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24 October 2018
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LEADING ladies

Katy Dowding (right) and Suzanne Beck (left) may have different types of day job, but many common themes emerge when they’re asked about the way they work and the future of the profession. Martin Read met the newly crowned leader and manager of the year in the days after the 2016 BIFM Awards ceremony.

Photography: John Enoch

10 November 2016 | Martin Read

For 2016, BIFM decided to stop running a single Facilities Manager of the Year award and introduced Leader of the Year and Manager of the Year.

It’s an understandable and perhaps overdue recognition of what can be very different FM roles; many high-quality professionals dealing with the day-to-day delivery of facilities service deserve recognition, while others with a more strategic business role have a greater public profile and deserve accolades for their own work. Two different roles, but both very much about best practice in FM.

2016 Leader of the Year Katy Dowding already has a high profile. She was appointed MD of Skanska Facilities Services in 2012, since when the firm has grown from a £65 million to £102 million turnover. Dowding has clearly been an effective leader as well as an advocate for diversity issues.

Seen as a woman breaking through a traditionally male-dominated sector to reach a senior level, Dowding also runs Skanska’s facilities services leadership team, increasing the number of women involved to more than 50 per cent. She’s also set up a diversity and inclusion working group with the aim of ensuring that Skanska is “recognised as a leader in diversity and inclusion in all home markets”. More broadly, Dowding is a regular at BIFM’s Women in FM events. 

And it doesn’t stop there. Dowding is also a member of Skanska’s Senior Women Advisory Group’ (SWAG), a group of women in senior positions at Skanska that meets to provide input to Skanska’s global executive team on matters related to an inclusive culture. Judges cited Dowding’s “exciting and contagious” passion for the industry”.

As for Suzanne Beck, the first BIFM Manager of the Year manages Carillion’s account with Barts Health Trust, the largest NHS Trust in the UK serving a population of 2.5 million in East London and beyond. Beck manages teams across five sites – Mile End Hospital, The Royal London Hospital, Newham University Hospital, St Bartholomew’s Hospital and Whipps Cross University Hospital.

Both women meet at FM World’s offices exactly a week after the awards ceremony. Beck explains how she’d only just come back from her honeymoon on the night of the ceremony. “I’d gone straight into work on the Monday not expecting to win – so talk about the icing and cherry on the cake!”

As for Dowding: “After all the celebrations I completely lost my voice by Wednesday – but I’ve had a deluge of congratulations, which is lovely.”

It turns out that Dowding and Beck already knew each other by name, from when Skanska was deliveing hard FM services at the time Beck was providing soft FM services at Barts in 2005. What, I wonder, do they have in common today? For example, do they both accept that clients are becoming more expectant of what FM can deliver? “I think yes,” says Beck, “especially with regard to renewables and the sustainability and health and safety agendas. And in my sector, it’s facilities driving those things forward. I guess the challenge in a client-provider relationship is when people only ever want to talk about the failures. Too often, people only want to talk about what goes wrong, but actually there’s so much we do that really pushes the boundaries.”

Dowding cites the rise of social media and review sites such as TripAdvisor in particular. “Booking a holiday, concert tickets, a restaurant –we live in an age of constant feedback, and in FM we have to respond to that. And actually, I think for FM it’s a positive that there’s nowhere for us to hide anymore.”Beck agrees. “In the good old days you’d have to wait for a letter, but today someone might post something negative about the FM service. That said, others may then post to say that was not their experience. It’s just something you now have to subsume into your normal day.

“Yes, and it would be a lot worse if you only heard about those problems at contract renewal,” agrees Dowding.

Beck worries that FM is still too often seen as that old cliché of a Cinderella service. “We need to do more as a profession to promote what we do as something a bit more exciting than just ‘I’m a cleaner, I’m a caterer’, etc.”

“Absolutely,” agrees Dowding. “We should talk more about how FM is improving the environment, for example by making air quality better. We need to send a stronger message about our wider impact.”

Focussing on outcomes

Both Dowding and Beck see the move to assessing FM performance from the outcomes achieved as a crucial trend.

Beck says: “As soon as a patient comes into the hospital, our job is to help the trust to get them home. So that whole outcome objective is definitely there, and it’s an important shift.”

As for personnel, Dowding and Beck are keen to see more done to make FM a career of choice. Says Beck: “It’s about attracting people to show that you can move on, that there’s a clear career path. I think a lot of people still fall into FM because someone in their family may have done something similar. But it’s not an accident, actually. FM is an industry that provides everything for everybody – we just haven’t articulated it that well. People who work for me who came in as ‘just a cleaner’ are now running sites, or have become training managers, or gone back to university – FM having given them confidence for a number of reasons.”

“Maybe there’s a career marketing campaign here,” suggests Dowding. “How about ‘I choose FM’?”

Although fighting different fights each day, both FMs are constantly reappraising how they go about their day-to-day work.

“You need to be intellectually restless to keep moving forward,” argues Dowding. We provide services to a world that is constantly changing, so we’ve have to think about what’s going to be needed tomorrow. You’ve got to be adaptive. My challenge is to stop and admire the view rather than just going ‘brilliant, OK, that’s done – what’s next?’”

Two FM professionals with two different day jobs - but it’s clear that both Katy Dowding and Suzanne Beck share similar visions for FM’s future.   

Emma Potter


Katy Dowding, managing director, Skanska Facilities Services

Category description: “The winner is an outstanding, recognised business and people leader in the FM profession, as well as an ambassador for FM, acknowledged by peers, having shown support of the wider FM profession”

 Katy Dowding’s ambition was always to become MD with a global company, a goal she has since achieved at Skanska.


Dowding spent 15 years with Tarmac/Carillion before working with Skanska for the last 13 years in a number of roles.


Starting out as a quantity surveyor, her career has spanned operations, development and strategic roles.


As managing director for Skanska Facilities Services, Dowding oversees and manages more than 800 employees and a turnover of more than £100 million across sectors ranging from healthcare and defence to local authority and commercial.


She has a BSc (Hons) and an MSc, and has obtained a Fellowship in the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.


In 2013, Dowding won the Women in the City Woman of Achievement Award.


Dowding chaired the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) for eight years. 



Suzanne Beck, facilities general manager for Carillion, Barts NHS Trust contract

Category description: “The winner is an experienced FM exponent who has delivered a cutting-edge service, is a team player and is responsible for managing others and steering them to success.”

 Suzanne Beck is enjoying being an FM specialising in healthcare, “a great business to make a real difference”.


She started out in the hotel business, before moving into healthcare FM.


Beck spent 12 years in a variety of roles with Sodexo Healthcare. Her last role was as director for the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, where she mobilised and transitioned three old hospitals into two new ones with a thousand people.

 Beck has also worked at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Northwick Park, and Central Middlesex in London. She was also the regional manager in smaller specialist acute hospitals including Papworth, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and Mental Health Trusts including the Anglia Support Partnership (ASP).

 Before Sodexo, Beck worked for Somerset County Council DSO for school catering and cleaning. She was operations manager for the county.


Is the FM sector ready for BIM?

Dowding: It’s slowly coming together, but I don’t think we have harmonised our approach yet. I think Darwinian principles will eventually rule some people out. I don’t think things like mandating COBie have achieved what government hoped they would. We need our customers to be demanding better quality of information, but I also think we need better collaboration across the sector.

Does FM struggle from a lack of definition or character?

Dowding: I’m not sure people from outside the sector really get what FM is. As a profession we need to position ourselves correctly. It’s all too easy just to say that we’re all about keeping the lights on, etc. I think we should position ourselves more broadly as being about delivering a better environment. 

Beck: A focus on outcomes is definitely the right direction of travel, and people with an outcome-focused approach is definitely the way forward. It’s not about how many times you do a piece of maintenance on a fan core unit; what they want is a more productive working environment; it’s about having an outcome mindset.

Where are you focusing your efforts right now?

Dowding: The challenge for me is growing my business within Skanska in a sustainable way – financially, of course, but also in terms of people and succession. Anyone can go and win contracts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be making any money or delivering a great service.

What one thing would give the FM sector greater credibility?

Dowding: Some magic tool that would measure the impact of what we do. If you take all aspects of sustainability, our impact economically, on the community and environment – there’s a positive impact we have on all three of those areas. If there was some common way of measuring or expressing that…

Beck: It’s got to be around clarity of messaging. Every organisation has their own values, missions and goals – there’s got to be something we can do that’s about communications and developing a common way of detailing what FM does.

What do you bring to your roles from your home life / external activities?

Dowding: I’m a very bad triathlete; I’m a terrible swimmer, a slow runner, and I’m not even great on a bike, but I don’t let that put me off. But despite my complete lack of natural aptitude, I doggedly press on with things. And that’s valuable. As wonderful as this industry is, sometimes it can be difficult and frustrating and it’s that persistence to see yourself through.

Beck: If you spoke to my family they’d say I’m the go-to-person for any activity. I planned my own wedding, baked my own wedding cake,  enjoy crafting, spend a lot of time with my friends’ children and I’m also a dementia friend. I care about my family and friends and I try to give everybody a fair shot, getting them involved in things they wouldn’t normally do – and I hope that’s what I bring to my work.”