How I Got Here: Savills facilities manager Christopher Alt on contributing to a building’s purpose

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.

Savills facilities manager Christopher Alt vows to eradicate the common misconception that facilities management merely involves attending to a building’s plumbing and electrical issues. 

He maintains that facilities managers are entrusted with the crucial role of helping influence a building’s development and evolution, and ensuring that the purpose of the building is addressed every step of the way.

Honest communication in sustainability integration  

An industry break in the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Finance, Services and Innovation (DFSI) was the starting block for Alt to launch into and thrive in a wide range of facilities management roles.

He has worked in retail operations management with real estate titan Lendlease and property management at CI Australia. He recently adopted the post of facilities manager for the hotly anticipated Bay Central shopping centre in Woolooware, Sydney, scheduled to open in a few weeks. As a devout Cronulla Sharks fan and long-term Sutherland Shire resident, he is delighted to play a part in delivering this much needed asset to the community.

Alt is inspired, not immobilised, by the challenges facing facilities management – unstoppable technological advancements, data analytics and collaborating with those who are resistant to sustainable practices into operations. He believes honest and clear communication outlining the minute limitations and eternal rewards of sustainability integration will help the industry engage with stakeholders who are reluctant to change. 

Bay Central is a much needed asset to the Sutherland Shire community.

Facility Management: Tell us about your career and education background, and what led you to be a facilities manager at Savills Australia?

Christopher Alt: I began working in the facilities management space in 2011 under the NSW DFSI in a tenant-side role providing security management and maintenance services for a range of buildings across NSW.

After studying a Bachelor of Business and Commerce – Property at Western Sydney University, I made the move to a property management role still within the NSW DFSI. 

I had the opportunity to move into a retail operations manager role with Lendlease – a change I really enjoyed due to the customer-centric focus and goal of creating an environment that enhances the shopping centre experience for customers. Additionally, the problem-solving aspect of the role meant each day presented new challenges and made the work fresh and motivating.

About 12 months ago, I was approached for a role with the new shopping centre Bay Central in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire. It will consist of a multi-use development site with a hotel, the Cronulla Sharks Leagues Club, a stadium, almost 300 residential apartments and 8500 square metres of retail space. 

The opportunity to contribute to the launch of a new retail centre does not present itself often, so I was excited to be part of it. A year in, this role allows me to refine operations and procedures and engage with contractors and tenants before the opening to guarantee that we provide a unique experience.

What does an average day look like?

An average day involves numerous responsibilities. Collaborating closely with tenants is a priority, including providing category one work quotes for approval, facilitating the progression of shop fitouts and addressing inquiries from tenants and shop fitters.

I also establish comprehensive service agreements with incoming contractors, such as those in security, cleaning, fire, and hydraulic services. My day also involves regular meetings with the building team to monitor the progress of base building works and identify potential risks to delivery timelines.

I actively participate in discussions with the marketing team to finalise plans for Bay Central opening day events and align facilities with strategic marketing initiatives. Additionally, I oversee the testing and commissioning of all on-site equipment to ensure operational readiness. 

What are your responsibilities and who are your stakeholders?

My key stakeholders are retailers who I work with to address space requirements and fit-out and refurbishments. I also consider customers my stakeholders.  I am committed to creating a positive and enjoyable experience each time they visit the centre by ensuring the centre is clean, safe and well-maintained.

What other departments do you work with?

I work closely with accounting, legal, and risk departments, as well as the National Facilities group which provides me with the support needed to establish our operational processes.

Externally, I engage with the builder of Bay Central – Parkview Construction. I also liaise with the local council and New South Wales Health to deliver proper registration of our cooling tower infrastructure, in addition to Sydney Water to obtain approval for trade waste agreements.

The Sutherland Shire is only 26 kilometres away from the Sydney CBD.

Are there any misconceptions about the facilities and operations management world that you’d like to address? What do you think people picture when you say you’re a facilities manager for Savills?

Most people associate facilities management with maintenance and repairs. They may picture me fixing plumbing issues, addressing electrical problems, or attending to heating and cooling systems. This is a prevalent misconception and a narrow view that the discipline is solely concerned with maintenance tasks.

While maintenance is a critical component, facilities management encompasses a multi-faceted set of responsibilities that extend far beyond fixing issues. I see facilities management as helping to shape a building’s physical environment to align with the goals and purpose of the building, which includes space optimisation, sustainability initiatives, and leveraging technology for enhanced operational efficiency.

What have been some career highlights?

Ask me again in a few weeks as I am sure it is going to be the successful opening of Bay Central, Woolooware Bay Shopping Centre. 

What are some of the obstacles and challenges relating to the facilities management world?

A major challenge is the rapid pace of technological changes. Keeping up with this evolution to ensure we offer the best management of the facilities can be difficult as we try to remain proactive in adopting the latest systems and solutions.

Sustainability integration – and balancing that need for sustainability initiatives with budgetary constraints – can be difficult, alongside navigating complex and ever-evolving regulatory compliance to ensure safety, health and environmental standards are upheld.

Finally, the coordination and management of our external vendors, contractors and service providers is challenging, as we must ensure they meet standards, adhere to schedules and align with budgets.

What have been the biggest changes in the world of facility management over the last five years?

The adoption of data analytics has become more prevalent in facility management, which has helped predictive maintenance and performance optimisation. Data-driven decision-making has also made for more efficient and cost-effective operations.

There is also a growing emphasis on enhancing the overall experience of retail customers by providing accessible and inclusive amenities that cater to the needs of all customers. 

An example of facilities management working to enrich retail experience is Bay Central providing dedicated EV charger parking, secure bike parking, an outdoor children’s playground with a barbecue area and pet-friendly access. 

Tell us about the 35 percent energy consumption reduction rate at Lendlease, and instruct how other organisations and facilities can achieve the same feat.

At the time of achieving this reduction rate, I was working at a sub-regional shopping centre that opened 25 years earlier. During that time, there had been no upgrades to the centre’s HVAC equipment – it was running an air-cooled system that was becoming increasingly unreliable, especially in hot weather, and end-of-life maintenance costs were adding up.

We undertook a program to remove the old system and install a brand new water-cooled HVAC system that reduced running and maintenance costs – the most noticeable benefit was a 35 percent reduction in annual electricity usage.

Many people and organisations are now embracing living and working sustainably. What has been your career journey with sustainability, and what do you see as the biggest obstacles and challenges, and also rewards of achieving Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals and reducing energy consumption?

Cultural shifts are a challenge, as initiating the organisational move towards sustainability often comes with a need for effective communication and awareness-building to support and educate stakeholders who are resistant to change.

Implementing sustainable initiatives often involves initial financial investments. Additionally, balancing the long-term benefits with short-term costs can be difficult, particularly when considering budgeting requirements.

An obstacle also arises in accurately measuring the impact of sustainability initiatives and translating these metrics into tangible results. Also, establishing clear and standardised measurement methodologies is an ongoing effort for most facility managers.

What do you love the most about your job as a facilities manager?

As a lifelong Cronulla Sharks fan and Sutherland Shire resident, I am excited to help deliver the Bay Central development. It is a much-needed addition to the area and something I believe the local community will embrace. 

I know that in a few months, I will look back with much pride on the work I’ve done to help make the opening a success. 

Photography supplied by Savills.

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