How I Got Here: CBRE facilities manager Deborah Nazareth

by Sophie Berrill
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Deborah Nazareth

Even though so many things are getting automated over time, people are still going to need people.

Some people think facilities managers just make sure the lifts are running and 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 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 often-misunderstood yet essential profession.

This week, we speak to Deborah Nazareth, a facilities manager at CBRE. Like many people, Nazareth had no idea what FM was when she first heard about a job opening at CBRE. Now she’s “all in”. With experience in construction, a mortgage broking course under her belt and a Bachelor of Property and Real Estate underway, Nazareth takes a holistic approach to the industry.

Facility Management: What sort of work had you done prior to becoming a facilities manager?

Deborah Nazareth: I started working in retail when I was in high school. When I finished school I wanted to be an accountant, so I went to university and then I was working as an assistant accountant for eight years.

I just felt like there was no joy in accounting because no matter how hard you worked there was just nothing at the end of it. So I moved onto working in sales, where I sold land. 

I then worked in general real estate and I also worked for a builder, which was such an amazing job. I loved it because I got to help people and take them through the building process. I got to walk through buildings under construction and that’s when I realised that I loved property.

I was doing those different things until I started chatting with a friend that I had worked with when I was in accounting. He had since become an FM, working for CBRE. 

He said: “We’ve got a position open, why don’t you come and work for me? Let’s work together again. It’ll be really fun.” I said, “I don’t even know what you do.” He’s like, “I’m an FM.” 

“What is an FM?” I had absolutely no idea. But he said, “Come in for an interview, I’ll give you the position description, let’s just chat.” 

I started as a facilities coordinator, then I moved to an assistant facilities manager, now I’m a facilities manager.

FM: When you were working for the builder, did you gain that understanding of buildings from a construction point of view?

DN: I did. I went through many plans and did a mortgage broking course as well. I’m one of those people who are all in. If I want to learn something I’ll just throw everything at it. 

At the moment, in addition to working full-time in property, I’m also doing a Bachelor of Property and Real Estate. I loved one of the recent assignments because I got to value a corporate office building. I got to talk about the landscape and the economy and how these all affect it. 

It was interesting because when you’re an FM, you look at things on a micro level. You have a look at the day-to-day and the operations, but pulling it back, you then start seeing things on another level and you start looking at the market as a whole: the leasing trends, the economy and how that’s all coming into play.

FM: Do you feel that property is quite a secure industry to be in?

DN: Yeah, I think so. To be honest, I know there’s a lot of vacancy in the market. But, especially for FMs, if you throw yourself into it and are really good at what you do, you’re never going to be worried about not having a job. Even though so many things are getting automated over time, people are still going to need people. They’ll still want something face-to-face, they’ll want to have conversations. 

FM: What does your current role involve on a day-to-day basis?

DN: Generally I would say that I solve problems. It could be anything. I just had a meeting with a tenant who is having some issues on an operational basis. He’s running a pub and he’s got a lot of kegs that come in, but not a lot of storage space. So I was working with him to figure out, “Okay, so what can we do to fix this problem?”

Before that, I was walking through a vacant tenancy and we were working out how we’re going to lease it. While I arranged works to be completed by my handyman and cleaners, the property manager is generally the point of contact for the leasing agents. I did the prep work to make the tenancy look presentable for photos and for potential future tenants to view.

Earlier, I had a meeting with accountants to talk about the budget and what our spend is.

FM: In your current role you manage 737 Bourke Street. Do you manage any others?

DN: It’s just this one. 737 Bourke Street is an A-grade office building with some retail at the bottom. 

I generally have worked across a lot of buildings in the past – probably seven to eight at any given time. It’s a very different lifestyle though, you’re always on call. You try and visit all the buildings as much as you can and you give them as much love as you can, but it’s nice being on the one because you can give everything to the building, to the tenants, to the contractors, and you get to do what you’re doing well.

FM: Do you have a particular focus in your job, like operations or space management, or is it a catch-all?

DN: It’s everything. It’s basically whatever’s needed of me. FMs traditionally used to be ex-tradies and they only knew their trade and then they’d go and learn other trades, but now there are FMs from so many different backgrounds. When I started I was the only female working with 25 men. There are a lot more females now, which is great. 

We’ve started to connect. Sometimes I’ll have one of my colleagues call me and say, “Hey, this is coming up, I know that you’re really good at this. Can you help me?” And I’ll do the same. It’s very helpful because we all know where our strengths and weaknesses lie and we support each other.

At the moment I feel like there aren’t a lot of buildings that have EV charging stations, but it will just expand.

FM: Are there any parts of your job that might surprise some people, or that surprised you when you were going into the role?

DN: Before I moved to CBRE, I didn’t know what an FM did. I thought buildings ran themselves. And I feel like I’m still educating friends because I tell them about things that I’ve done and they’re like, “People do that?” They just think that it’s all automated. 

You fix things, you do things, you make things happen. Whenever people have problems, you’re there to solve them.

FM: Is it quite hard working in a job where you’re mostly called upon when things are going wrong?

DN: It can make it interesting. Some days are all over the place. You can plan so much and you can say, “I’m going to achieve all of these things.” You can delegate time to everything, but in reality, if an emergency happens and you need to evacuate the building, that takes precedence and you don’t get to do those other things. 

Whatever happens, you just need to react, but you still need to find a way of fitting all the jigsaw puzzle pieces together to make everything happen.

FM: What are some of the major trends you see in office building management?

DN: We are getting more EV charging stations. When I drive through the carpark, I see more Teslas and electric vehicles, and it’s probably going to be quite widespread. At the moment I feel like there aren’t a lot of buildings that have EV charging stations, but it will just expand. 

I’ve been speaking to consultants who’ve been advising on it. I’ve been speaking to our sustainability consultants about the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) ramifications because people don’t think about that. Any type of energy usage, you’re going to need to take that into account. And you’re also looking at it from another point of view: what can we do to attract tenants? Because vacancy rates are so high at the moment. 

Coming out of COVID, a lot of people are used to working from home, so there aren’t a lot of people who want to come into the office. As a result, offices are now focusing on wellness spaces and making the workplace a fun place that you want to be. People are now coming back in because of that. There’s a shift in terms of tenants. We want to attract tenants, we want them to be here, we want to do activations and engage them. 

Sometimes buildings can do giveaways or we celebrate certain things like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, International Women’s Day, Movember, Christmas, Easter, all that kind of stuff. It’s fun to celebrate it and it’s great because then we get interaction with the tenants as well, and they get excited about coming in because they know that stuff’s happening. 

FM: Do you use quite a lot of building management technology in your role?

DN: We have so many portals, log-ins and different systems to manage, monitor, maintain and analyse everything. But we also still do walk-throughs and I think that’s probably never going to go away, because as much as we can try and put everything online, it’s not going to be the same as physically walking through the building, seeing things, hearing things and smelling things. FMs actually use a lot of their senses, which is bizarre to think about but it’s not something that you can ever replace. 

Sometimes I’ll have tenants where it’s really easy to manage issues with them if they see you face-to-face. They know that you’re giving your time and they love to see that, it gives them a sense of comfort. As much as we’re putting everything online, it’s still really important that we’re physically here and we’re seeing and doing things.

FM: Do you think that you’ll always be an FM?

DN: FM is exciting because it’s constantly changing. There’s so much that we do as our jobs aren’t specifically defined. I know we’ve got a position description like everybody else, but there’s just this mentality with FMs where we do whatever comes at us. You’re never going to be bored in your role because you will just do whatever you need to do, and then you’ll expand your skill set. So I’m definitely happy working in FM.

For more How I Got Here, read about how Fred McGregor became retail facilities and maintenance manager at Country Road Group.

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