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Ahead of the curve

Published on: 3 Jul 2017

Jamie Harris speaks to Russell Wood – an ambitious facilities manager who has climbed his career ladder “about five or six years sooner than expected”. His company, Close Brothers Asset Management, has been rewarded through putting its faith in him. Here, he details what he’s learned along the way about hitting the ground running.

Russell Wood is a  facilities management professional, currently working at Close Brothers Asset Management. He began his FM career as a facilities assistant at Mills & Reeve, where the facilities manager went on maternity leave after Wood was less than 18 months into his role.

He was given the opportunity to fill the facilities manager’s shoes, overseeing 7,000 square feet of office space at the law firm.

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted the responsibility, but if I’m honest the salary was particularly appealing at that age,” explains Wood.

The FM decided not to return to work after maternity leave, so Wood took on the additional responsibility full time, which included managing budgets and being accountable for internal space planning and office moves. This would not be the last time that he would be offered the chance to take on additional responsibility.

In 2014, Wood joined Close Brothers Asset Management based in their London office.

Flag with man“We were supported remotely by another part of the Close Brothers group in the London office and by local staff in most of the other regional offices. There was no integrated function for FM in the business and I was recruited to bring the London office initially up to speed.”

Less than a year after joining the business, Wood had a conversation with his finance director in which he suggested he could take on more than just the London office when the time felt right.

“There was a relocation project on the horizon and I was asked if I minded travelling around the UK. A week later, the company invested in me to become the head of facilities.

“The previous contractor in the role was also responsible for property management. I started to take that element on as well, working closely and being supported by a consultant.”

Wood is now responsible for nine offices across the UK, from the London head office to regional sites in Northwich, Bristol, Gatwick, Midlands, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“I’m working more on property-related matters now than I had ever imagined – I find it just as interesting as the FM side of the role. As for the FM department, I needed to build in a more integrated concept of health and safety, consistency in FM delivery, duty of care and the like. We are getting there.”

The crux of the matter is that Wood has been given these opportunities by putting himself up for positions that many FMs, broadly speaking, wouldn’t deem themselves ‘ready’ for.

“I think I’ve got to where I am now about five or six years sooner than expected,” he says.

“The business and my finance director have backed me significantly and while certain elements have been a big learning curve such as property management, responsibility of delivering an efficient department and dealing with business acquisitions/disposals I’ve been enthused by stepping up and delivering those objectives.”

So what does it take for an FM to succeed given the chance of a senior FM role? To the right, Wood shares some of his advice based on his experience so far in his career.

Advice to FMs on managing your promotion:

1. There’s plenty to learn

“There’s a lot to learn from a lot of people – get out and speak to those peers who have similar roles to you. Try to understand what they do, what people are expecting from FM roles and departments in other organisations. You’ll then be able to see if there are any gaps in FM delivery – both in your own knowledge and in your organisation. Introduce yourself to good advisers, consultants and contractors and throw yourself into conversations where your knowledge may be lacking. Relationship building is important and I am fortunate to have worked with and met some very good contacts.”

2. Set high standards

“Be ambitious – set yourself high targets. My initial, and rather ambitious, goal when joining Close Brothers was to progress to a ‘head of’ role within a few years. It may not pan out exactly as you imagine it, as there are plenty of other factors to take into account, but if you don’t aim high, you’ll remain stagnant in your role. Your own career ‘ceiling’ is as high as you want it to be.”

3. Back yourself

“Have conversations with your superiors, and back yourself to take the step up. Passion to progress and succeed can only be perceived as a good thing. Most upwards moves will involve some aspect of learning on the job, or being thrust into unknown territory. If you don’t believe that you’re capable (nor will your superiors), you’ll never take the leap and make the move!”

4. Back your team

“I’ve been very fortunate with my line managers in my career to date. They have listened to my business cases for training and development. Not only have they had the will to dig deep into their pockets, but they have got to know me on a personal level as well. With the correct attitude your team can be as good as you want them to be. Give them time, advice and the chances to learn new skills. They have to start somewhere to gain that experience. Growing the experience of your team will give you greater comfort and the ability to comfortably and effectively delegate.”

5. Ask questions

“Nobody is perfect. While you may be the subject matter expert in your business there will still be some gaps in your knowledge. Build those relationships with peers and I’m sure they would offer you some free advice – ensure they do not put a limit on that ‘free’ advice, though!”