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News & opinion

18 ABR 2018

A powerful catalyst for positive change in FM

Lawrence Melton is the CEO and President of The Building People, a global real estate and FM operations organisation he founded in 2013 with the ambition of driving efficiency, investment and performance for its clients. He has more than 20 years’ experience working in FM for the Federal Government, including a long term at the White House.

He is a member of IFMA; a Fellow of RICS, and an advisor to its board; the Vice Chair for Government Buildings for BOMA; and an Advisory Board Member for RealComm.

Here Lawrence describes why the IFMA-RICS collaboration is such a powerful catalyst for positive change in FM.

How did you start your career in FM?

I have been in the Facilities Management business for 25 years, of which 23 have been with General Services Administration (GSA), the Federal Government agency that is tasked with acquiring and managing public real estate. GSA manages a portfolio of more than 8,700 owned and leased properties throughout the US, which is approximately 370 million square feet of space.

I was always an FM enthusiast at heart, and trained within the public sector to be a facilities manager through formal intern and leadership development programs. While back in the 1980s and 1990s intern development programs were a necessity, today you don’t really see many of those types of highly-structured development programs in the Federal Government.

For the first ten years of my career I was focused on hard FM, but then I was lucky enough to spend six years managing the White House complex for the Executive Office of the President, which included the East Wing, West Wing and the Oval Office in Washington DC. The greatest job of a lifetime.

Following the White House role, I was fortunate to be recruited as Assistant Commissioner for Facilities Management for the GSA transitioning my career from operational roles into strategic management positions.

How did you become involved with RICS?

I am currently the Board lead for the International Sector at RICS. I have always been involved with industry bodies such as IFMA and BOMA, but as I started to work with RICS it became apparent that there was a higher probability of upskilling the FM workforce through my RICS affiliation. My colleagues at RICS have a professional background that enables me to collaborate more strategically. This environment enables me to learn and grow faster.

Why is the IFMA-RICS collaboration so exciting?

Through this collaboration I think there is a greater opportunity than ever for professionalising the FM workforce. To date, the FM industry has been inconsistent in its approach to training facilities managers for strategic management roles.

As an end-user, I think the number one benefit is global collaboration. There are thousands more constituents, partners and peers that you can collaborate with, or benchmark against. Also, from a global perspective, if I walk into the room with an internationally recognised designation it speaks volumes about my diversity and capabilities as a leader.

Tell us why facilities managers should upskill?

Increasingly, careers in FM are moving from the tactical, operational side of the business to the strategic management side of the business. This opportunity is brought into sharper focus by the threat of job losses in the operational area due to technology advances in automation and robotics.

Here, at The Building People, we know that automation and smarter buildings are really the way of the future. It’s happening, no matter what. But I think there are some in the industry who are still a little hesitant to adopt building automation or smart buildings. They kind of chuckle and say, ‘You know, smart buildings are going to put you out of a job’. My riposte is: ‘Smart buildings aren’t going to put you out of a job, but not knowing smart buildings will certainly put you out of a job’. Automation is happening to us, whether you like it or not. When it is being adopted in every other business, why would it not be adopted in FM?

Perversely, to some extent its adoption is being hindered by the lack of skilled professionals in the market. If you look at the United Arab Emirates (UAE), they have spent billions on infrastructure in recent years and now boast a phenomenal number of smart buildings. If you ask them what challenge they face, they will tell you that they don’t have enough people who understand how to get the best from that smart technology.

It’s the same in the US. We can bring technology and buildings together really easily, so much so that we can solve almost any FM problem with off-the-shelf solutions. We just don’t have the people with the skills to operate and manage it, so upskilling must be our focus.

Do you believe the collaboration will be a catalyst for cultural change in business?

Most companies in our industry are ambitious to the extent they want to build the most efficient space possible and are very open to a culture of collaboration and leveraging data to do that. However, the real innovators, those companies that are truly progressive, go a step further by focusing on the skillsets of their people. Which is why they have a more innovative workforce.

Those who are reticent to change find themselves just focussing on the transactional aspects. Collaboration enables FM professionals to gradually scale these certifications to a pragmatic program. I think they will look at their careers differently, and I don’t think that foresight ever existed before.

Find out more about IFMA-RICS, including standards, education and events