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Hall of Fame – 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award

Author : Tim Fryer

22 October 2012

John Ellis

John Ellis is one of the people credited with forming the FM industry we know today. The reception he received when he was announced as winner of the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award was proof that his peers recognise John’s contribution. As we prepare to unveil the 2012 winners in early November, it is a fitting time to fill up the 2011 Hall of Fame. Tim Fryer went to talk to John at Freidman FM, the company he now manages, to talk about his career and get his views on the FM sector.

Tim Fryer: How did you get into FM and outline your career?

John Ellis: I trained in a heavy engineering company, and like many others at that time they went through difficult times and sold part of their business to Carrier Engineering. Unfortunately I was made redundant. During the last few weeks there I was asked to attend a meeting with Carrier After Sales Service in Croydon, which provided service and maintenance on air conditioning and refrigeration equipment. I was offered a job and I joined them in December 1973, starting my journey into Facilities Management.

Sometime later Haden Young bought Carrier and put the after sales service business together with Haden’s heating and ventilation service team to create Haden Carrier Maintenance, latterly known as Haden Maintenance. I helped establish Haden Maintenance International in 1979 and it was at this time I experienced a total service package which was referred to then as a ‘turnkey’ project.

The first overseas contract secured was for the Jordanian Army for their new Medina Hospital complex. We provided all services, hard and soft; even service on medical equipment. The only exception was the employment of doctors and nurses.

From 1984 to 1990 I was privileged to work for MJN, today now known as Integral, developing their business in the south east. Great little company with fantastic people. This was followed by Flakt service which I joined as Managing Director of the UK service business. It was at this time that one of our customers, IBM, enquired what else we could provide. We suggested cleaning and other services. They gave us a million pound contract for M&E and subsidiary services.

In June 1990 I re-joined Haden to head up their new company, Haden Facilities Management. This business grew from a clean sheet of paper to £35m employing 500 people in just seven years.

At the beginning of 1997 I was approached by Haden MacLellan Holdings to join them as Managing Director of their Services Division. In 1998 I formed MacLellan International which provided facilities management in Europe, Asia, North and South America. What changed MacLellan International was winning the contract for Bluewater. At the time I was basing service philosophy around the principle that if you meet or exceed what you promise then the contract will grow and will have longevity. We had to do something different to win this prestigious contract so we sent four team members to Disney to go behind the scenes to see how their process, systems and front of house delivery worked. On their return we prepared the bid with a completely different approach and our presentation blew the Lend Lease team away. We won the contract worth £8m per annum, which changed the company completely.

We were winning work with our service delivery and the quality of the people we employed. This was recognised by a little company called Jordec, who in June 2000 acquired MacLellan International. Jordec being a smaller business did a reverse buyout and MacLellan PLC was born, MacLellan International becoming part of MacLellan PLC. I became an Executive director of the Group and remained Managing Director of MacLellan International. We set about a strategy of growth and grew the business from about £35m to £265m in six years. In June 2006 Maclellan was acquired by Interserve.

The culture of MacLellan was built around great service delivery and training people to aspire to greater things for the business. We helped many managers to grow and develop themselves, building on their knowledge and experience.

I started Freidman FM in the summer of 2008 and based it on the service delivery model we’d developed in Jordan and perfected at MacLellan, which is recognized for its quality, its value and the people who deliver it. Gradually we have grown and grown, more by reputation than by us tendering. As an endorsement of this philosophy we were thrilled to be recognized in 2010 not only with a PFM award for services in the Education category but also with the prize for the best contract in the Overall Award.

TF: So what is the motivation for you if this is the fourth time that you have taken a company from nothing to a natural cut-off point and then start again.

JE: It’s a great business. It’s a fantastic business and there are some really superb and brilliant people within it. You meet all sorts of characters, all sorts of backgrounds which is stimulating. No one day is like another. And what I like about the business is the challenges within it. There are exasperating days, annoying days, but on the other hand there are exhilarating days, fantastic days and you get that balance. It is never boring. I just find it a great industry to be in and that is why I think that young people should be made aware of it.

TF: But do you think FM is on the radar of young people?

JE: The awareness level is not as high as it should to entice young people to join the Industry. I think the FMA are doing a great job to try and remedy this. I’m not entirely sure a lot of people understand this sector. This was one of the reasons 16 or so years ago that I founded the Facilities Management Association with Mary Taffler and Maurice Tidy. I also said at that time that I wanted a formal Young Managers Award to get the recognition - that has grown from strength to strength.

TF: Is the FMA delivering what you hoped it would?

JE: I think it does. If you look at the membership it has grown and if it hadn’t been achieving its objectives it wouldn’t be growing. Its involvement with schools and colleges and with the CBI helps to create awareness of the industry – which it needs. It needs recognition at a higher level within government. The FMA is a great vehicle for the employer and the BIFM is great for the individual. It is like having the HVCA [now the B&ES] for the contractor and CIBSE for the individual – it is the same model and it works.

TF: What are the stand-out moments in your career?

JE: I think going back to Haden International and winning the Jordanian contract was special. The next thing that would be being at the birth of Haden Facilities Management and the next couple of things were with MacLellan – developing this management programme with the team and allowing young managers to develop within the company.

The accolade of winning PFM Awards was really quite something and what must top everything else was the Lifetime Achievement Award. Being recognised by your peers for what you have done for the industry was exhilarating and quite humbling.

TF: Do you see yourself as playing a role in the formalisation of FM as a function?

JE: I certainly wouldn’t go that far, but I think the MacLellan training programme helped a lot of people, whether they stayed at Interserve or moved on. I think they have found themselves in better positions having had the opportunity to enjoy the MacLellan Management Development Programme.

TF: What of the current status of the FM?

JE: I think there is still a way to go - the status has been recognised but not at the level I would like. I think it should be a board level position,

TF: What are the best aspects of FM?

JE: The great thing about FM is the variety of it. We are not going to the same job every time; that is what makes it really challenging and taxes you – energy, health and safety and all the rest. I also get the opportunity to see behind the scenes of buildings that people are not even aware exist.

TF: What about the role of FMs in the future?

JE: The industry will continue to develop and has longevity. I think some companies will take services back in house. I would like to see contracts with longer durations as this helps give a strong basis for career development. Sometimes if a contract is too short, maybe only a couple of years, then people think they will be moving on too soon. You have to have a contract that gives a company time to let their people develop.

TF: And what has been your secret ingredient?

JE: I believe you have got to be a leader and not a boss. Anyone can be a boss. A leader inspires people, radiates security, shows what is wrong and how this can be corrected and tries to get the best out of people. He isn’t afraid to listen and to see them succeed either.

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