IFMA World Workplace 2013 opened in Philadelphia yesterday with a controversial change of keynote format and a party in a museum. Cathy Hayward reports on the first day.
The razzmatazz that accompanies the World Workplace carnival is part of the reason that most of the 6,000 delegates attend the biggest gathering of facilities managers in the world, many of them year after year proudly displaying their pin badges from conferences past. In recent years, I’ve seen motivational speakers from a range of corporates with the highlight being Disney, together with professional speakers and best-selling authors to kick off the event where global FMs go to see and be seen.
But at the start of yesterday’s conference in Philadelphia, the fifth largest city in the US, the opening was more muted. And that was nothing to do with the US shutdown – both New York and Philadelphia were as busy as ever. IFMA chair Jon Seller welcomed the delegates from 35 countries around the world (although largely from the US) and introduced a change to the usual programme – a panel debate in place of the motivational speaker. The Ask the CEO debate, designed to allow delegates to gain insight into cutting-edge global FM practices, strategies and techniques, includes senior leaders (not all CEOs) from ISS, DTZ, ABM Industries, Johnson Controls, CBRE and Aramark, which has its HQ in Philly.
From a UK perspective the session covered old ground: why FM isn’t represented at C-suite level; the difficulties of managing multi-generational workplaces; the challenges of getting people to understand what FM is; and how to encourage the next generation of FMs into our industry. There were some interesting insights, particularly from Jeff Gravenhorst, group CEO of ISS World Services, who argued that it was not always relevant for FMs to be on, or near, board level; and then went on to ask whether FMs were creating environments where “people would want to hang out if they didn’t have to be here?” But largely the discussion lacked energy and anything fresh – although as Workplace Law’s David Sharp said afterwards “perhaps there isn’t anything new to say”.
The session was clumsily interrupted half-way through to introduce the city’s mayor Michael Nutter who welcomed delegates to America’s greenest city. “As one of the oldest cities in America, with some ageing building stock, I understand the critical role facility professionals play in Philadelphia’s economy.” He went on to talk about some of the FM strategies the city was introducing including a planned preventative maintenance plan for all public sector buildings and energy benchmarking across public sector buildings.
After the mayor returned to City Hall, conveniently just a block from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the debate resumed and the conference hall began to slowly empty as the audience voted with their feet. When Ifma CEO Tony Keane made his closing remarks and the camera panned the room to recognise both those individuals who volunteer their time as heads of Ifma chapters and those who had undertaken Ifma qualifications and training, the number of empty grey seats was stark.
Audience reaction afterwards was mixed with some saying they enjoyed the formality and professionalism of the debate and others preferring the previous motivational speaker to kick off the conference in style. The tradition of a local band marching delegates from ballroom to exhibition room remained, however, where several hundred stands put the UK Facilities Show to shame. What sets World Workplace apart from the UK FM conferences is certainly the sheer size – thousands of delegates and more than 250 exhibitors make it the event to be, and be seen. It also means more revenue for some of the glitzier parts of a conference – the marching bands and the receptions (held on the first night in The Franklin Institute, one of the oldest science museums in the US) are occasions to remember.
But from past experience, it’s the hour-long educational sessions (which run from 8am to 5pm on the final two days of the conference) where the real gems of facilities knowledge can be found. The next two days will see some difficult decisions made as 12 session compete for the thousands of delegates to live up to this year’s World Workplace Slogan Leading FM: Advance Business, Get Results.
This is a copy of Cathy’s article featured on i-fm.net