Sometimes the journeys life takes us on unwittingly and unintentionally turn out to be the best ones, and no one knows this better than Joanne Veitch. She tells TIFFANY PACZEK all about her interesting, but accidental, FM career.
There doesn’t appear to be any one set path for the journey into facilities management, and Joanne Veitch has had one as varied and interesting as the best of them. For her, getting into FM was a self-proclaimed accident.
Growing up in England, she focused her A-level studies on law, business and French, although she admits she didn’t have a calling for any particular vocation. At university level she continued her business studies and, when she emerged on the other side of tertiary education, she was still unsure and the world was enduring a global recession – so jobs were scarce.
“So I went travelling for two years, just to get some world experience,” Veitch says.
Upon returning to England from backpacking around the world, she says, “I literally rang around recruiters to see who might want a business graduate. I wasn’t targeting any particular industry.”
It was through this that she was appointed to a large London law firm to work under the director of Facilities.
“I had no idea what FM was, so that was kind of how I ended up in it,” she says. “I’d never heard of the discipline, but I found the work extremely varied and interesting.”
After a few years in this role, Veitch says she still couldn’t see a particular career path within FM and was consequently considering where she might go from there. It was around this time that the law firm decided to outsource its entire facilities operation and she was assigned to work with the incoming facilities management firm, providing it with the information it needed to take over the operation – and at the end of it she was offered a role as a junior FM consultant.
“From there my career took off,” she says. “This was the time of outsourcing in Europe and I worked on multiple projects, initially in a supporting role and then eventually in leading outsourcing facilities services.
“My job took me all over Europe and I worked on some fascinating projects as an FM consultant.”
Throughout her long and colourful career, Veitch has experienced exciting and diverse projects.
“I think the most interesting ones, for me, were the ones where I started with a fresh slate and was able to establish services from nothing, as opposed to going in and tweaking services or outsourcing them and then trying to improve them,” she says.
Veitch names among her most memorable assignments as working for a leading London newspaper, establishing services in huge new facilities for Xerox in Dublin, working with a leading Swiss chocolate company based in the Swiss Alps (“and, yes, there were bowls of chocolate in every room”), establishing facilities services for a network of data centres across Europe (“when the world was racing to build data centres prior to the burst of the dotcom bubble”) and being part of the bidding team to outsource FM services for CERN, the organisation for nuclear research and home to the world’s largest particle accelerator – a 27-kilometre underground tunnel.
Veitch says she’s found herself in situations where she’s asked herself, ‘How did I get here?’ One such scenario was when De Beers, the biggest diamond trader in the world, approached her, looking to outsource its facilities management.
“We were shortlisted to the final two [companies], but before they proceeded with us, they wanted us to really understand their business. So they called myself and my boss into De Beers in London for a day, and they gave us tours of all their diamond floors. There were literally tables and tables of diamonds.
“Obviously, from an FM perspective it was very interesting – it had really high security and security cameras over every single diamond table – but the tour ended with us being inside the inner vault. They were showing us some presentations on diamonds – and they allowed me to hold a diamond the size of a tennis ball while they were talking.
“I said to our guide, ‘It actually doesn’t matter what you say, I won’t even hear you for the next hour!’ It’s moments like that where you just think ‘how funny’ – your job takes you to these situations that are really interesting.”
After 13 years working in outsourcing FM, Veitch says she felt the pendulum beginning to swing back to in-house management.
“There was a realisation that, in some businesses, too much had been outsourced,” she says. “I began to see a move to insource some skills back in-house, particularly the management of FM.
“My last project in the UK was to project manage the insourcing of facilities management back in-house for a large ICT (information and communications technology) business with over 100 properties.”
And then Australia claimed her for its own. Veitch moved with her family to Australia seven years ago and, in her transition into the Australian FM industry, she decided to focus on project and program consulting, joining a boutique management consulting firm in Sydney.
For the first time in my career most of my clients were in the public sector – and the work continued to be interesting and varied,” she says. “Try as you may to stay away from FM it tends to suck you back in and, after three or four years of general management consulting, I was assigned to a role in the New South Wales Government, when the client saw benefit to my background in facilities management. From there I have been in asset management ever since!”
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
For someone who fell into FM and refuses to analyse her career too much, Veitch is proof that going with the flow can be immensely successful. That, and she’s stumbled upon a career that she truly enjoys. What does she love most about FM?
“No two assignments have ever been the same. The work has been rich and varied in terms of clients, locations and the nature of the assignments.
“While I have generally had very specific asset and facility management roles, I have learned so much about different organisations and sectors,” she says. “For example, service levels for luxury cosmetics companies with high visitor traffic are very different to those of a critical high security data centre that is on 24-hour operation.
“I have met and worked with some fascinating people over the years. One minute I could be standing in the plant room of a hospital and the next inside the inner vault of the world’s largest diamond trader.” It’s a true melting pot.
Veitch’s experience in FM has not been without its challenges, though. She says being asked to review in- house facilities services meant sometimes confronting a hostile reception from the existing team who feared change and outsourcing.
“To deliver any consulting project successfully you need to work collaboratively with the existing teams or stakeholders who are going to operate business-as-usual services after you have left,” she advises. “The key, therefore, has been collaboration with teams, listening and not arriving on-site ready to apply a one-size-fits-all approach.
“I was fortunate to work on several Private Finance Initiative (PFI) projects in the UK, where FM is considered at the inception stage of a project and, in many cases, influenced the design of an asset,” she says. “I would like to see more of this approach.”
Indeed, she cites some of these PFI projects as among her greatest career achievements – namely, managing the set-up of ‘soft’ services under a PFI in Her Majesty’s Treasury in London.
“The project took about a year and the work was fascinating in terms of the huge and historical landmark building in which we were mobilising services, as well as the complexity of the PFI contract and the national spotlight on this particular project,” she says. “It was an enormous challenge and there was a great sense of achievement when we opened the doors for business to the refurbished Treasury building.”
She advises new FMs and those looking to further their careers in the industry to make use of the tools, information and connections available through industry associations such as IFMA and FMA.
“Community of practice is talked about a lot now and I think it’s really important to share and collaborate knowledge and be part of a community of practice, if possible,” she says.
Veitch’s career path has been surprising, interesting and full of variation. So what’s next?
“I am loving the work I am doing currently for the New South Wales Government in asset management,” she says. “Infrastructure and facilities are key focus areas in government and there are some very exciting initiatives underway, of which I’d like to be a part.
“What I’m enjoying most is the positive impact the output of this work is having on the building occupants and services users – the people of New South Wales.
“I have never really been one for a five- or 10-year plan; I tend to take the opportunities that life and work throw at me, which so far has taken me on a very interesting journey – and I hope it continues to do so!” ●
This article also appears in the October/November issue of Facility Management magazine.