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The rise of the specialist service provider

25 March 2019

There is a big shake up going on across the facilities management (FM) market as clients recognise they need more engineering support to help them keep their buildings operating properly, according to Linaker managing director Claire Curran.

Claire Curran and Bill Harrison

FM is returning to its silos. After years of aggregating ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ services into multi-million pound multi-service contracts, many clients want their specialist technical support back – and £12m turnover national firm Linaker is well placed to benefit, says Ms Curran.

“A lot of technical expertise disappeared with the huge multi-service FM contracts,” she says. “People got very good at managing the contracts, but lost some of that hands-on engineering skill needed to make sure a building meets its user’s expectations.”

Linaker is well placed to take advantage as FM goes back to its roots: “We would not take on a £24m full service FM contract, but we would very much like the £2m engineering slice of that business because we have the specialist building engineering expertise – and that is the way the market is moving."

She believes the conditions are favourable for Linaker to achieve its planned growth from its current £12m turnover to £30m in three years – it has already seen a 10% surge in business in the early part of 2019.


The firm, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, is based in Oxted, Surrey and has offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Livingston and London with one scheduled to open in Manchester later this year. It employs 105 engineers and around 30 management staff.

It has more than 400 clients representing around £10m annual maintenance driven revenue – and carries out about £2m worth of installation projects every year.

“The only thing we don’t do is build from the ground up,” says Ms Curran. “We will do refurbs and retrofits – but the bulk of our business is in running the buildings.”

The company still has its very first client – a regional hairdressing business, which received free maintenance for the next 25 years as a quarter century anniversary present.

“We are a medium sized business that operates like a large one,” she explains. “These days clients want to buy a local maintenance service, which is why we have regional offices and locally-based engineers, but they also want all the compliance and health & safety support that comes with a properly structured national business.

“Currently, Linaker services up to £2m PPM, but if a client just wants a boiler service contract, we’re happy to do that too. All clients get an annual compliance report – whatever the contract size.

"It is challenging to work in this way, but it means we are properly set up on every contract and, as the business grows, we can cope because we have the systems in place," Ms Curran continues.

Linaker also employs customer managers, who are able to explain things to clients without sounding abrasive or talking down to them.

“Most of the time, the client doesn’t want to know what widget has gone wrong or why. They want to know how quickly we can fix it and how much it is going to cost. We have the technical skills, but these days competence is also about attitude and how you behave with clients.”

Being a member of the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) is also a key part of the business strategy, she states.

It uses the Association’s SFG20 planned maintenance tool on every job and enjoys the support of being part of the organisation.

“We couldn’t survive without SFG20,” says Ms Curran. “As soon as we price a tender we look at SFG20 to start planning the labour. It is also very important to feel part of something bigger and we like the fact that BESA is out there lobbying for our industry and making sure our voice is heard.”

She has spent 20 years in the sector working for major firms in business development, sales and customer relations roles – but also points out that she has picked up her fair share of technical expertise from “20 years of hanging around plant rooms”.

However, she very nearly did not get the Linaker job as her CV looked too “corporate”. Never one to duck a challenge, she managed to persuade the head-hunter to slot her in at the end of the approved list of interviewees – and then demonstrated to chairman Bill Harrison that she was the right candidate for the job.

She started in a customer relations role at George S Hall in Stoke. She had no engineering background, but was told the fact she could “talk to anyone”, was the most important qualification.

“They were quite cutting edge in those days as there weren’t many engineering firms with customer relationship managers,” says Ms Curran.

“It is something that has stuck with me all these years and I was please to find was a fundamental approach of Linaker”.


From setting up FM departments, bringing in a number of prestigious clients, including Daimler Chrysler to picking up the BIFM Award for Excellence in a Major Project for her work on the Johnson & Johnson Medical contract, integrated services started to become more popular.

She became the first female sales director appointed by the FM giant ISS where she spent two years running the property assets of a number of major City of London institutions, followed by moving out of sales for the first time and into operations at Kier.

There she ended up running a £300m division, but the move to Linaker last year was motivated by a desire to be part of something where she could “make a difference”.

“This is still very much a family business [Linaker is the maiden name of Mr Harrison’s wife]. It is a very different culture, which means the focus is not just on hitting financial targets, but watching other people grow and enjoying their successes too,” she says.

Ms Curran also spends one day a month on the road with the company’s engineers to keep her knowledge current and show them that she understands the pressures they face.

“Being a building services engineer can be extremely stressful. If there is water pouring down the stairs of a hotel and you are the person expected to fix it – that can be really tough.”

As a woman in a leading building services role, it is impossible for her to avoid the issue of the industry’s record on diversity, but she is not entirely comfortable with the debate.

"We always talk about ‘tackling’ diversity as if it is something we can take on and confront, but I think it should be more about making the right recruitment decisions. If you always pick the person best suited to the job, then over time more people will see they can advance in this industry.

"That means setting some prejudices and preconceptions aside to let talent reach the top.

“As a woman under 40, I am not in this job because they wanted to appoint someone from a ‘minority’. I know that Bill picked me because he recognised that I am right person for the job," Ms Curran concludes

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