the real-estate, ensuring it works but then you’ve also got people working for you, and you’ve got responsibility for those coming into the office, so you (the FM) probably have the two biggest responsibilities combined (I know IT and infrastructure have moved up a bit).

So there’s no single thing…
No – I have a type of insomnia and wake up constantly at night because I’m thinking all the time. I find it difficult to relax so there are things I think about and I’ll e-mail myself or I’ll forget. Again, if there are different projects going on, it’s likely my mind is switching between them – has the right person been contacted?, have we released the money? etc.

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