Today we’re in Tunis to get to know Walid Barhoumi, a Programme Manager instrumental to the success of KEY Facilities Management International (KEY FMI) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Joining the conversation is Jim Yorston, KEY FMI’s Chief Operations Officer.
To begin, Walid, it would be great to learn something of your background prior to KEY FMI?
Walid: “In terms of higher education, I originally started out studying economics, but later moved on to achieve a degree in IT engineering.
After gaining a few years of experience, I wanted more and decided to start my own IT business. I began approaching big companies in my home country of Tunisia, and soon landed a support contract managing the local site of a large pharmaceutical multinational.
I enjoy problem-solving and helping people out, and quickly became the go-to guy whenever anything went wrong on-site. Before long, I was as good as managing the facility, although I had no official designation as such.”
How did KEY FMI discover you?
Jim: “I first met Walid when were awarded the FM contract for his site. We were struggling to find a Tunisian partner who we felt confident could run things to the required standards. Then someone mentioned that the local IT guy was pretty switched on and might be able to point us in the right direction. So, I emailed Walid’s company to arrange a face-to-face.
Our first conversation was not what I expected. Walid spent the whole time talking about how he wanted to learn about Facilities Management (FM), and be a part of something bigger than just IT. Well that started us on this journey and led to many hours spent in Tunisian coffee shops, working on a proposal he could submit to KEY FMI.
His IT background was much evident back them. It was clear that some work would be needed to attune him to KEY FMI’s way of thinking. However, he was also so attentive, inquisitive, and quick and eager to learn. When I got on the plane back home, I knew we’d found a real gem and was in no doubt he would sort Tunisia out.”
Walid: “FM is hardly known in Tunisia. Within the business, only the local MD and I had ever heard of it. Furthermore, after talking to Jim I realised that, while I’d been doing FM after a fashion, I was far from doing it properly.
I knew that in the short term the new Office Coordinator role would mean moving out of my comfort zone. Nevertheless, I couldn’t miss an opportunity to learn from the True FM experts and to take my career to the next level.”
Walid has since risen to become a Programme Manager for the whole MENA region, how did this come about in so short a time?
Jim: “Walid very quickly got to grips with KEY FMI’s approach and reporting requirements, and soon had Tunisia running like clockwork. Consequently, I recommended him to the MENA Programme Manager for consideration should any opportunities arise.
That opportunity arose much sooner than expected. MENA had been underperforming and we were looking to replace the Programme Manager. When I put Walid forward for the position, the client executives looked at me as if I’d lost my marbles! I insisted and told them he had my personal guarantee.
I knew it was a big step-up for Walid. I trialled him on two countries at first, but included one where we were experiencing the biggest problems. He took control very quickly and the way he dealt with the challenges was impressive. Everyone was happy, so we soon handed him the reins for the entire region.”
Walid: “They were exciting times. I had been waiting for the chance to show what I could do and here was my win-or-lose moment. I worked late every night, and spent many hours in front of my laptop, researching the new markets and requirements. From time-to-time I felt a little tired, but I was always happy because I was doing something I loved.
I also felt really supported by the KEY FMI team. Whenever required, I’d just raise my hand and there’d be two or three people willing and available to help. Particularly, Jim was always there for advice and reassurance, no matter how late I called him. This enabled me to relax into my new role and gave me the confidence I needed.”
Jim: “MENA is the toughest market in the world of FM and Walid handles it exceptionally well. He’s one of the best, if not the best, we have, and he continues to grow. A proper success story! He’s a firm but fair manager, a good presenter, and great with clients and customers. He’s also a genuinely nice guy, someone I’d trust with my life.”
So to end, Walid, what’s next for you and FM?
Walid: “In terms of myself, I intend to keep improving. My approach is working fine and is delivering the results, but it’s not the best I can achieve.
Particularly, I want to develop my understanding of FM management systems. To-date I have been heavily involved in the detail of day-to-day operations. With a better grasp of the overarching framework of FM, I believe I will be better able to reflect on the rationale for these activities, their consequences, and how they relate to strategic organisational objectives. English is not my first language, and I think this knowledge will also help me clarify and simplify my communications.
I see a great transnational Programme Manager like the conductor of a symphony. The FM management system is the sheet music and the orchestra is the team, and delivering the best performance is all about striking the perfect balance between keeping the score and managing human relationships.
When it comes to FM, I think there are two major disruptors in the imminent future.
The first is the new ISO standards for FM, particularly ISO 41001. These provide a framework for ‘a symphony’ and are set to transform global FM.
The second is workplace digitisation. New technologies can now enable continuous monitoring of buildings and activities, and automate work scheduling and reporting. These systems provide rich real-time information, while assuming a large part of the burden of operational management. This frees up the FM to focus on what they should be doing: identifying and implementing opportunities for improving service quality and adding value.
Thankfully, KEY is ahead of the curve in both these areas. Our CEO often says, “the only constant in business is change”, and I enjoy working for a company that recognises this. We know who we are and what we do, but we are also thinking ahead, ever exploring and contributing to the evolution of our profession.”