ANDREW HULBERT IN LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM:
“FM IS FULL OF OPPORTUNITIES: I WAS A DIRECTOR AT 24”
In “The World of…” we’re flying around the world to visit facility managers in many different countries. This month we’re in London, United Kingdom for a special visit. We’re with Andrew who – just like us – is a young entrepreneur within FM, with a very inspiring career path. Welcome in The World of Andrew…
YES: It doesn’t happen that often that we meet young entrepreneurs in facility management so we’re really excited to speak with you! Did you study FM yourself?
Andrew: “I studied business management at the University of Essex and during this study there was a scheme that links small businesses with undergrads for an internship period. So, for this 8 week internship I was linked with a small FM service provider. At that point, I could tell that the FM sector wasn’t necessarily full of young people and instead of thinking “that’s not for me” I thought of it as an opportunity for a great career. After graduating I joined this small company fulltime. At first I was just responsible for sales, then I moved to operations fairly quickly, where I was responsible for about 11 service contracts and 50 employees. And I was only 21. I learned that you can really make a difference within FM and I learned a lot about the sector and worked with really cool clients. I just started to love FM right then and there.”
Y: But the story doesn’t end there…
A: “No it didn’t. So the company grew and grew, and I grew along with it.”
Y: That worked out really well for you, but would you recommend working with a small company to anyone? I’m sure it also brings risks.
A: “I would recommend all young FM’s to start with a small-medium size company because if you are doing well, you will start getting more and more responsibility. Much more than in a larger company. That having said, some smaller businesses thrive, but some fail so that’s a risk at all times. Also, I do think a small-medium company should match with who you are as a person – some people are just more comfortable in larger companies.”
Y: And when you thought things couldn’t get more exciting, the company was sold to engineering giant Bilfinger.
A: “Yes, before the sale I had been working as a director at the age of 24, responsible for a team of 250 people and a 12 million pound business unit to run. Even though I was young, it did feel right. I wasn’t the typical twenty-something going out on a Friday night, I would be writing reports and working on innovations. I am incredibly ambitious, very hungry to keep developing myself. Becoming part of Bilfinger was a big change when it comes to structure and processes. I stayed as a director for another two years, which was very good to gain experience in a corporate environment. Also, it was very nice to be in an environment with a lot of support: there are large departments for finance, tendering, marketing etc. You don’t have that in a smaller company.”
Y: Why did you make a switch to start your own business when your career is going so incredibly well?
A: “I wanted to build a business that was very flexible, dynamic, young, agile, a business that is able to deliver anything what a customer needs. I felt that was a new concept – larger organizations often can’t be that flexible because of their size. So I wanted to do that and I told my wife and she said “no way!”. I did it anyway because I really believed in it so I started Pareto FM (with a current£14 million turnover, staff of 120 and clients such as Paddy Power Betfair and Twitter). I figured that the worst possible situation was me losing my job, my house and my wife. As an entrepreneur you have to understand what’s on the line because it pushes you further. You really have to be incredibly driven to make it work. In the first year I did a lot of the work by myself even though we already had a turnover of £1,5 million pounds. Later on we had more experts coming in and our team grew. That’s when you have to start letting go: you have to trust that others can do it just as well as you can. Trust in people is incredibly critical, without them you can’t get anywhere.”
Y: What’s your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur?
A: “As you get bigger, it gets harder to find people that match your organization and your culture. For us, people are most important, we even have something called the Pareto personality because we’re humans that happen to have a job that we love. Culture is so important. Quick growth also brings with it new and interesting challenges but that is all part of the journey.”
Y: What’s your best memory in FM so far?
A: “At the very beginning of my career we were working for the TV studio’s, which I love because I’m really interested in celebrities. So one day I was in line to get lunch and Lady Gaga was right behind me in the queue. Another exciting moment was winning the Young Manager of the Year 2010 Award because it made me feel a great level of achievement. The same goes for winning the Great British Entrepreneurs Award last year because it showed me the progression I’d made and also how far forward the FM industry has come. And finally what I love about FM in general is that we get to experience buildings in different ways than others. Going up on rooftops in London are my favorite: you’ll have the most stunning views over the city. Views that people in other careers just don’t get to see.”
Y: Would that be the story you tell to get other young professionals to be involved with FM?
A: “Only 3% of people working in FM join as graduates straight from university. That means most people fall into joining the sector, which is a shame because it’s such a great sector. I think we have to turn the image around. A lot of people think of toilets and boilers when hearing about FM. I think of vibrant workspaces with the most brilliant people in the world working there, and FM being able to create that environment. So, the image needs to change. Also, a proper FM educational route needs to continue to be developed especially at BSc level. We are looking at The Netherlands a lot, as they are most developed in terms of education. They are the leader for having FM as a career of choice.”
Y: I indeed think that image and education are a very important step, not only in the UK but in a lot of countries worldwide. Last but not least: if you could choose to work anywhere in the world in any job – what would it be?
A: “Oh that should just be something very fun. For example being the Head of Marketing or Hospitality at Arsenal Football Club so I can enjoy the games from the executive box. Or Celebrity Liaison Manager at a large event space so I can work with celebrities all day. Think of the connections you’d make…”