An informal chat with Annette Best, Managing Director Commercial Services at Bellrock Property & Facilities Management:
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Bellrock wants to shine a light on some of our amazing female employees at Bellrock and the challenges they have overcome in their careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
At Bellrock, we believe in equal opportunities for everyone and gender inequality is an issue that is close to our hearts. The fight against gender inequality is one that is a long way from being won but we know that by leading the way and challenging how people think, we can make significant progress.
What is your role within Bellrock?
I joined Bellrock in June 2020 as Strategic Accounts Director, looking after some of Bellrock’s large accounts, predominantly based in London. However, I have recently been promoted to Managing Director of Commercial Services, a newly formed Division of WCS!
What is your professional background?
I’ve been in the industry for just over 20 years. I started off in Northern Ireland working for the Civil Service. I was then transferred to London and I will have been here for 19 years this June. I’ve worked for Sodexo across EMEA and ISS globally. This profession has allowed me to travel the world as well. I’ve been to Russia, India and lived in Singapore for a few months – I have visited many cities that would never have been on my bucket list including Hyderabad and Leiden in the Netherlands. Last year was a challenging one for most of us and it made me feel I should reduce the travel and keep my passport pages for personal use instead of work. I’ve worked in all kinds of sectors but have mostly had IT and finance customers as my client base. I used to work for Johnson Workplace Management about 18 years ago (merged with SGP Property Services in 2007 before becoming Bellrock) so I feel a little bit like I’ve come back home since I started working for Bellrock. It’s made my nine months here easy to slot in and find a rhythm.
What does your role entail?
I have nine corporate accounts which include high profile accounts such as Legal & General Investment Management. Because of COVID, I’ve had to work through lots of different challenges. Furlough has been a huge area of focus for everyone as well as putting into place all of the controls and measurements so that people can come back to work safely. It’s been very operational, but as a Strategic Account Director, I’m also trying to look for opportunities to improve our processes. Stepping up into my new role, I really hope to add value to our employee engagement through training and development.
How has COVID affected your role?
It has made my job twice as challenging as it normally would be. The key thing with this job is meeting people, having conversations, and working together. We need to create those bonds and get to know our client’s buildings, so joining in June 2020 ( when encouraged not to travel) has slowed down that for me. It’s difficult to get that rapport in a remote environment, and for me, that’s the key to being successful in this job. You meet with people, you have the conversation, you find the common ground, and then you grow the relationship from there.
Have you had to overcome many challenges throughout your career?
I guess I’ve had a few challenges. I started my career in civil service and I worked for six years in government property. When I did secure and convince someone to give me an opportunity in the real world, traditionally the more high-profile roles in FM had a preference for someone with an engineering background, therefore you just didn’t see as many women in those roles. It took a while for clients to trust me with their hard services and their technical staff. I feel I’ve often played the game of snakes and ladders where I’ve had to take a step back in terms of status and even salary to gain experience. I’ve always had to think about long term goals, constantly considering what will help me get to where I need to be.
I was very lucky when I started to work for Norland, which is a hard services company. When they created the managed services decision, I was promoted to Associate Director and buddy’s with Mario Brigati who shared the opinion that you didn’t have to be an engineer to manage engineers. Mario gave me a lot of confidence and always helped me with that side of my delivery. He has become a great friend and recently joined us at Bellrock. Also, when I was at Norland, and I’d also say due to the confidence he gave me, I had a secondment to the FA, where I had an interview with the Director of Stadium Services for the position of Director of Technical Services at Wembley National Stadium. Literally, the job every man would want, no matter how qualified they were! But I got it – I got the job! This was a career-changing opportunity, that title was so highly respected and because of holding that position, I no longer had to explain anything about my hard services capability or suffer people dwelling on my soft services background.
What’s your opinion on women in the facilities management sector?
Historically speaking, it’s always been a male-dominated industry but we’re seeing more and more women now that are in these high-performance positions. My last role was with Sodexo and it was predominantly women in our team. I would go into a meeting and it was very much like that scene in House of Cards where there’s just one man in the room filled with women which is quite unique.
Ten years ago I think the women who had the top jobs, must not have enjoyed it as much knowing they would have to work harder and longer to have that respect – it’s not given to anyone but women’s definitely had a stressful time, making lots of sacrifices to be in that position. I think it’s less difficult to be successful today but remain great full to those who came before us for making that so. We still stand out, but you can use that to your advantage in terms of going into a room full of similar people and you’re one that isn’t called Dave. Back in the day, you would have had to fit in making jokes about football, chatting about golf and hide anything that’s even slightly feminine. In my opinion, in this generation, we’re allowed to have a bit more personality and put it out on display.
Have you ever witnessed any kind of prejudice in this industry?
I have in my early days because I’ve been a manager for quite a long time. I’ve gone to meetings with one of my male managers and even though they work for me, people have assumed that they were my boss. I’m not the type of person to go around saying he works for me, but you live and learn.
I’ve had people warn me, especially while working in countries like Russia and Turkey, that some men are going to be difficult with me. Going in, expecting these situations, I’ve actually had opposite experiences. I guess I can only go by my own experiences and I think I am probably more the type of person that would analyse what I said or how I said it, for them to behave that way towards me, rather than just be flat out thinking, that’s a little bit wrong of them. I can’t think of any obvious examples where I haven’t taken some blame for myself.
Who is your biggest role model?
That would have to be Mario, whom I worked with at Norland which was more than 10 years ago. He was pushing me and other women that have worked for him to overcome those reservations even though he never formally took the role of coach or mentor. He wouldn’t even let you consider that you weren’t capable of the things that the other people in his team were doing. He encouraged us to ask for better pay as well because he had clearly seen what all of his managers were being paid. I respect him a lot and I do think that I would never have had that opportunity with the FA if it wasn’t for him. He had also (unknowingly) helped me with some very random life events with tips from his daughter’s wedding being used at my best friend Laura’s wedding, in my role of maid of honour.
If you had a message to send out to young women wanting to start a career in facilities management, what would it be?
I do think it is about enjoying it. I think the key thing about facilities management generally is people, and that for me is at the forefront. I enjoy this job because I can help people and help clients. If you’re driven, you can genuinely be a part of it. But it’s not a Monday to Friday, nine to five job; your phone will ring at various times and you know it is a customer service job. So that means apologising for other people and biting your lip sometimes for the greater good. You have to pick your fights, it’s not about having the last word but about building relationships. You win some, you lose some and you need to be a good negotiator as well. So, if you have those skills, this is the industry for you.