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Nigeria’s poor building maintenance culture stems from lack of knowledge – James Cubitt Facility Managers MD

There is a wide view that Nigeria lacks maintenance culture. This cuts across public, private sectors. Structures such as buildings are not serviced and maintained leading to their dilapidation and eventual collapse. In the end, huge sums of money are allocated for their rebuilding. This is worsened as; facility managers are not incorporated into building design and constructions for professional advice. In this interview, therefore Gbadunade Ogunleye, the managing director of James Cubitt Facility Managers regrets that many people lack knowledge about professional maintenance of structures, hence they give such responsibility to gate-men. Ogunleye who studied Chemistry at UI but followed her passion for keeping building exquisite discusses how regulation could be a recipe in structure maintenance. Excerpts

Could you tell us more about James Cubitt Facility Managers and what informed the establishment of the company?

The company kicked off as a desk in James Cubitt Development. After successfully running the desk for about a year, it was established as a company. What informed the establishment was that James Cubitt Group, which started off in Nigeria over 60 years ago as an architectural firm, realised that many people were only looking at designs, the beauty and the construction, but the question is what happens when the property is built, whose job is it to maintain it. Maintaining a structure should be considered from the design stage.

Maintaining a structure is critical and that encouraged us to enter into the market five years ago. Since then we have made some statements including picking empty properties which are losing their value and using our resources to reactivate them. After the reactivation, consumers begin to be interested in them because of the quality of service and customer satisfaction. Since the establishment of the company, we have grown from 2 staff to over 60. We have locations in the commercial space. We were handling some branches of Diamond Bank before it became Access Bank. We have residential properties we manage including Liberty Court on Victoria Island.

Is James Cubitt a Nigeria firm or foreign firm?

It is a multinational that came to Nigeria over 60 years ago from Britain. We have offices in the UK, Brisbane, Accra and Doha and our chairman is British. James Cubitt Facility Managers is however duly registered in Nigeria.

As a facility manager, what is your assessment of facility management culture in Nigeria?

There is poor maintenance culture and that stems from lack of knowledge. Unfortunately, learning institutions offering facility management courses are very few. That means a lot of people stumble unto the profession without learning the rudiments. Today, there is the education and recognition challenge in the profession, which means we are not known. Imagine that someone will invest multi-million Naira in a building and in the end

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use a cleaner as a facility manager. We need to promote the profession because the positive impact on the economy as well as for business owners is immense. There is also the challenge of buying quality materials for facility management as most of the imported materials are substandard.

How do you cut down the cost of facility management for a business owner?

This is our strength. When a business owner uses untrained people for facility management and later realises his mistake, we can come in with expertise to offer professional advice based on the understanding of the building, owner’s vision, goals and his/her business objectives. We put all these together and come up with a facility management model that is bespoke for that building. We don’t copy the model from one building to another as there are different businesses with different missions requesting for different facility management needs. This helps the business owner to redirect the essential resources from the non-core to the core.

What is your position on property owners who want to go for low cost?

Though some building owners look at the cost but in the long run what they are saving is a lot. When I am data-driven in my job, this means that every service I am delivering is recorded. When property owners engage us from the start, we will be able to advise on materials to be used in building for proper maintenance.

Between commercial and residential, which one forms a larger part of your business and why?

I will say residential. We are forging ahead as there is an agreement we are about to sign that will change the dynamics. In Nigeria, private homeowners are becoming more interested in maintaining their homes. They want to live in their homes and enjoy them. Businesses too are getting more aware. The impact on their bottom-line is huge if experts are used for facility management. We will cut down on employment and we will resource appropriately instead of using the wrong people to do what they don’t have knowledge for. Covid-19 has opened many people’s eyes especially when the cost is considered. We are really about asset management and the comfort of the users. We are passionate facility managers, so James Cubitt Facility Managers is not overly expensive and because of this, we get lots of jobs through referrals.

How do you rate your organisation?

There are facility management firms with different objectives. We are in this business for people development. The problem in Nigeria today is the mind-set, mediocrity. Secondly, many people are not given chances to prove themselves. Our mission is to harness, discover opportunities that will change our world and transform lives. We are here to develop people.

Professionally, I see this facility management profession in Nigeria as a young industry, do you see more firms entering the industry. Secondly, what is the value of the industry?

I agree with you that the industry is young and that is because of lack of knowledge. The value and responsibility of the industry are huge and facility managers need to understand this and promote the industry. Without us, certain things will not work in a facility but facility managers are not celebrated. The industry is taking steps to establish the profession such as the adoption of certification for professionals. I believe that when we have different people working in different places and changing the face of facility management in Nigeria, gradually they’ll make an impact in the sector and it will become recognised. Facility management is not just running around, it involves strategy, analysis and being able to understand the building. A facility manager is like a medical doctor to a building. The value we bring to buildings is huge as we prevent business owners from spending money on what is not necessary.

At what stage does the facility manager come in?

It is from the design stage if it is a new building. If an investor is about to build, it is important there is a facility manager on the design team. If a facility manager comes in later, it means there is much work to do but it is not late. For instance, some size of cables must have been laid inappropriately.

Where does government regulation come in to ensure standard buildings and maintenance?

Right now, there is weak enforcement of standards on building regulation. This gives the society problems but if the regulators are firm and penalise for building mishaps, it will make facility management work easy. Facility managers need to be heard and the value recognised, and the government needs to know the negative impact of not being firm on building regulation. There are buildings that need to be rebuilt especially where pipes are laid inside the walls which later leak and weaken the building. Some states are however rising to facility management.

What is your take on James Cubitt Facility Managers capacity to manage more clients as the facility management industry grows?

We have the capacity and we have a system where we consistently recruit people. We have a database of people on standby. As soon as a property comes on board, we have a database of people we can call upon. Professionals recruit for us based on certain criteria. After recruitment, we do inductions and train them based on our standards.

We have the capacity and we have a system where we consistently recruit people. We have a database of people on standby. As soon as a property comes on board, we have a database of people we can call upon

What lessons did you learn from Covid-19 pandemic in terms of cost reduction and efficiency?

What I have learnt is that it is not business as usual. People need to be proactive. Proactivity has helped us a lot as a company. The moment we started hearing of Covid-19, we started meeting to strategise and two weeks before the lockdown, we had our plans. We communicated our lockdown and when it was officially announced, it was smooth for us. We adopted proactivity, creativity and flexibility in our work to ensure we are not hit hard by the pandemic. We put a system in place that gets the job done.

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