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18 June 2018
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The FM World Interview: Julie Kortens

After winning Facilities Manager of the Year at the BIFM Awards 2010, Julie Kortens, head of facilities at Channel 4 chats to Cathy Hayward about her successes in FM.


14 October 2010

Years ago, facilities management was all about buildings; keeping them clean and well-maintained and complying with legal requirements. But it’s become fashionable in recent years to declare that actually FM is all about people. And while many are jumping on the bandwagon and claiming they’ve been saying that all along, one person who has the people focus in her blood is newly-crowned BIFM Facilities Manager of the Year Julie Kortens. 

The head of facilities management at Channel Four spent 15 years in HR before discovering what FM could offer and believes that the HR skills she gained have made a better facilities professional. “I think HR skills make you a better manager, makes you aware of how to motivate people and how to work together as a team,” she says. “Everything we do in FM impacts on people, impacts on the environment, impacts on recruitment and retention and on motivation. There’s a real synergy.”

Kortens has responsibility for the total property portfolio, landlord/tenant obligations (across nine sites including the flagship HQ in London’s Victoria), all hard and soft services, health and safety, archiving, corporate insurance and business continuity planning for the broadcaster. Her role has continually expanded over the years to include corporate social responsibility (environmental compliance, sustainability, staff engagement and community
/volunteering programmes); and a procurement initiative across non-programming areas of the business. 

Having spent the last 20 years working for Channel 4, first in HR, and then in 1998 setting up her own FM department (see box) Kortens has an in-depth knowledge of the core business – and as a senior manager she is judged against her awareness of the business, its core values and objectives. “Each year when Channel 4’s corporate objectives are published, I call together my senior FM managers, including third party site managers, to brainstorm how we can support them,” she says. Each of the FM objectives is formulated so that it is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) and directly linked to those of the business. In 2010 this included, for example, reducing energy consumption by 6 per cent which saw Kortens and her team display posters, organise an awareness day, promote campaigns and guide staff to the FM corporate responsibility site. 

Kortens also has fun ensuring that the FM activities reflect Channel 4’s on-screen activity. This included transforming the staff restaurant into a school canteen to support Jamie’s School Dinners and tempting staff to try Heston Blumenthal’s chocolate mousse torte in the canteen in the afternoon before the evening programme which promoted the recipe. 

“It shows the FM team live and breathe Channel 4’s values and also demonstrate that we too are creative,” she enthuses. “This helps us to achieve buy-in to our activities and means that we communicate with our colleagues as peers.” She recently launched a promotional campaign to publicise the FM services at Channel 4 which involved the FM team dressing up as doctors and nurses and distributing pill packets (filled with jelly beans) to all staff. “FM was the topic of conversation for several days and the mock pill packets are now distributed to staff as part of the main Channel 4 induction programme.” 

Yet Kortens and her team have also had to fit in with the corporation’s wider aim to save money. As a public corporation with no shareholders, Channel 4’s principal financial aim is to ensure that the bulk of income goes into programmes and online content. The flagship building, designed by Richard Rogers, is a functional building first and foremost but the organisation did want to make a statement, says Kortens. “It’s a fun building and a creative building. But its design causes challenges to the team – the curvature, the glass which needs cleaning, the fact that we don’t have any walls.” Its use has also changed, from being cellularised to open plan. Spaces such as the staff restaurant are also used for different things – an event venue, a studio or a space that can be hired out commercially. “But it was never designed as a flexible space, so the FM team has to create that flexibility.” 

Kortens is currently managing a refurbishment to the basement floors. The broadcaster outsourced transmission in July and what was previously technical space is being converted to office accommodation and the building’s occupancy will increase to almost 1,000 people.
Overheads are minimised and over the past two years Kortens has successfully re-tendered and creatively re-modelled third party contracts, reducing overall FM expenditure by around 10 per cent. The majority of FM services are outsourced at Channel 4 and Kortens has nine FM staff in-house and 130 
third-party contractors. 

“One of the things I’m most proud of is how we work as a team with our service providers. Money has been tight for the last few years and we’ve sat down together in a open forum. There hasn’t been that inter-service rivalry, we’ve openly discussed how we can work together to benefit ourselves and Channel 4.” 

She’s also looking at further developing the outsourcing model. All of the contracts are up for renewal shortly, and while it’s unlikely they will be brought back in house, Kortens is exploring whether to move to a more integrated, bundled model. “We’re now at the stage where we’re asking whether one provider can do it better. We want to take it to the next level. For me, the single biggest thing in a relationship is a service provider understanding our DNA and I’ve got some fantastic people who do understand it.” 

Having discovered FM by accident, Kortens is keen to see others make it a career of choice. She takes part in an annual careers forum, run by Channel 4, where students aged 14-18 find out about different roles within the business. 

Kortens describes it as careers speed dating, where each department head sits down and talks to students for four minutes about what they do. Her proudest moment was discovering that FM was one of the most popular choices for students, second only to the press office. “It was the range of opportunities that FM offered which attracted them,” she says. This culminated in the decision last year for Channel 4 to take an FM apprentice.

“We have a young guy with us now and all he wants to be is me. He’s the ‘mini me’ of the future. To interview someone for the first time who understands what FM was and wants to be an FM of the future was a light bulb moment. It was fabulous.” She also mentors four people, three through the BIFM Women in FM programme and one through Sheffield Hallam University’s course. 

This is all part of Kortens’ decision, taken last year, to give something back to the industry. She joined the BIFM Women in FM Committee (and is now deputy chair), and the BIFM People Management Special Interest Group committee and has volunteered a significant amount of her time to organising events, training and speaking, including a parallel session at the 2010 BIFM annual conference and next month’s BIFM Ireland annual conference. 

She is also getting involved in qualifications in the sector through delivering a session on communications to Sheffield Hallam’s FM course; working with Leeds Metropolitan University as a moderator on its MSc in FM course; and has worked with the BIFM to help to develop the new qualifications. 

Korten’s enthusiasm for the FM profession is palpable and contagious and her contribution to the industry, already substantial, is growing. It’s easy to see why the awards judges were so impressed by her entry. “The challenges on a day-to-day basis are amazing in FM. Genuinely no two days are the same,” she enthuses. “I’ve been in FM for a long time and I still look forward to coming in each day because I don’t know what today is going to bring me. And we have fun. For me, being in an environment where you have fun is really important.” 

Julie Kortens career file

Qualifications and training

MA Employment Strategy; ILM Level 7 Diploma in Leadership Mentoring and Executive Coaching; BA Foreign Languages for Business; Diploma in Personnel Management (MCIPD); MBTI Step 1; BIFM Senior Management Briefing: Corporate Governance and FM; BIFM Senior Management Briefing: Influencing the CEO TUPE – Employment Law Up-dates; Redundancy – Employment Law Up-dates; Personal Resilience; and Environmental Awareness

Professional memberships and volunteering

Member of the British Institute of Facilities Management; deputy chair of the BIFM’s Women in FM Special Interest Group); committee member of the BIFM’s People Management Special Interest Group); member of the Media CSR Forum; Qualified member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and a qualified ILM Executive coach

Job history
2002 – to-date: Head of Facilities Management, Channel 4
1998-2002: Head of office and building services, Channel 4
1994-1998: Deputy head of personnel & administration, Channel 4
 Personnel & Training Manager, Channel 4
1989-1990 Personnel Officer, British Satellite Broadcasting
1988-1989: Personnel Assistant, British Satellite Broadcasting

1984-88: Personnel Assistant, Channel 4

Highly commended

Rebecca Carruthers, Johnson Controls Global WorkPlace Solutions
Carruthers is customer business director for the BBC’s W12 property portfolio – such as the grade II listed Television Centre, the Elstree Studios and the Media Village campus. This year she managed the facilities management for the BBC’s 48-hour live coverage of the UK General Election.

Tristram Slater, Amey
Tristam Slater, account manager for Amey, has had an incredible impact on the estates of his clients since joining the company in May 2009. Slater’s engineering background has helped him to take an innovative approach to facilities management, achieving amazing results in a range of areas from deep floor cleaning to asset management.

Read more on the winning teams, individuals and projects