How I Got Here: Brookfield Properties’ Chris Grace on paying it forward to the successive generation

by Helena Morgan
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Some people think facilities and operations managers just make sure the lifts are running and the lights are on. In reality, an FM wears many hats. From space management to sustainability and security in the built environment, responsibilities can vary from FM to FM. It’s a career full of opportunity that takes people down many different paths.

Facility Management’s ‘How I Got Here’ series chats to impressive people who have worked in the field to map out some of the paths taken and demystify this essential profession.

To those who are unsure about the specific roles and responsibilities of a facility manager, even the family of Brookfield Properties‘ senior facilities manager Chris Grace doesn’t fully comprehend the inner workings of his job. “For people who aren’t in our industry, it can be tough to comprehend what a facilities manager actually does,” says Grace. 

Despite the likelihood of facility management falling victim to false assumptions and misunderstandings, Grace is forever inspired by a career that demands attentiveness,  willingness to experiment and collaborate, and a knack for problem-solving.

The power of gratitude and mentors

Grace boasts a storied career – an electrician by trade whose curiosity was piqued by the variety and scope of facility management. He has worked at The West Australian newspaper and the West Australian Museum, and now heads up the post of senior facilities manager for the Western Australian Brookfield portfolio. This role has come with a rewarding – albeit challenging – highlight for Grace of leading One The Esplanade’s transition from development to operations. 

He is forever excited by the advent of every facility manager having a different way of tackling issues and believes transparent and honest communication is paramount. The time-sensitive nature of requests as a facility manager necessitates a tight grasp on spinning plates and managing priorities. 

Grace possesses an intact sense of self-belief and accountability, alongside unshakable gratitude for his mentors, who encouraged him to move from an electrical trade to facilities management. This support early in his career has inspired him to act as a mentor for his team and pass on the baton to the next generation with warmth and care. 

Facility Management: Talk through your career background and education what led you to be a senior facilities manager at Brookfield Properties.

Chris Grace: I’m an electrician by trade. I started my apprenticeship in Perth in 2004 and became a Service Electrician in 2008. 

My first gig in facilities management was at the headquarters of The West Australian in 2010. I started as a contractor but quickly got to know their building engineer – which was how we referred to facility managers back then – and he convinced me to jump into the role alongside him. 

He was my first mentor, and I stayed at The West Australian for about four years. I found the role interesting and varied, compared to being on the tools, and the opportunity to learn new systems and disciplines was exciting for me.

After being exposed to the world of FM, I was eager to learn and experience more. I ended up at the WA Museum in 2014, where I handled large capital works and was introduced to a diverse array of buildings and systems. It was a two-year contract role, but I got to work on some great projects, such as installing new stairs on a historic submarine as part of a major exhibit. I joined BGIS in 2016, then Brookfield Properties in 2018 as the facilities manager at Brookfield Place Perth.

In 2022, I was appointed as lead facilities manager to help transition our latest development, One the Esplanade, from development into the operations phase as the lead facilities manager. I’ve currently taken on the role of senior facilities manager for the WA Brookfield portfolio, and lead a team of nine facility managers across five assets.

What does an average day look like for you?

Every morning the facilities team comes in a little early to chat. I enjoy our morning ritual, sharing a coffee and talking about the projects we have coming up. We all face different challenges and take individual approaches to problem-solving. It’s great to bounce ideas off each other and see their perspectives.

I generally start by taking a walk through the assets and checking in with my team. Each asset in Brookfield Properties’ WA portfolio sits close to the next, making them nice and walkable!

Throughout any given day I generally manage progress reports and have three-to- five meetings – either with tenants, direct reports or contractors. I also try to keep up to speed with my emails and attend to internal and tenant requests.

Once my day is over, I find joy in hanging out with my two kids, aged two and four, and I like to get to the gym as often as I can – which is more or less every day! It’s a great way to switch off, especially if I’ve been in back-to-back meetings or involved in big, complex projects.

What are your responsibilities and who are your stakeholders?

My responsibilities mainly include progress reports, overseeing contractual and safety compliance, budget planning, maintaining strong relationships with tenants, and ensuring that the portfolio meets its sustainability targets.

My stakeholders are the tenants of our assets, many of which are high-profile blue-chip companies, law firms and the “big four” financial companies. I also work closely with our contractors and service delivery partners to ensure they comply with safety protocols and meet KPIs.

What other departments do you work with?

I work quite closely with the development team at Brookfield Properties. We are currently in the process of delivering Nine The Esplanade – located next door to One The Esplanade. We are passionate about making sure the development is well-equipped and highly functional from a facilities perspective.

I also work with the national operations team and property managers across Brookfield Properties’ WA assets. As I’m a senior facilities manager, I have nine facilities managers reporting to me, so I look after them and check in with them regularly.

Do you find the skills acquired in your electrical trade benefit your role as a facilities manager?

Absolutely. My trade background gave me a good foundation to understand the operation of all building services, and not just electrical, but also areas such as hydraulics and HVAC.

Trade experience is advantageous when drilling down to the core of an issue, therefore saving valuable time and money on potential callouts from contractors.

We can plan works effectively to reduce issues onsite and any downtime by understanding the issues contractors face. As I understand the roles and responsibilities of the contractors on site, we can better oversee the work that they do.

What are the biggest challenges and obstacles of your job?

My role comes with a significant workload, so the biggest challenge for me is managing competing priorities and juggling various stakeholders. 

That’s the thing about FM – everyone’s request is generally urgent. There is a lot in the way of finding solutions and managing expectations on a day-to-day basis. Communicating effectively is key.

Are there any misconceptions about facilities management that you’d like to address? What do you think people envision when you say you’re a facilities manager, and how does that differ from reality?

To the people who aren’t in our industry, it can be tough to comprehend what a facilities manager actually does. Even my own family doesn’t understand what I do all day!

In reality, FM means planning, maintenance, capital works, inspections, audits and responding to incidents – it’s quite varied. The pathways to a career in FM are varied as well. You can come from a trade, security, soft services or compliance background and this variety helps. It’s ideal to work with a team of people who all have various strengths because of those different backgrounds.

What are some career or industry highlights?

I think one of my biggest career highlights is being involved in One The Esplanade’s development. I was given the opportunity to lead the building’s transition from development to operations, and it was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my career. There was a lot of time spent making sure that we delivered a best-in- class asset.

Another highlight for me was getting the gig as senior facilities manager this year. Even being considered for the role was a humbling moment for me. The support I’ve received since joining the Brookfield Properties team has allowed my career to really take off.

Speak about your aspiration to become a mentor to your team – how did your mentors encourage you?

Without finding mentors earlier in my career – especially those who encouraged the jump from an electrical trade to facilities management – I wouldn’t be here today. My mentors have backed me up, supported my learning and encouraged me to embrace  my next challenge. I want to be able to provide that to others.

People may know what to do at work, but sometimes they want a second opinion or advice from someone with a little more experience, and I want to be that person for them. Even if someone makes a mistake, I want them to feel like they have someone to support them and help them learn from it.

What qualities and attributes make a great facilities manager?

Nobody has all the answers. In fact, in facility management, there’s often more than one answer to a problem. For me, a great facilities manager has curiosity and an eagerness to continue learning.

It’s also important to have empathy, openness and honesty when it comes to handling tenants and contractors. When you’re looking for a solution, it helps to be able to listen and see problems from their perspective and offer meaningful support.

What do you love the most about your job?

The highlight of my job is the people I work with. Catching up with my colleagues, sharing a coffee and having a laugh – I always look forward to that. Everyone in the Brookfield Properties team brings their A-game and I feel like every day is a school day because I’m always learning something new.

I also love being part of large developments like One The Esplanade and Nine The Esplanade. It’s very satisfying to see a building go from a hole in the ground to being part of the Perth skyline.

Photography supplied by Brookfield Properties.

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