Professional Development: FM–The Oldest Profession?

Professional Development: FM--The Oldest Profession?

This amusing overview from Guest Contributor Charles Carpenter defines great moments in FM history.
This amusing overview from Guest Contributor Charles Carpenter defines great moments in FM history.

By Charles C. Carpenter, CFM, CFMJ
Published in the April 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

In his April 2008 FM Frequency column, Jeff Crane humorously asks the question, “Do you think Pharaoh engaged a LEED® Accredited Professional to build his tomb?” Let’s take that concept one step further by looking at some of the great moments in facility management (FM) history. After all, once the Pharoahs finished specifying their temples and pyramids (with or without LEED certification), the architects probably handed the job over to someone else. And while the titles of these people were not captured in hieroglyphs, today we would probably call them facility managers (fms).

Being the fm for a Pharaoh was probably as tough a profession then as it is today. Procuring furniture while the queens were always changing their minds, securing the best papyrus for the royal lavatory, or finding a good contractor who could lug two ton blocks to the top of a 400′ foot pyramid might greet an fm on a good day. What welcomes the Pharaoh’s fm when he does a good job? Possibly being buried with the Pharaoh in the pyramid.

There has always been someone to carry the torch for FM. While the profession may have always been around, only in the last few decades did it receive a common name. Fms are everywhere, though they still have different names.

Once a king had a castle, he was more concerned with something besides whether there was oil in the lamps or water in the moat. Someone else kept the place clean and the drawbridge in working order. A good fm might have been called a duke or an earl; a bad one was more than likely beheaded.

Facilities are also more than just buildings. Park rangers could be viewed as fms. Their facilities almost certainly have more green space than buildings and more animals than people. Instead of putting out fires around the office, they might be putting out real fires from lightning or careless campers. A cave or cavern that has been turned into a tourist attraction has someone to manage the safety and security of the spelunkers, stalactites, and stalagmites.

While FM is rarely an easy job, the origins of the word facility are, ironically, from the Latin word facilis meaning “easy.” In Latin, an fm might have been called procuratorem facilitatem; funny the title never took. Googling “facility manager” yields 6,660,000 hits, while “procuratorem facilitatem” yields 257.

Today, fms are on the forefront of issues in the built environment. In the early days of civilization, the built environment was seen as good. When Moses and his people were punished for 40 years, he was sent to the wilderness, not an office building. In “Getting Back To The Wrong Nature,” [Utne Reader, May/June 1996] William Cronon called the wilderness “the antithesis of all that was orderly and good.” In the 1800s, Henry David Thoreau seemed to embrace the idea of environmentalism where the built environment seemed to encompass all that was wrong with the world.

FM transcends this good and bad. While sustainability is a more western notion, fms are tasked with balancing what is good for their companies with what is good for the environment. They are often the ones who bring the idea of sustainability to bear in their companies, teach employees how and what to recycle, and reduce the electricity consumption with retrofitting fixtures or decommissioning older, inefficient equipment. Fms may bethe modern day cowboys of the built environment; working as many hours as it takes to get the job done, while maintaining a reverence for their environment and being polite to everyone they encounter.

Some fms wait all their lives for their dream jobs. Recent openings at the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium and at Skywalker Properties for Lucasfilm probably had their fair share of applicants. For an Ohio State Buckeye or a Texas Longhorn, an opportunity in FM at their alma mater might be the last position they ever take.

Some fms may do great work—just in a tough location. There were probably not a lot of applicants for the opening at the Coliseum in Rome after the previous fm was eaten by lions. The fm at a prison probably has a hard time pleasing building occupants. While some may say another profession is the oldest, there always had to be someone to turn on the red light.

Many fms are constantly on the go. One can imagine that the fm for the Great Wall of China was a busy man. At over 4,000 miles, it probably took him a year to get from one end to the other. The fm on the Titantic was probably called too late after the accident but still expected to right the ship. Like a good fm, he probably told the captain something optimistic and never admitted defeat. The conductor on the OrientExpress probably doubled as the fm, always having to stock up chalk for outlining bodies.

Where will the future take FM? One may speculate that it will be out of the boiler room and into the corner office. Fms may have come of age when they are mentioned by title in national radio ads. More colleges and universities are offering courses and degrees in FM. The NASA Web site mentions “FM folks” as part of the preparation for NASA’s Constellation Program Lunar Surface Systems Office. While FM may not be as noble as being a teacher or doctor, where would these noble professionals be without an fm to maintain the roofs over their heads?

One aspect of FM is that it is often the last functional position at any company. When businesses close down or move, fms are the ones who shut down the empty buildings. They get the unenviable task of clearing out personal belonging for employees who are long gone. When that final day comes, they are the ones who lock the doors one last time.

In ten of thousands of years,when some beings are looking at the hieroglyphs that today are called English, Japanese, or German, they might find the term “facility manager.” While those beings may not be able to decipher its true meaning, odds are there will be someone managing their facilities (or spacecrafts or whatever) who can imagine what today’s fms went through. And while FM may not be the oldest profession, it will probably be the last profession.

Carpenter has worked in FM since 1995. He is currently working on his Masters Degree at Texas State University, but he will eagerly make time to answer questions from readers, despite his hectic schedule.

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