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Lloyd's Register's Fiona Bowman: The Steel Magnolia of FM

09 July 2013

Ambitious, feisty and shrewd, Fiona Bowman’s challenging past has persuaded her to speak out to support young people in FM. Meet the head FM of Lloyd's Register.

It would be easy to misjudge Fiona Bowman. She has a pleasant, open countenance and a soothing Scottish lilt, still unmistakable despite her 25 years in England. But don’t be fooled: her gentle exterior belies a flinty inner resolve that slowly evolved after she experienced harrowing domestic abuse in her twenties.

In response to a suggestion to nickname her ‘the Iron Lady of FM’, however, Bowman demurs. ‘’I definitely don’t like that reference,’’ she says. ‘’Too much of a Margaret Thatcher reflection. What about ‘Steel Magnolia’?’’

She’s originally from Scotland, where she left school and started out training as a nurse. She then moved on to being a bank cashier before arriving in London 25 years ago, escaping an abusive relationship which left her emotionally, physically and spiritually scarred.

She started again from scratch, picking up the pieces of her life by moving on. “When I arrived in London I worked for Standard Chartered Bank as a Foreign Exchange Supervisor before going into their training department as an administrator. After being made redundant in the Financial Crash of 1988, circumstance catapulted me into my next role – as a department administrator at the National Hospital for Neurology at Queen’s Square in London, a big teaching hospital.’’
At this point Bowman’s role morphed and she became building manager, which she enjoyed because she was ‘taking on all these different bits of the operational management. I ran the nurse training centre and room bookings and gradually started to absorb more and more building management roles’.

She saw a role at London South Bank University, so went into higher education and became a faculty manager. ‘’I ran the student record system as well as the building itself through a central premises function. It was an interesting place. From there I moved to working for HSBC in Barking taking on a refurbishment project which gave me a much wider understanding of property and refit while working with key HSBC property professionals.‘’

Bowman then worked as a property manager for Goldman Sachs for five years – it was, she recalls ‘a baptism of fire’. ‘’My boss had been a major in the army and his people management skills were phenomenal. But he pushed me to limits I didn’t know I had. It was 24-7 and I got extensive experience. Being a glutton for punishment while working there I decided to do a part-time MBA Course. My thesis was called ‘In pursuit of service excellence’.’’

After Goldman Sachs, Bowman set up her own business as a FM consultant but after a few years of ‘fascinating projects, working with small organisations’, she decided to return to full-time paid employment for personal reasons. ‘’She worked for OCS as a FM in a private secure mental hospital in Essex, which she describes as ‘hilarious, sad, funny and challenging – all in one’, but which she turned around. She then accepted an offer to run the Lloyd’s of London building, where she worked for ISS. Here, Bowman said she had to imprint her own method of managing, which meant a strong adherence to rules and regulations.

When she left, a member of Bowman’s crew told her: ‘’We really hated you when you started but at least we always knew where we stood.”

She can, Bowman admits, be ‘a hard taskmaster, because some people will take advantage if they’re not firmly managed. It’s about making decisions, sometimes very tough decisions, and being clear and consistent. Some managers shy away from that’.

She is now determined to ‘give back’ to the profession by showing people it’s not a ‘straight route, you can move around and adapt. What you need are the key skills, the basics.’ And, Bowman adds, it’s about being helped on your way. ‘’Nobody has ever given me a hand up, which I find sad,’’ she says. If I can help a young FM step up and shine, then I’ll be satisfied.

‘’There are so many things in FM women aren’t expected to know. At a recent event, for instance, the topic turned to compressors and one of the men said to me: ‘Well, you wouldn’t really know anything about them, would you?’, and I said, smiling, ‘No, of course not,’ before changing the subject and walking away.

’’It illustrates there still seems to be a strong opinion on both sides that only men know about engineering and managing buildings. I know huge amounts about buildings and how they work. I don’t need to know every little detail but I’m familiar with the overarching stuff, and that’s important. The secret is you shouldn’t try to be a specialist at everything – instead, bring people alongside you who are specialists. Value and support them and they become your gurus.’’

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