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Long days for Weekes!

Author : Tim Fryer

29 June 2012

George Weekes

At 27 George Weekes is at the upper age boundary to still qualify as FMA Young Manager of the Year. However, this young manager at Balfour Beatty has already managed some impressive projects. Tim Fryer asked him about his career to date and how he views the FM sector.

Weekes started out in Rochester in Kent and went to Canterbury University to read Geography and Computing – reflecting his successes at A level rather than any career plan. A vague notion to be a volcanologist soon vanished when he found there were limited career opportunities! So I asked what he was looking for in his was the first career move?

George Weekes: My real criteria was a good management training scheme. I had a few interviews in different sectors, but the one I really liked was with Haden as it was then [now Balfour Beatty Workplace]. They sold it really well, you got four different placements and moved around different sectors and there was a mix of functional and operational roles, so all those things were really good for me. It kept my options open. When I joined they put me in the IT department, which was a great insight and probably put me at an advantage, having an IT degree.

Haden was owned by Balfour Beatty when I joined so really all that has happened is the change of name to Balfour Beatty Workplace, it hasn’t really changed operationally at all. It was a consequence of the market moving towards TFM. Haden was well known in engineering, but moved to the bigger brand name of Balfour Beatty to get the bigger deals.

Tim Fryer: Was it mostly training or was there hands on responsibility from the word go?

GW: I guess I was lucky having the IT background because they gave me a couple of projects early on and told me to just roll with it and they were there if I needed them. The actually training courses were probably five or six a year, but they were quite intense and in-depth. It meant that when we were in an operational role could know what to ask and what to do and if you do that they soon have confidence in you and give you the responsibility, particularly as in the first two placements they were quite small teams. The third placement was with the Met Police. I was a year in and maybe they didn’t mind giving me a bit more responsibility but keeping an eye on me from a distance.

TF: Did you join at the right time in that it was when the project with the Met was starting to take off?

GW: Definitely - it was a big advantage for me being involved in the mobilisation from virtually day one – now I don’t think there is anybody from the BBW side who has worked on the contract longer. As I was Project Manager on the mobilisation I had to deal with the commercial side, the operational side, the HR side, the financial side – I was exposed to it all at an early stage. I had the chance, and the time, to read through the full contract, which was huge. I joined the team in about November and we mobilised in May so I had a full six months head start on everyone else. When I joined the company it was just at the time when a new intranet and web design was being introduced, so that was lucky. And when I went on to work at Chelsea and Westminster hospital it was just at the time when they were putting in a new monthly review process and they needed someone to manage the client with them so I came along at the right time for that too.

TF: But clearly it is not all down to luck?

GW: No, I believe you have to take your opportunities. I could have sat in the meeting with the Chelsea & Westminster and not put my hand up for the role. And with the Met Police there have been restructures which have resulted in me getting promotions as they presented an opportunity where I could show what I could do. The last promotion to Senior Op Manager wasn’t a structural thing, the opportunity just came up and I went for it, but the other all came up at the right times for me and allowed me to be assessed against my peers. The company works as a hierarchy, so you can compete with other people at your level and if you are the best you get promoted. It is on merit rather than years’ service.

TF: I got the impression you spent most of your time working on the Met Police contract?

GW: Most of it, but since my entry [to the Young Manager Awards] I have added Crossrail to my portfolio since September, which is about £1m - £1.5m contract although it is not like Met Police or London Fire. It’s not a standard FM contract, it’s in the nature of Crossrail really where they are compulsory purchasing pieces of land and then they have to look after those pieces of land for different amounts of time - to secure it or maintain it and we are partnering them with that.

Then I have got London Fire just starting. It’s a pretty standard FM contract. It is just hard services, no cleaning or security. It has its own dedicated team and dedicated manager. So I do oversee both of these, and with Met Police I have three contracts on the go at the moment, but I spend most time on the Met.

TF: When did you think decide FM was for you?

GW: Probably about 18 months into my training. The first six months was really IT which I imagine would have been similar in many companies. But when I started going into operations and mobilising the big contracts I became aware of how we could affect the P&Ls and I was managing staff. And so I started to realise this was pretty good for me. Its what I like, it is flexible, it is quite new as an industry and still changing. And that all appeals to me. I have to say that the company has supported me as I have grown into management.

TF: Do you see yourself as a facilities manager?

GW: It’s a good point because I probably spend at least half my time not doing facilities management, I am doing people management – particularly since I made that move from managing engineers and cleaners to managing managers. But what we are doing is facilities management so I suppose that is what I am. I need to keep up with the skills, I need to be aware of the business.

TF: What qualifications do you have?

GW: Obviously the Haden management training is only recognised in house, but the company are very good at supporting training if there is a good reason for it. For example when I was doing the project management side the qualification I associated with project management most was Prince2, and although I didn’t get to go on a nice fancy course I got to study it at home and got my Prince2 qualification through distance learning. I took over water treatment on this contract a couple of years ago, so I did my City & Guilds in water treatment. I am now doing an MBA in Business Administration. I have also submitted to be a Chartered Surveyor in Facilities Management with the RICS and the company has committed to me through all that sort of stuff. They don’t put it on a plate for you – you need to ask and negotiate to do it – you need to be a bit flexible and a bit determined. I got turned down to do my Masters a few times before getting it okayed.

TF: What do you like about facilities management?

GW: Like I say, its gone through a couple of changes. When I started it seemed to be very individual service lines, like engineering and security all very separate. The TFM bundling really only came about four or five years ago, and coincided with our company name change, as companies looked to offer the bigger options. Now that we are into the bundled contracts, like this one, it is quite exciting. It is good and I can see the advantages. I can see how the clients and the industry are still learning – we’ve done it that way and now we are going to do it this way. And now it seems to be we are into this whole integrated model where we have an even smaller client, a layer of a commercial company in a service delivery model, and I guess we are going to sit in the self-delivery part rather than the commercial company. It will be another interesting thing to try out, another way to deliver contracts. Not all companies are going the same way. It seems that industry is still trying new things and finding out what is the best way. There are the different sorts of contracts, different ways of applying them and working with clients. So what I think is good about facilities management is that it is not stagnant. It is always looking for the best fit. It is always looking to reinvent itself.

TF: Anything you would like to do more or less of?

GW: I like to see how different clients approach contracts in different ways, some work as true partnerships. It’s down to personalities I guess on both sides. So I like this interaction. I do like working with people and I like working with my team. I like setting them targets and I like sharing the rewards when we do well.

What I don’t like. Obviously I don’t like going through redundancy programmes. It’s not like sacking someone when they have done something wrong or performed badly, at least there is a reason there. But redundancies, especially if it is short-sighted redundancies, are often difficult. You have to put your own feelings aside and deal with whatever you have to deal with.

TF: Any big challenges, particularly in legislation?

GW: Well the corporate manslaughter act is always there, which focuses the mind, as health and safety has to be at the top of all of our list of responsibilities. So it is not a bad thing, but it is a big challenge, particularly on a mobile site – I don’t think industry or legislation has really answered the question about mobile working and lone working to the same detail as when dealing with a fixed site.

TF: Who has helped you along the way?

GW: I have been very lucky at Balfour Beatty. There have been people who have given me the opportunities, tutored me and in some cases just taken the time out to help me. I have been both mentored and tutored throughout my time at the company. Both of my Directors have spent individual time with me, Paul Cooper and Martin Burholt, which has been really helpful. Other senior people like Steve Gibbs, Gordon Vance and James Pepper have been really supportive. The good thing about all five of those people I have mentioned is that they all have a similar approach to problems, an open mind. What are the options and what is the best way to resolve an issue? They don’t just look at achieving an okay performance and I guess that is why they have done well – they are always looking to improve things and that is how I try and approach things.

TF: What have been your career highlights so far?

GW: We have a had a really great year with the Met Police and it has been great to get to where we have as a team and I think that I have grown with this contract over the five years. Obviously winning this award is fantastic, but it really is a team effort too – it is as much for the rest of them as it is for me. From the staff delivering the works, to the customer service managers and area managers, everyone deserves credit for what we have achieved. And now I have the opportunity to run these two smaller contracts myself. Mould them how I want to mould them.

TF: What would be the dream job?

GW: I suppose in the shorter term something to do with sport because I am sporting person. Maybe something like Wembley where we were not just dealing with engineering or cleaning but a total support function. That would suit me.

TF: What about the Olympics, what sort of impact has that had on your operation with the Met Police?

GW: The Olympics has probably been the biggest topic for the last six months or so. A day doesn’t go by now without something to do with the Olympics and how we are gearing up for it. We work in sectors and in our sector we have staff at a few of the venues like the Orbit and the Aquatics Centre [engineering support], we have the Fire Brigade and the Met Police so we have a whole load of staff working in that area. Most people would say that they wanted to scale down during the Olympics, but the people we support are doing exactly the opposite. They want more. We are doing as much as possible in advance, all the statutory and planned maintenance we have bought forward to get it all out of the way.

TF: What do you do outside work?

GW: I like sport, I’m a Chelsea fan, and music, but every year I like to take on a challenge to keep me out of the pub. This year I am doing Land’s End to John O’Groats on the bike. Last year I did the three peaks, and the year before I did the Edinburgh marathon, so every year I keep it to one big challenge.

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