Ahead of EFMC 2018, we are in Sofia for a conversation with our KEY FM Bulgaria lead, Phil Clayton, and COO, Jim Yorston.  Our aim is to learn from Phil about the conference, the energetic Bulgarian context, and the exciting opportunities its current ‘revival’ represents for business and Facilities Management (FM).

Phil Clayton - KEY FM Bulgaria Lead

Phil Clayton – Bulgaria Lead for Key Facilities Management International


So to start, tell us a bit about EFMC 2018 and KEY FM Bulgaria?:

Phil:  EFMC is the European Facilities Management Conference.  This year it’s being held June 5-8 at the state-of-the-art Sofia Event Center.


In keeping with Bulgaria’s folktale character, the theme is ‘once upon a time in Facility Management land’.  The focus is on how FM innovation and technologies are delivering ‘happy ever after’ for the ever-changing modern workplace.


One of the ‘storytellers’ will be our CEO, Stan Mitchell.  At midday on Wednesday June 6th in the Main Hall, he will be talking about how the new ISO standards for FM in conjunction with smart technologies are enabling a new era of FM”.

Jim:  KEY FM Bulgaria came into being in 2010.  We had won a contract to implement an FM management system for a multinational across their offices in developing countries. Their Bulgaria facilities weren’t in great shape at that time.  FM was equated with cleaning or other basic service functions.  Bulgaria was also notorious for its bureaucracy.


As such, we knew we needed someone embedded in the local culture, someone who had a lot of FM and change management experience, and could deal with the barriers and red tape and get things done.


Phil ticked all those boxes.  Under his leadership, the facilities were transformed from just another local office into a model for improvement for the whole organisation“.  

What does Jim mean by ’embedded’, Phil?

Phil: “Ha! Well Bulgaria has been my home now for 13 years: a dynamic period for the country.


I’m involved in organisations seeking to improve business relations and knowledge sharing between Bulgaria and UK.  These include the British Council, the British Embassy and the British Bulgarian Business Association.  Most conversations at the moment seem to be about the uncertainties and implications of BREXIT, and how we can best prepare for these.


I’m also a guest lecturer at the University in Pravets, birthplace of Todor Zhivkov, the Bulgarian Communist Party’s last General Secretary.  I’ve been teaching 3rd year MBA students operational management, project management, factory production, and that turning up late will get them fired! 


I find it exciting working with the younger generation: they’ve so much imagination and energy for change.  They’re also beginning to see a better future staying at home, instead of leaving for Western Europe.  Better to harness that entrepreneurial spirit here, than have it wasted strawberry-picking by the River Tay”.

Jim: “As you can gather, Phil is a real people person! A natural networker.  It’s a key skill of his.  Unlike many managers, he really understands that effective change management is more about relationships and culture, than technical implementation.  The first thing he does in a project is knock on doors and get to know everyone involved.  People like Phil, he’s kind, trustworthy and a good listener.  Before long, he’s getting invited along to family events”.

Phil, you mentioned you’d experienced a ‘dynamic period’ for Bulgaria: could you elaborate?

Phil: Indeed.  Really, this stems back to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989 and the transition to a parliamentary democracy.  I think this came as a shock to many Bulgarians, which enabled a few to accumulate a lot of power and assets. 


Debt, corruption, and heavy-handed bureaucracy, another legacy of the Eastern Bloc era, held progress back longer than it should.  Economic performance and the average quality of life remained lower than under communism well into the early 2000s.


In 2004, shortly before I moved here and after a few years of reform, Bulgaria joined NATO.  Then in 2007 it joined the European Union.  Bulgaria is still the poorest country in Europe, but optimism about the future has never been stronger, in my view.  It seems most appropriate to me that Sofia should be the venue for EFMC 2018“.

Jim:  “I couldn’t agree more, Phil.  Sofia is definitively back on the map.  It’s exciting, cosmopolitan and its boulevards are as lovely as any capital city in Europe.  We’re all looking forward to this conference”. 

Sofia, Bulgaria's capital city and host for EFMC 2018, from the air.

Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital city and EFMC 2018 host.

So what’s driving all this optimism?

Phil:  “Confidence!  There is a lot of inward investment in infrastructure and tourism, notably from the EU, China and Azerbaijan.  Bansko ski resort, and Sunny Beach on the Black Sea, have joined the premier league of European tourist destinations. 


There’s also a growing perception that Bulgaria is safer, more stable, and better for the budget than a lot of European markets.  This is what’s underpinning the recent trend of big business relocating head offices here.  

This is great for KEY FM Bulgaria, of course.  Although the market is rich in opportunity, its a complex culture.  Incomers need assistance finding their feet. 


KEY FM Bulgaria helps them find property, negotiate the lease, and get a ISO compliant system that satisfies corporate requirements up-and-running, fast and hassle free.


Myself and other members of the KEY FM International team will be at the conference.  If you’re attending and want to talk to us about our Eastern European services, don’t hesitate to get in touch.  Oh and don’t miss Stan’s presentation on Wednesday, June 6th: it’s a cracker!”  

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