Behind the scenes with Senior Property Manager Stephen Burke

May 24, 2024

Facilities Managers are the conductors of the built environment, ensuring that everything operates in tandem for a smooth tenant or visitor experience. They’re responsible for a wide array of tasks, including regulatory compliance, operational functionality, cost-conscious consumption, and enhancing overall tenant comfort and productivity. In short, there’s virtually no part of the built environment that they don’t touch, from the building itself to its inhabitants.

In the latest instalment of our FM interview series, we’re thrilled to speak with Stephen Burke, a Senior Property Manager at Lisney, the largest full-service Irish-owned property company in that country. Stephen has worked in facilities management since 2010. In his nearly 15 years on the job and across two continents, he’s seen the industry change in exciting ways, which made us all the more keen to get his perspective.

Building a professional foundation

Talk us through your career path so far.

I started my career in Perth, Australia, where I moved just after completing my degree in estate management and valuation in Bristol. I went straight into an in-house FM role managing a large construction manufacturing facility, which was a great introduction to the field.

After about three years, I moved back to Ireland and took a role with a large property developer in Dublin. This was a more traditional FM job, and I thoroughly enjoyed it for the eight years I was there. It was incredible exposure to all sides of facilities management; I handled projects from greenfield or brownfield through to completion. I worked with design teams, architects, M&E, soft and hard services—you name it. 

I came to Lisney in December 2021. Lisney is Ireland’s leading independent commercial and residential estate agency, so it’s a big outfit. I manage a range of properties across Ireland, including retail, residential, and commercial assets with a total area of approximately 50,000 square metres.

What led you to facilities management as a career path, and what has kept you here?

During my university days, I worked summer construction jobs and became interested in property. I knew I either wanted to get certified in a trade or work on the other side of it in facilities management. 

When I started working in the field, I quickly discovered that no two days are the same, which has been a true pleasure. I get to deal with so many different people every day, which helps ensure I’m always learning something new. I’m always learning and always growing, and that’s what’s kept me here.

Understanding the essence of facilities management

What is something interesting about facilities management that most people probably don’t know?

When people learn that I work in facilities management, they have a completely different concept of what I actually do. It’s interesting when you explain it and break it out; they tend to be taken aback by the level of detail we go into. And a whole other world has opened up with ESG and sustainability. The industry is always evolving, and it’s great to be a part of it. 

What are your favourite things about facilities management?

First, the variety. No two days are the same. There are always surprises—some good and some bad. Probably more bad than good, to be honest, because you’re dealing with issues, but the variety is really refreshing. You’re on different sites on different days of the week, so nothing gets stale.

Secondly, I’m a people person, and facilities management is perfect for people who love working closely with others. In my day-to-day, I’m probably dealing with 20 to 30 different contractors, solicitors, consultants, internal staff, clients, etc. You’re in the middle of it all, and everything flows through you, so you end up as the jack of all trades.

And finally, there’s a simple pleasure in getting projects over the line for clients. Keeping tenants happy and ensuring your clients are satisfied by completing projects and getting deals done is the bread and butter for an operations person. It’s very enjoyable and satisfying at the end of the day; and there’s clear feedback when you’ve done good work.

Skills that define a successful FM

What skills do you think are most important to be successful in facilities management?

Organisational skills are absolutely key because you’re juggling a lot at any given moment. Currently, I have 10 to 15 projects on the go in terms of refurbishment, repair, and retrofitting. On top of that, you’re managing tenant queries and contractors, so there’s a lot to keep track of. You have to be able to triage emergencies without letting anything slip through the cracks; everything has to keep moving.

Of course, you also need the knowledge. I did my masters in facilities management, but you learn a lot on the job. Once you get in amongst the weeds, you realise how much there is to know. For example, you need to understand pricing in detail because you’re managing budgets, so you need to know if a contractor is overpricing and need the ability to verify that you’re getting the right value for the money. 

And as I mentioned earlier, being a people person is key. You’re dealing with so many people day to day that if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll burn out. There’s a lot to juggle.

Making an impact on sustainability

How do you drive sustainability and operational efficiency in your role?

At Lisney, we have an in-house dedicated ESG consultant. If we take on management of a new building, we have a standard protocol for energy management that I’m involved with. But if the client wants significant work on ESG, we bring our consultant in.

We survey our buildings and review them from top to bottom to implement an energy plan. Of course, some of that involves the basics, like swapping out lightbulbs for LED. We’ve actually managed to get a few buildings completely off the grid, managing power for the whole building with solar.

We always work with clients to ensure they understand how to optimise building performance, because that benefits everyone in the chain. It’s about saving money and being good for the environment.

Embracing technology

How important is technology in fulfilling your role?

Technology is absolutely vital. There are so many spinning plates to keep in the air that it’s virtually impossible without tech. If the building has a BMS, there’s so much data that needs to be analysed for any particular building or scheme that technology tools are a bare minimum to help make sense of that data.

We’re working with CIM on a building in Kilkenny where it’s vital to not only have the data, but to have it analysed and to pinpoint issues in the building in a way we couldn’t have done before. We manage sites all over the country, and you can only be in one place at a time, so having the technology to assist you is key.

What role does CIM’s PEAK Platform play in your day-to-day?

PEAK is rapidly becoming an essential part of our toolkit, even though we’re fairly new to using it. It’s already giving me information I wouldn’t have been exposed to previously. PEAK helps flag issues on-site that we simply wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

Because PEAK is so user-friendly, it’s part of my daily routine to log in and quickly assess how a building is performing and review the alerts. It’s like having another set of eyes. Our buildings are operating a lot more efficiently already, so PEAK is ultimately saving us money and saving our clients money.

Chris Joannides
May 24, 2024