How I Got Here: ISS key account manager Charles Hammersla

by Sophie Berrill
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Charles Hammersla, ISS

“If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.”

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 Charles Hammersla, a key account manager at ISS Facility Services. Hammersla traded his law degree for a career in FM and has since received top awards for the work he has done – including Facilities Manager of the Year in 2021. Chairing an LGBTQIA+ youth charity has taught him important lessons about leadership, which he brings to work every day.

Facility Management: What did you do before you became a facility manager?

Charles Hammersla: I have been in facilities management for over twenty years now, but before that, I worked at Coles Supermarkets in their compliance department! I helped them manage and respond to regulatory obligations like fair trading, food safety, and advertising as well as a raft of other things. 

I started with Coles when I was just 15, working at one of their stores in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. I stayed with them all the way through university, where I completed a law degree. Instead of becoming a solicitor, Coles offered me a great opportunity to combine my store knowledge with my legal background. I felt pretty lucky to land something like that!

FM: How did you get into facilities management?

CH: Like many others in the profession, I fell into facilities management. After my time at Coles I was given the opportunity to work for Kmart as national facilities compliance manager. At that time, both Kmart and Coles were part of Coles Myer Ltd, so it was a natural transition. I like to joke that this was my facilities management “apprenticeship” and I ended up in the role for six years. 

When I started, the role didn’t exist, so I had to start from scratch and make it my own. My main responsibility was to support the national facilities manager and the broader facilities management team to oversee and manage all the building compliance obligations for the entire business across Australia and New Zealand.

This involved handling things like essential services testing compliance, hazardous materials auditing, high-risk plant and equipment testing, and registration, as well as ensuring that the business met its obligations under its leases from a maintenance and repair perspective.

I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, but this role provided me with an amazing grounding across a range of technical aspects of facilities management. I was extremely fortunate to work for one of the leading facilities managers at the time, John McLennan, who was a 35-year veteran of the industry. After John retired, I was fortunate enough to be promoted into the role of national facilities manager for Kmart. I stayed with Kmart, taking on a range of different roles that saw me oversee facilities management, procurement and even store refurbishments for a time.

FM: What sort of facilities have you worked on in the past?

CH: I often say that my expertise is focussed on retail, but I have worked on large commercial office buildings, distribution centres and even residential properties and have gained experience from both the owner and the occupier perspectives. In the past three years I have focused primarily on the financial services industry, overseeing facilities management for two major banks in Australia. Prior to my current role, I held the position of head of facilities management for National Australia Bank at Cushman and Wakefield.

FM: What does your current role entail as a key account manager for ISS Facility Services?

CH: At ISS Facility Services, I’m responsible for the effective delivery of facilities management services to one of our major banking clients in Australia. I serve as the second-in-command for the account and provide leadership and support to our team of facilities managers, empowering them to excel in their work. Working with the key account director, I help lead our greater team, which consists of nearly 50 professionals stationed throughout Australia, dedicated to the needs of the bank. This role has already taught me a huge amount, particularly as I played a key role in successfully transitioning our service delivery for the bank across Australia – no small feat!

FM: Alongside your FM work, you’re also a Minus18 Foundation chairperson. Can you tell us a bit about Minus18 and why you work with this organisation?

CH: Minus18 is Australia’s LGBTQIA+ youth charity and being involved with it is something I am particularly proud of. Our aim is to improve the health, well-being, and safety of same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people throughout the country. We achieve this through three core pillars: social inclusion, education and advocacy, plus youth empowerment.

My personal identification with the LGBTQIA+ community is what drives my dedication as, when I was growing up, I struggled making my way into the world without a support network of friends or mentors. Working with Minus18, I can help to make a change to the community so that other young people don’t have a similar experience to me. And while we have made great progress, we have much more to do!

FM: Does your work for Minus18 inform your day job in FM?

CH: Absolutely. Being a member of the Board of Directors has greatly influenced my work in facilities management. It’s given me valuable insight into understanding governance and decision-making processes. Here, decisions are made collectively in a respectful way with the end goal of achieving the best outcome. I’ve come to realise that my initial opinions or views may not always be right and the key to achieving the best outcome is to embrace diverse perspectives and engage in thoughtful discussions.

“I’ve come to realise that my initial opinions or views may not always be right and the key to achieving the best outcome is to embrace diverse perspectives and engage in thoughtful discussions.”

In the world of facilities management, we face daily challenges that require us to come up with effective solutions. Based on the experience I’ve gained on the Minus18 board, I’ve learned a valuable approach that involves gathering information, considering different perspectives, having thoughtful discussions, and then making the best decisions moving forward. It’s all about finding the most suitable course of action for each situation. By following this approach, I can tackle issues head-on and achieve positive outcomes in my role. I don’t think that I would have this ability without having sat on a board.

FM: What are some important trends you see happening in facilities management that are specific to the industries you work across?

CH: Two important trends that I see in our industry, which won’t come as a surprise, and that facility managers should be aware of are: technology and sustainability.

Technology continues to move at an exponential rate, and I think that we are on the precipice of a major change as a result of the advent of AI. Specifically predictive and interactive technologies like ChatGPT. This technology will enable us to automate manual or repetitive tasks, allowing the facilities managers to do more of the humanistic, customer service side of the job. I think we will be able to also unlock and digest the data we see at a faster rate, enabling better decision making or response times. There is an argument that this will also help us to really deliver quality predictive maintenance. I don’t think we have quite landed this in the industry yet, but we are close to a shift in this space.

Sustainability is another critical trend that cannot be ignored. Buildings currently account for 39 percent of global energy-related carbon emissions, as highlighted by the World Green Building Council. As facility managers we have an opportunity and a responsibility to help contribute to positive change in this space as our purchasing and maintenance decisions will help to shape the built environment in the long term. I encourage facility managers to develop their understanding and appreciation of this area of the profession and champion sustainability across their portfolios. We can only make substantive, meaningful change together.

FM: What are some of your career highlights?

CH: I feel incredibly fortunate and humbled to have been awarded the title of Facilities Manager of the Year in 2021 by the Facilities Management Association of Australia. Additionally, I was recognised as the Emerging Professional of the Year by the International Facilities Management Association in 2022. 

But when I reflect on my most significant career highlight, I turn to a project I delivered at Kmart under the guidance of my leader, Michael Fagan. I was given the opportunity to lead the largest capital project in the business at that time – the complete replacement of lighting fixtures in their stores. This project was extremely challenging but ground-breaking as we sourced lights directly from a supplier that Kmart used for its customers.

This strategic decision not only made sense from a financial perspective but helped us achieve substantial power and emissions reductions. This project left a legacy and every time I visit a store now as a customer, I’m reminded of that achievement.

FM: What do you think makes a good leader?

CH: In my view, good leadership can be boiled down to what I call the “three Cs”: clarity, consistency and collaboration. Leaders must be clear in their approach and communicate it effectively to their team and other stakeholders. Without clarity, the team and others can be confused, leading to conflicting priorities, uncertainty, and poor outcomes.

It’s important for leaders to be consistent, as an unpredictable leader erodes trust and can result in developing a poor reputation. People should feel that they know what to expect from their leader, creating a sense of safety and enabling open interaction.

Finally, leaders must be collaborative, both vertically and laterally. Fostering collaboration in your team between your leaders and from your peers will help to encourage the best ideas and promotes a culture of openness. It’s also important that you are open to feedback and change. To be a highly effective leader, you need to work together, as well as enable, and obtain the right resources to achieve the greater business and team goals. 

It’s through this collaboration that great achievements are realised. And remember – if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.

Read about how revolving front doors can help FMs improve building sustainability. 

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