World FM Day: Behind the scenes with CBRE’s Nick De Leon

May 8, 2024

All too often, Facilities Managers are the unsung heroes of the built environment, ensuring the seamless operation of the buildings where we work, play and live. In many ways, their efforts are designed to go unnoticed—but World FM Day presents an annual opportunity to recognise the vital contributions of the FMs who keep our spaces safe, efficient, and enjoyable.

In this latest instalment of our annual interview series, we’re excited to speak with Nick De Leon, Facilities Manager at CBRE. Nick gave us a unique look behind the curtains of his role, the evolving challenges of facilities management and some helpful advice for industry newcomers.

Building a professional foundation

Talk us through your career path so far.

My background is in mechanical engineering, plus a bit of electrical and electronics engineering. I started my career working on an oil and gas platform for AMOCO, then moved back onto solid ground, where I worked in petrochemicals in Trinidad & Tobago. From there, I transitioned into working at corporate buildings as an engineer at various commercial spaces across London. 

I finally got to Australia in 2014, where I took a role as a Duty Manager at Sydney Airport for three years before landing an Operations and Maintenance position with Vanderlande. I moved on from this role when COVID hit the travel industry, which soon proved a blessing in disguise. That’s when I found the FM role with CBRE, looking after a premium office building in Sydney.

How does your background in engineering serve you as an FM?

Honestly, I think a big part of being a successful FM is being a people person.

Having been on the contractor side, I knew going in how important it was to deal with contractors without being pushy or aggressive. At the end of the day, these are the people we rely on to ensure our facilities keep running smoothly.

When contractors come to a job, they want to enjoy the environment; they want to be comfortable. If something goes wrong, like a transformer blowing out that leads to a loss of power, you don’t want contractors coming in feeling any tension because they won’t perform at their best. They might miss things because they’re not in the right headspace. So you want them relaxed and ready to do their job.

Of course, it also helps to be knowledgeable about the engineering side and to understand what’s going on from their perspective. I can also help analyse and troubleshoot certain issues alongside the building mechanics. It makes me feel good when I can help a technician feel like they learned something, and vice versa.

What advice can you share for FMs with a limited technical background?

A technical background really isn’t necessary to succeed as an FM; it’s just a bonus. The three core skills are really the people skills I talked about earlier, understanding compliance and budgeting.

What initially drew you to facilities management as a career, and what has kept you here?

After working in several highly demanding roles over the years, I wanted to work in a position where I could help make a difference in how the technicians are treated. The work environment can be dramatically improved by empowering people with the ability to take on a new challenge, and the ability to do just that drew me to the FM position.

What’s keeping me here are all of my amazing colleagues.

Understanding the essence of facilities management

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

The work might sound pretty straightforward, but the variety of different circumstances we deal with on a daily basis is amazing. No two days are the same!

What skills do you think are most important to be successful in facilities management, and how will these evolve over time?

People skills will always be a must, but the ability to adapt to changing technology is also becoming critical. With AI taking helping with a large portion of our monitoring work, we need the skills to evolve with what the technology requires of us. It’s important to embrace these emerging technologies rather than fear them.

How do you and your team keep up with the latest trends and technologies?

I have to give CBRE most of the credit for this; the insight and updates that come to me through that network are second to none. CBRE ensures that FMs and PMs stay up to date, which tends to evolve into knowledge that everyone can benefit from.

How important is technology in helping you fulfil your role?

Technology is incredibly important. Taking the PEAK Platform as an example, having access to PEAK has transformed how I can monitor building data. It has also made my monthly reporting far easier than it was before. So, right away, technology is helping me collate and manage critical building data, which is very difficult to do manually.

Making an impact on sustainability

How do you support CBRE’s broader sustainability objectives on the ground as an FM?

I’m really lucky in that I work on a fairly new building that runs quite efficiently. However, there are still a few opportunities to improve our sustainability. I’ve put forward a number of energy-saving initiatives, like converting our gas boilers to electric and replacing all the lights within the base building infrastructure with LEDs. We’re also looking at renewable energy sources to reduce our carbon footprint further. 

Otherwise, the PEAK Platform has already made a big difference in helping us optimise the operation of the plant and equipment we have today. We’re always planting that seed, asking what else we can do to improve, and PEAK supports those efforts with the evidence.

What is one thing that CBRE do really well that others can learn from?

One of the things that CBRE do very well today is communicate effectively, which is half the battle. We have a truly global team with established processes to share our best practices with each other worldwide, so we’re always learning from the successes and failures of our global portfolio.

A day in the life

How would you describe facilities management in one word?


Talk us through a typical day in your role as an FM.

First, I ensure that all of the building’s services have kicked off when they should. HVAC needs to be activated to keep the tenants comfortable, and scheduling needs to be correct. I make sure the team is happy and safe, keeping the front of house pleasant for tenants and a friendly space for them to enter.

More tactically, I juggle lots of meetings and emails, like most modern office workers do. In my building, I’m the first line of defence for tenant requests and any major building-level challenges.

Describe a memorable or pivotal time in your career.

When I worked at the airport in O&M, I came across a cultural disconnect within the team. I had 60 engineers reporting to me, all of whom were used to the overly strict culture my predecessor had left behind. I worked hard to change the culture, and more than one person told me that for the first time, they were happy to come to work. That was no accident; it came from intentional bonding and creating that social cohesion, whereas before, the team would barely look at each other.

Here at CBRE, my predecessor was great, so there was no cultural shift necessary. All of the contractors are happy to be here, which is a great reminder of how lucky I am to work with such engaged individuals.

Chris Joannides
May 8, 2024