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Speaking exclusively to FM Director, Claire Curran, Linaker Managing Director and President of BESA, shares her journey so far, the need for improving FM’s image and her thoughts on the sector’s future.  

Growing up in Stoke, with a breadwinner mother working in the textiles industry and a supportive stay-at-home dad, Claire Curran seems an unlikely figure to lead a £60 million turnover hard services FM business.  

Unsure of her career plans, it wasn’t until Claire began working in the FM sector and discovered a skill and passion for business development and operational leadership that she realised her true calling. 

Having enjoyed an illustrious career of almost 25 years, Claire is keen to highlight the opportunities available for what she calls “a blossoming career in the FM space” and says one of the biggest issues facing recruitment in the sector is that to make it more attractive, there needs to be more talk about the great possibilities available from working in the industry.  

“There’s a misconception that the FM industry is a bit unglamorous and boring,” she says.  

“But I’ve stood on top of buildings in central London and seen breathtaking views of the city that not many can say they have. I’ve travelled in first class and spoken on stage to 4,000 people about my work. I’ve sat in boardrooms in Canary Wharf and negotiated £253 million deals with executives from large financial institutes.” 

“One of the popular phrases people have used to describe FM is ‘pale, male and stale.’ But that’s wrong. It’s not like that. People say there’s no glamour here. Yet, I wear a ball gown more times a year than anyone I know, I get to travel to some amazing locations and see some incredible projects.” She adds. 

For future jobseekers, Claire emphasises the sheer size of the marketplace and the range of industries that are part of the space:  

“What other industry do you find where you can work across every single sector of the economy? I service large international corporates, work with law practices, sitting on London Bridge in glass buildings. And I also work with amazing clients who sell chicken, we service schools and I get involved in STEM for young people. The diversity in the marketplace is incredibly rich and exposes you to so many different areas of society.”  

Recognising potential talent 

As a strong female leader, Claire says she is a firm believer in meritocracy, as opposed to creating exclusive workplace groups to promote inclusivity: 

“The “in” movement isn’t helping, I don’t want to be known for being a woman in; I am good at what I do. Full stop. I believe that through recognising and promoting talent across everybody, in the right way, you can see and feel the return on investment almost immediately. You must trust your team to select the right people, teaching them how to recognise the potential for talent,” she says.  

“Talent is often not about how qualified someone is, or how much experience they have, it is about having the base capability and then the will to learn, improve and overcome and then go again.”  

“I get frustrated sometimes when people point at me and say, ‘Wow, she’s a woman, and she’s doing really well. Look how inspiring she is.’ When actually, it’s the FM industry that’s inspiring, and I am just doing well, being a woman has nothing to do with it” She adds.  

It’s this inspiration that has led Claire to the position she is in today, spearheading Linaker, an M&E specialist of more than 30 years. Under Claire’s leadership, the business has grown organically from £3m to £60m in five short years. 

Over the years she has been involved in major projects, including the construction of the Mercedes-Benz World facility in Surrey and Johnson and Johnsons’ European Headquarters, as well as recording achievements including winning FM excellence in a major project with the IWFM in 2010 with Initial, being named the youngest sales director at ISS in 2011 and a finalist in the Construction Leaders with Kier in 2014. She was also crowned champion at 2020 Leaders in the City and given a Rising Star in IWFM 2021 with Linaker.  

Humble beginnings 

Claire’s facilities management career began at George S Hall (GSH), where she worked in sales as part of a Business Development team that sold over £100m in a year before the business went for IPO.  

Her career since then exposed her to the making of Shepherd Electrical Services (now Wates) and Rentokil Initials’ move into facilities services, alongside working in ISS.  

She joined Kier Group in 2013 as Business Development Director with responsibility for all FM service sales, before making the most of her “near eidetic memory” and natural curiosity, moving across to operations and finally as a business unit director. She credits this with providing valuable experience and appreciation of the benefits of team and partnership working.  

Her time at Kier came to an end after being offered a national role that would have required extensive travel soon after the birth of her first child. “Up to that point I’d always moved to jobs fairly randomly, accepting the roles I was offered, but I found I could afford to take time to think about things more for the first time,” she recalls.   

“I started applying and was interviewed for 13 different jobs, plus the MD role at Linaker. I received job offers from all the others apart from Linaker, because Bill [Harrison, Linaker Founder] said I was too corporate.”  

“Having initially declined the opportunity to interview Claire for the role of managing director for Linaker, I later discovered this had merely motivated her more strongly to fulfilling the role. 

This reaction to a challenge, especially one that is apparently unfairly made, is an intrinsic part of Claire’s character. 

However, rising to a challenge and being able to overcome that challenge, requires more than determination. Claire’s indomitable drive and passion for our industry, combined with her unquenchable thirst for learning, is an irresistible combination.” -Bill Harrison, Linaker Chairman 

After a few good interviews Bill appointed Claire and the rest is history. 

Creating partnerships 

Having joined Linaker, Claire’s first challenge was to appoint key people with the strengths the business needed whilst nurturing and investing in them carefully to create trust and belief in the purpose.  

With her team in place, Linaker thrived and hit £30m at better profitability a year early. As Claire explained:  

“Our first mission was complete and then the challenging work began. The next three years saw us look at strategy in a more meaningful way. We had to decide what we wanted to stand for and what our business value proposition was going to be.” 

I implemented business KPIs as well as growth targets, based on People, Customer, Support and Growth. We changed our purpose from ‘being the hard service partner of choice’, to ‘creating positive partnerships for our people, our clients and the planet.’ We started measuring lots of meaningful data points to ensure success had purpose, not just profit.” 

This has seen Linaker double again in size but also created a business which is pacey, trailblazing, and positive. Linaker is in constant strategy mode, with Claire explaining that anyone in the business can submit a paper to the Board on an electronic form for investment consideration. 

Having positively overcome the challenges of the global pandemic, Linaker invested the money it had saved, taking the business from around £5m to now targeting an annual turnover of £60m in the next six months. 

Diverse career options 

Another misconception in facilities management that should be addressed, Claire says, is the types of careers on offer in this diverse industry: 

“When people talk about apprenticeships in the industry, they usually think of engineering. What about apprenticeships for marketing, finance, the back of house, the help desk?” 

“We might send an engineer in a van with tools to do a job. But that’s only about 20% of what Linaker does, the rest of our delivery involves call handling, customer service, marketing and finance, compliance, technology and innovation. There’s so much more to the sector than people realise, the ancillary support systems for FM are huge.”   

Adapt or die 

One of the biggest challenges facing the FM sector in the coming years is resourcing. Claire acknowledges this and recognises that the companies that will survive and thrive going forward will be the ones that adapt to the environment: 

“The 2.4 children model we used to talk about is no longer the same. It’s now 1.7 children. And if you look at industry figures around engineers, nationally we have 25% of our engineers retiring by the year 2026. And only 11% of people leaving school are going into STEM careers in general, so there is a real skills gap.” She says. 

She believes the emergence of A.I. and automation need to be embraced as realistic solutions to these resourcing issues:  

“If you look at SFG 20, 41% is visual test and inspection. So, we need to be looking at ways in which we can automate testing which still fulfils compliance so that we can use the resource in a more intelligent way, which will create jobs that are higher-skilled, more enjoyable and higher paid. We need to embrace AI and automation and we need to move forward with it now,”  

“We’ve just got to the point that as humans we’ve got the technology and the infrastructure to be able to make some of these things work. It is an exciting time. We’ve lived in the Information Age, and we’re now moving quickly into the Intelligence Age.” She adds.  

Linaker is already moving ahead with automation to streamline its processes. 90% of its jobs are now billed within a month thanks to the use of AI at the front end to write quotes and send invoices out. This improvement in cashflow allows us to invest in great operational technology. 

The business uses advanced power BI and full vehicle telematics to route around 200 engineers. This has led to an industry-leading first-time fix level of over 85% alongside reducing our carbon footprint, saving over 4,000 trees per annum. We also can estimate budgets from contract specific data the moment a reactive call is placed and auto triage assets to ensure correct SLA are used producing great value. 

And what does the future look like for organisations operating in the Intelligence Age? 

“You’ll be able to see very, very quickly in the next 10 years which organisations across all sectors and whether they decided to step up and embrace AI or they haven’t. Because if they haven’t, they’ll go into the dust, it’s as simple as that. It’ll be another age of losing the High Street, you know, information technology took away the high street. Intelligent data is going to take away from information technology in the same way. It’s adapt or die.”  

BESA and giving back 

Following five years on the board of the Building Engineering Standards Association (BESA), Claire was appointed the organisation’s third female president in 120 years. In her role, she says she enjoys the privilege of being able to help and encourage other SMEs, constructors, and installers to navigate the industry and grow financially and operationally.  

She says she has found BESA to be “cathartic”, especially the ability to share her hard-earned knowledge to affect industry change. So far, she has been involved in creating occupational standards for the new building engineer apprenticeship, helped to mould the Environment Bill regarding indoor air quality in schools (the childrens’ bill), advised on digitising SFG20 and been part of the start of Facilities IQ, a programme set to revolutionise the application of engineering standards in the UK.  

And what does the future look like for Claire and her role in the FM industry in the years to come?  

“After my presidency, I will continue to actively play a role in industry wherever I can give back. The industry has provided for my children and made me into the person I am today. For me, a successful career in facilities management is not just about the financial reward, (although that comes with loving what you do), but the rich journey of experience, friendship and teamwork.” She concludes.