Claire has spent more than 20 years in the facilities management sector working for a number of major firms in business development, sales and customer relations roles. She is also a member of the BESA Board.“I fell into engineering,” she says. “I was working in gaming for PlayStation distribution house Centresoft when my Dad became ill and I moved back to Stoke to be closer to home.”
She subsequently joined local firm George S. Hall in a customer relations role. “Their md at the time was Chris Keneally and Jamie Reynolds was commercial director. They made engineering interesting and back then the industry was developing so quickly, with data and commercial models; multi- service, integrated service, FM, intelligent client interface, EMEA, global and back. It was an exciting time and I was working with a vibrant team.”
She became addicted to the business and has continued to absorb as much as she can “like a sponge”.
“I love the diversity of the tasks. I have benefitted from being in the right place at the right time and always grasped any opportunities that presented themselves. I’m truly grateful to those who gave them to me,” she says.
Claire became the first female sales director appointed by the FM giant ISS where she spent two years running the property assets of a number of major City of London institutions, followed by moving out of sales for the first time and into operations at Kier. There she ended up running a £300m division, but the move to Linaker was motivated by a desire to be part of something where she could “make a difference”.
And she would encourage other women to follow in her footsteps: “Be authentic, be brave; if you want it, go and get it. It’s a colourful and varied industry with lots of diverse opportunities; where you can be anything you want to be.”
However, she thinks the industry needs to be more positive about itself: “We have a little problem in the sector of thinking it is all doom and gloom. We are not so good at shouting about the great stuff we do, the cool stuff.”
As a result, many women have a fairly negative image of the sector, yet Claire points out that she has travelled the world and been involved in some amazing exciting projects thanks to her career choice.
“I have presented in some of the largest boardrooms in the world. I have worked in Asia, the US and even the Caribbean (and that was a pest contract!). I have stood, tied on, open to the elements on the 60th floor of the Shard during construction; and I have seen the drill that mined Crossrail.”
Claire still spends one day a month on the road with Linaker’s engineers to keep her knowledge current and show them that she understands the pressures they face. “Being a building services engineer can be extremely stressful. If there is water pouring down the stairs of a hotel and you are the person expected to fix it – that can be really tough.”
As a woman in a leading building services role, it is impossible for her to avoid the issue of the industry’s woeful record on diversity, but she is not entirely comfortable with the debate.
“We always talk about ‘tackling’ diversity as if it is something we can take on and confront, but I think it should be more about making the right recruitment decisions. If you always pick the person best suited to the job, then over time more people will see they can advance in this industry. That means setting some prejudices and preconceptions aside to let talent reach the top.
“As a woman under 40, I am not in this job because they wanted to appoint someone from a ‘minority’. I know that [the founder] Bill Harrison picked me because he recognised that I am right person for the job.”
She also has not found her gender to be a barrier.
“Regardless of my gender people have been great to me in the industry. If I was really honest I’d say it’s the women who are sometimes harder on other women. I refuse to be that woman – I’ll give anyone a hand-up who wants to grow regardless of any label.”
She says that INWED and other profile raising initiatives are important because they help create more “gender balance” industry-wide and promote “great females who may not look to us because they think our industry does not offer as much as it does”.
“There are a mass of diverse, well-paid opportunities in the sector for emotionally and commercially savvy people to take advantage of. All the opportunities are there for a highly-fulfilling, prestigious career; we just need to get the message out there.”
She is also full of praise for BESA’s role describing it as “an exciting place to be at the moment”.
“BESA has taken great steps in promoting our industry and giving the smaller contractors, which form the large percentage of workforce, a voice,” says Claire. “The organisation has shown great leadership throughout Covid-19 crisis and remains the place to go for solid advice. With its daily webinars and regular updates its voice has been a beacon in an industry where other professional bodies have been relatively quiet.”