How I Got Here: CBRE senior facilities manager Micah Jacob

by Sophie Berrill
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Micah Jacob senior facilities manager

“Actively listening and not listening to speak is probably one of the most important skills the FM should develop.”

Some people think facilities 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 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 Micah Jacob, who has worked at nearly all of the major FM companies. Jacob draws from schools of thought as vast as computer science all the way to psychology to succeed in his current role as a senior facilities manager for CBRE in Melbourne.

Facility Management: Did you study facilities management?

Micah Jacob: I’m originally from India and I graduated from Computer Science Engineering back in 2011. Facilities management was unfamiliar, especially among my peers in India. I moved to Melbourne to pursue a postgraduate degree (Master of Computer Science) from RMIT.

FM: How did you get into facilities management?

MJ: It’s an interesting story. (As you speak with more facility managers within the industry, a lot of interesting stories come out!) 

After graduation, I was helping a friend to set up an IT support company, and also seeking some part-time work. I ended up securing a three-week contract role with Sensis as a mailroom coordinator.

While working at Sensis, I met with Andrew Seagar, who was the onsite facilities manager. Andrew introduced me to facilities management and soon became my first mentor. Andrew was extremely generous with his time, explaining different aspects of FM, and it really piqued my interest and curiosity to learn more.

As Andrew’s contract ended, I got an opportunity to take the position of facilities coordinator. So I continued working at Sensis and what started off as a three-week contract in the mailroom ended in facilities management three years later. I had an amazing experience working with the team at Sensis.

This is when my ‘love story’ with facilities management started. You essentially touch every part of the built in environment: operations, compliance, people, contractors, sustainability, managing incidents – the list goes on.

I’ve been very fortunate to work with all the major facilities management companies, including CBRE, Cushman and Wakefield, Colliers, Knight Frank, Sodexo and Programmed. This is my second time working with CBRE, now as a senior facilities manager.

FM: How has facilities management changed during your time in the field?

MJ: I would say facilities management has become one of the most inclusive industries. There’s a lot of talk about inclusivity in the workspace and I think FM has opened up its doors and it draws people from a number of different backgrounds and industries. I come from computer science and I know people who’ve come from degrees in psychology or even finance.

I have observed a huge transition within the last 10 years in the FM landscape. Having a trades background is still widely appreciated but most organisations have become very accepting of skilled staff from other industries if they seem to be the right fit for the role. It’s a great time to be part of FM because people come from diverse backgrounds with mixed skill sets and life experiences. 

I would say facilities management has become one of the most inclusive industries.

FM: You’ve had success with all these major FM companies. For someone starting out, how would you recommend they get their foot in the door?

MJ: Like any other industry, completing proper due diligence and research should be the logical first step. Connecting with people within the industry to learn about it is also made easily possible by platforms like LinkedIn.

Once this is completed, the next step would be to enrol and complete a study program such as a diploma of facilities management or similar. These days there are many options from institutions like the Facilities Management Association. Most diploma programs offer a framework to get started in the industry with roles such as facilities coordinator, facilities assistant and so on.

If you are already part of an organisation working in another department but are interested to enter facilities management, then you can always connect with the onsite FM team and build relationships. This would sometimes open many pathways to get started, like it did for me.

FM: Could you tell us a little bit about your current role as a senior facilities manager with CBRE?

MJ: As a senior facilities manager, I currently manage two ‘mixed’ type assets in South Yarra, Melbourne. They’re a combination of commercial buildings, high-end retail stores, gyms, cafes, bars, restaurants and cinemas. 

FM: What tasks take up most of your day?

MJ: Meetings. Some meetings can be extremely effective. Post-pandemic, we can actually interact with people face to face. We have meetings with contractors, clients, tenants and other internal or external stakeholders.

Inspections also take up my day. FMs are responsible for safety and compliance of the physical asset, which requires many inspections, identifying potential hazards or reporting issues.

Lastly, admin. This can include raising purchase orders, approving invoices, creating reports or reviewing contractors’ reports.

FM: How do you keep on top of changing building codes and compliance?

MJ: I think it’s the responsibility of each  individual to constantly update themselves with any changes within building codes and compliance regulations. All major FM organisations also have internal compliance teams that often update the wider team on any changes with compliance and regulations. Most teams have regular meetings, and higher management use this as a platform to announce any major changes to compliance and regulations – but FM’s need to be extra responsible to keep themselves up to date.  

FM: Do you feel like you have much time to think of innovative future planning for the facilities that you manage? Or is it very much just a case of dealing with the reactive maintenance for issues happening in the moment?

MJ: The advent of technology, especially artificial intelligence, is going to have a huge impact on the property and facilities management space. 

We’re already using drone technology for tasks like external inspection. The Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data will also play a significant role in analysing information and creating effective modelling, which can make the job of an FM more effective and impactful. 

We spend a considerable amount of time with contractors discussing the technological advancements in their specific field and then we work with third-party organisations who offer recommendations that are more tailored and precise for individual assets. They can offer solutions that are more environmentally friendly, sustainable and enable some significant financial benefits for the clients.

Most FMs currently work on reactive and preventative maintenance works. Technology like AI Sensors will give rise to another form of maintenance called ‘predictive maintenance’, which can essentially predict failures before the actual event. This will be a game changer for the FMs.

You have to keep yourself educated, learn new skills and add them to your skill set – and you just never know which door will open for you.

FM: Do you have a favourite part of your job?

MJ: Problem solving complex issues brings me a lot of job satisfaction. I consider the work we do deeply meaningful. Helping solve different types of issues not only increases knowledge but also me brings immense fulfilment. I consider myself extremely fortunate to work with some of the leading industry experts and there are some common traits that I have adopted. Actively listening and not listening to speak is probably one of the most important skills the FM should develop.

Emotional Intelligence to assess critical needs of the client and prioritise accordingly is also quite important, as is the art of storytelling. Fixing up issues is a huge thing and you, as a technical facilities manager, are supposed to fix the issue first. But when it comes time to sit in front of the client, who sometimes might not be that aware of what the issue is, they ask you questions like: “Can you explain what happened? We did everything right, how did it fail? I’m spending my money, what did you do?” you’re supposed to form a story where you combine the facts, but you also give them an input and show you’re an expert. And that’s the key, right? They consider you as an expert. You’re supposed to explain the system and how it failed. You’re supposed to form a full story, give a conclusion and assure it won’t happen again because we have taken these precautions.

Financial literacy is also huge. Coming in here, you’re going to do budgets and planning, so you must understand the financial literacy on spend versus savings. If you are able to demonstrate that you can save so much for your client, then that’s a huge plus.

Continuous education is probably the fifth big one. I read about psychology and philosophy, but also a lot about geopolitics all across the world because everything has an impact on your day-to-day life. I’ve recently completed courses like key account management, change management and project management. No one’s told me to do that. I self-enrolled and I encourage my team to keep doing that as well. You have to keep yourself educated, learn new skills and add them to your skill set – and you just never know which door will open for you. I have spent the first 10 years of my career learning the skill set and planning to spend the next decade using this skillset to train and build up powerful FM teams.

For more stories about the humans of FM, grab your free copy of the ‘People Issue’ of the Facility Management digital magazine.

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