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Growing Ambition

19 May 2008

In December 2007, Reliance Facilities Management appointed Jane Skelton as its Managing Director. Frank Booty asks how her experience has prepared her for the challenges facing her team and the company as it grows

WITH A TOTAL OF 4,000 PEOPLE in the Reliance Group, of which 1,600 are in FM, turnover is about £400m, with FM contributing some £75m of that. Jane Skelton does not mince her words when she declares that she wants to see the FM turnover grow substantially. What has lead her to this key point?

In her earlier career, Jane Skelton built up a wealth of management experience in a range of market sectors, including oil and gas, aerospace, the metals industry, finance and a small, familyowned extreme sports company.

Her credentials were forged big-time after becoming the first female manager on-site at a 60-year old aluminium extrusion company, complete with its own foundry. This was heavy industry in all senses of the words and she faced a very steep learning curve – a curve which nevertheless helped her to develop a thick skin. The biggest challenge she faced was the culture. But overcome any problems she did, to go on to see the company win the first ever EFQM award in the aerospace industry.

After gaining an MBA at Newcastle University, she needed to apply her previous knowledge and skill sets in an industry that would challenge her strategic and cultural expertise. That industry was facilities management.

She spent the last 41/2 years with Johnson Controls, and in her latest role she led the European Finance, Real Estate and Insurance customers division, managing a turnover of £355m. Now at Reliance, she relishes challenge of being on the cusp of change and helping her team to drive forwards.

Reliance is no stranger to having a woman in senior positions – Sandra Burrell is Head of Operations in the PatrolNet Division – but as MD of Reliance FM, Skelton is the first woman to be on the group board. Does this faze her? Not at all, she says, and she firmly believes that the ‘best person for the job’ should be applied throughout her team.

The word ‘team’ crops up repeatedly in conversation with her, as she refers often to her mantra of ‘customer experience’ and ‘growth, growth and growth’. “It’s where we are going and we focus on that,” she says. “The team here has self belief. I find it attractive being in a team, and being in a winning team.”

An example of Reliance FM’s skills and abilities can be found in its 24.5 per cent membership of the Monteray Ltd joint venture formed in April 2000 to revolutionise the provision of FM services to BT. Monteray took full responsibility for the provision of services to BT properties in April 2001 as part of an initial five-year contract worth some £500m. Recently, it secured a new FM contract with BT worth over £500m with a term of six years and scheduled to run until April 2014.

“We’re delighted to be part of this unique collaboration to support BT’s transformation strategy,” says Skelton. “As a shareholder of Monteray we have had a unique opportunity to shape our approach to delivering services to BT while strengthening the effective working relationships with our shareholder partners. The award of the BT security contract to our sister company has enhanced Reliance’s understanding of BT’s business objectives.

Indeed these contracts demonstrate the strength and depth in our business: improving our ability to deliver an exceptional customer experience for anyone working in or visiting a BT property.” Apart from BT, Reliance FM’s other clients key clients include the AA, 3M, the Health and Safety Executive, Indesit, National Police Improvement Agency, Unilever Ice Cream and Frozen Foods and the University of Durham.

Currently she is focused on restructuring within the FM division, and will subsequently focus on business development. “It really is all about solutions and expertise and providing increasingly better value for customers,” she says. “We are changing from a sales and operations focus to sales and marketing to offer solutions, continual Improvement and performance management.” Of the FM division’s 1,600 staff, about 60 are based at its Feltham HQ in such roles as FM, Human Resources, IT, health and safety, Help Desk and administration. The remainder are spread across the UK where customer sites are located.

Reliance FM has key relationships with the education market (universities and training campuses), the police, managing agents and consultants. Moving the business forward will involve joining up with the other divisions to leverage the unique selling points the company offers. “This is a terrific opportunity to leverage so much strength out of the rest of the group,” says Skelton. “Reliance has offered me the opportunity to learn from a group of knowledgeable people.”

Among the challenges facing the business are the need for each contract to have access to best practice, and who to achieve and manage buildings in an environmentally sensitive way.

“We can provide help with existing portfolios,” says Skelton. “That covers everything from the TLC needed with Grade 1-listed properties to brand new sites. We can assist with green taxes, energy certification and preparation and adherence to new Government legislation. Many companies are not set up for this and we can help them through.”

For the second year running, Reliance was listed in the Guardian newspaper’s Top 100 Best Places to Work, for the third year running it achieved a RoSPA Gold Award and it is listed in the Corporate Research Foundation’s book Britain’s Top Employers 2008, best examples of HR management, in association with TheGuardian.

To support the company mantra of ‘continuous improvement’, the Reliance academy is designed to provide frontline supervisory teams with a core of practical leadership skills. It is run in conjunction with Brunel University business school and the leadership centre at Newcastle University. There is also a skills passport for FMs based on a BIFM qualification.

Reliance has a people development focus. The ‘Red Book’ scheme is a Continuous Improvement tool used at local level to encourage new ideas and best practice. All employees can suggest ideas which will be reviewed by managers and (if relevant) contract customers. The books are also submitted monthly and quarterly to the board, with awards for individuals and teams submitting the most effective ideas. They are now being web enabled to share best practice across the group.

These claims are not without some foundation. Skelton is optimistic about the future and the range of services from, and the strength of, Reliance FM. “I’m looking forward to moving it on,” she says, “I relish the challenge.”

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