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fmME Interview: Jade Thompson, Transguard Group

Jade Thompson, account manager at Transguard Group, reflects on her remarkable journey from sports sciences to FM, and how she expects the UAE’s FM sector to change in the run up to Dubai Expo 2020

Young achiever: Thompson was crowned 2016 fmME Awards’ Young Facilities Manager of the Year.
Young achiever: Thompson was crowned 2016 fmME Awards’ Young Facilities Manager of the Year.

Jade Thompson’s career story is among the few that resemble a feel-good Hollywood script. Thompson’s journey to her current role as account manager at Transguard Group started off four years ago with a degree in sports sciences. Today, she manages an annual portfolio worth $2.7m (AED10m) at Transguard, and was crowned 2016 fmME Awards’ Young Facilities Manager of the Year this May. She is also the only account manager-level employee to be part of a development programme headed by managing director, Greg Ward.

Thompson’s upward trajectory in the world of FM business began with a graduate scheme in the UK.

“I knew that the graduate scheme with ISS Facility Services would give me a strong business base, and that was why I applied to be a part of it,” she tells fmME.

“I didn’t really know what FM entailed before I applied, but as soon as I started the graduate scheme, I knew that FM was for me.

“The scheme was a two-year course, and I was placed around different areas of the business during my tenure. I started off in the integrated solutions part of ISS, and I then moved to the service security and cleaning excellence sides. Each of these was a six-month placement, and I saw all the different aspects of an FM business.”

Thompson earned a permanent position at ISS following the completion of her graduate scheme in 2014. Among the accounts she managed during her full-time tenure at ISS was Renault.

“The graduate scheme really gave me a lot of experience in a short period of time, and as soon as I started it, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Thompson says.

“I wanted to become a business woman and focus on FM – I’m really driven about FM and I want to go places with it. My goals are what some might call far-fetched, but I think if I set my targets high and work very hard towards achieving them, then I will successfully do so.”

Thompson embodies the fmME Awards’ ideal young facilities manager. Each year, the category is reserved for facilities managers – aged 35 or younger – who have surpassed expectations on the projects under their helm.

Thompson grew her $762,330 (AED2.8m) annual portfolio to its current $2.7m in less than a year at Transguard – an achievement commended by the 2016 fmME Awards’ judges. However, another reason for Thompson’s success was, in the words of one judge, her “love for customer service and relationships”.

Remarking on her views about client management, Thompson says: “I have been growing the business through my client relationships, but I’m also being given more responsibilities and opportunities by Transguard.

“I focus on building trust within my customer base, and I think that’s really driven from the top within the company. The idea is to understand clients’ needs and requirements – and not only my personal clients, but those across the group – and understand their business, values, and vision so that we can align what we’re doing with their goals.

“It’s so important to build that relationship, and I think that’s potentially driven from the UK market as well.

“Transguard is pushing to introduce a mature solution in the FM sector, where it’s not just the client saying ‘this is what I need and you must to provide it’. The approach we’re going for is to work as partners in developing the solution clients need.”

Thompson’s work was also appreciated by 2016 fmME Awards’ jury for the lean processes she has implemented across her portfolio. These streamlined operations are said to have reduced costs for Transguard and translated into benefits for clients.

“For instance, a cleaner walking 100m to pick up a mop and walking back that 100m distance is a waste.

“There are time savings to be made from improving this,” she explains.

“We can save a huge amount of time just by teaching our cleaners that if they prepare everything beforehand, if their storeroom is tidy, and if they know exactly where everything is, then they can mitigate that time-wastage, and a job that would’ve taken them 10 minutes will take only 30 seconds.

“Now, you imagine that being implemented over all contracts at Transguard, and you’ll see that’s a massive saving – not only for ourselves, but one we can give back to our clients as well.”

The uptake of such efficiencies could lead to higher levels of standardisation within the UAE’s FM industry. However, that could take some time owing to the regional FM sector’s diverse demographics.

“The UK is very process-driven, and that typically involves a [method] that is driven throughout the rest of the business,” Thompson explains.

“This is definitely the way the UAE’s FM market is going as well, but I think having people from all over the world working in the same place might be a marginal factor for why that hasn’t happened yet. Some people might have worked differently in their home countries and are now trying to work together in the UAE, so it will naturally take some time, but it’s certainly happening,” she continues.

“Even during the year that I’ve been here, I’ve seen that the industry is starting to realise that it helps to have someone in the customer or client team that is an expert in FM, because then they’ll be much more open to the service packages we provide and our suggestions.”

In some ways, Thompson’s arrival in the UAE was timed to perfection. The country’s construction and real estate industries are actively working towards best practices as Dubai Expo 2020 nears, and the local FM sector will undoubtedly reap the benefits of these efforts.

Thompson explains: “I’m not sure if Expo 2020 will necessarily change customers, but it will change how FM companies do business.

“In this four-year window, FM companies will try to grow into what they want to be, and decide what they want to showcase at the Expo and show the world. I’ve already seen a change in the way FM companies are operating,” she continues.

“Customers are also becoming more open and realising that FM companies are the experts in their field.”

As end-user strategies evolve, it is critical that builder-operator collaboration is also addressed. Construction teams have historically been separated from operator groups, but this system could be replaced with an inclusive mechanism to facilitate functionality, Thompson optimistically asserts.

“The sooner FM teams are involved, the better it is,” she says.

“I guess if you don’t know FM, you might view facilities managers as people who enter the picture once the building is completed and only maintain it. But in reality, there are so many different elements to FM.

“For instance, if an AC unit is not accessible, then it could cost you thousands of dirhams more than it would have if the FM team had carried out a building assessment instead. Moving the AC unit by 5cm could make the situation so much easier sometimes. It is small things like this that people often miss, but FM involvement from start to finish is definitely better.”

Lack of awareness about the benefits of cradle-to-grave FM services may sometimes prove a hurdle to overcome in the UAE market. However, Thompson believes that client attitudes can – and will – change as they seek to increase the longevity of their assets and investments.

“There are such fantastic buildings going up these days, and developers and builders want them to last for years. The only way that can happen is to involve FM companies from the start, and I think we’re headed in that direction,” she says.

“With the amount of money being spent on such landmark buildings in the UAE, I think it needs to happen.”

Thompson will be around to witness this evolution, she confidently tells fmME. She is due to pursue a two-year MBA degree through Transguard next year, and is also excited about how the company’s training and development programme will shape up.

“Moving to Dubai is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m very happy with where I am right now in terms of my career, and my goal is to be at director level or higher within five years. Maybe even managing director after that,” she adds.

While the role of women in business is a popular contemporary theme, Thompson proudly opines that gender is gradually becoming a less important factor how the careers of young professionals progress.

“When I was in the UK, I found the FM industry to be a very male-dominated area, but it’s changing now. We have female engineers at Transguard, in addition to the women in management. I’ve often felt that I’ve got more to prove as a woman and that has driven me as well, but gender is not being viewed as a differentiator anymore.

“I would someday like to expand my horizons elsewhere, like Singapore or Hong Kong, but moving to Dubai has been my tipping point. Who’s to say it wouldn’t be the same if I moved elsewhere? I’m aiming to be director in five years, and the sky is the limit after that.”

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