FM Director – Interview with Hanna Barrett

Our People
7 March 2023

As part of International Women’s Day 2023 celebration series, this week’s Portico People spotlight features our director of operations, Hanna Barret’s interview with the FM Director on how supporting colleagues improve relationships with industry partners and customers.

Recent FM journal issues seen throughout the business community have emphasised the need to support colleagues in achieving their potential within the company they’re in.

This is far more likely to result in individuals remaining longer with their employer by avoiding the need to look for other work to assist in their professional development, while additionally providing benefits to companies that range from the increased value this provides, along with avoiding the expense and disruption caused by having to recruit new employees.

Proof of the effectiveness of the above is provided by Portico director of operations Hanna Barrett, who joined the company in 2006 and has enjoyed the opportunities that have emerged in the interim period. “Of course, you have to make the effort to fulfil your side of the bargain, but you quickly find that doors open above and beyond your expectations when you push yourself to go that little bit further,” she says.

“I’ve found that I’ve had the opportunity to complete two apprenticeships for levels two and three of leadership and management and there’s been lots of on-the-job training, which has helped to move up to jobs with increasing levels of responsibility,” she continues. Ms Barrett states that her increasing seniority and success within the business led to her applying for her current role as director of operations.

“I was the last to apply for the interview and thought ‘they’ll never choose me’,” she says. Despite her initial reluctance and self-doubt, Ms Barrett was successful in her application and has found that her confidence has increased considerably as she has become increasingly comfortable in fulfilling her duties.

“Applying for the job was probably the best thing I ever did. I’m not the academic type and left school as soon as I could with not many qualifications. I’ve always preferred anything creative compared with academic, but I felt very proud of being able to apply myself to something like that.”
She further explains the benefits of taking time to gain more knowledge, rather than trying to achieve things too soon and suffering as a result. “I really feel that building on all the knowledge, experience and credibility was crucial. You see people trying to achieve everything by tomorrow, they want to be in the next world by next week, but actually spending a little more time on your skills is priceless.”

Appreciation of all areas of personal development are expressed by Ms Barrett as she explains how increasing her networking activities and learning more about composure and behaviours. “You need to allow yourself time to grow, mature and live and breathe those experiences before moving on to the next step in your career.”

There have been numerous comparisons in recent years between the benefits of gaining academic qualifications at colleges and universities, compared with the alternative of engaging with apprenticeships and Ms Barrett is unsurprisingly a firm supporter of the latter option. “If you can complete the qualification at the same time as doing the job, when you put the two together, you’re onto a winner, particularly when you work for a really supportive company,” she continues.

Having benefited from her employer’s support on a personal level, Ms Barrett has also established learning and development initiatives within the business that continue to assist her colleagues to progress their careers. In addition to gaining more knowledge and experience, she further states her belief that apprentice schemes have further benefits, such as helping to establish positive work ethics, while gaining more work experience and getting paid for this.

“We’ve also just had our first two people pass their Executive MBAs at Portico, who have benefited from being supported through achieving that type of qualification,” she continues. “That was at an operational level, and we found that helping someone throughout that, while also helping them with their work commitments is a huge challenge but it was really successful.”

She further states that the two individuals are now contributing to the company at a much higher level, which is likely to increase further as they continue their professional development. “It’s lovely to be able to provide people with that platform and with all the support behind it. We were also able to attend the graduation ceremony, which was amazing, and something you don’t hear about from too many companies.”

Additional evidence for the value of supporting all colleagues in their career development path can be seen by the fact that Portico celebrated 89 internal promotions in 2022. Ms Barrett says this is now the most common means of filling leadership roles and further proof of the dynamic impact on both individuals and the company in general.

“That also helps with our retention rates because we’re providing those growth opportunities for people and we keep them longer,” she continues. Yet another advantage of this is that employees are recommending the company to their friends and family and creating another valuable source of introducing new talent into the business.

“We also have lots of referrals from our clients, who recommend us to their friends and family, which has led to the sons and daughters of our clients joining our organisation. We’ve had two recent examples of this and the latest started this week.”

The above again has a number of positive connotations, including the deepening of relationships with customers and industry partners. Ms Barrett further explains how this has resulted in new contracts being signed and cites the example of a former client who moved to another company and contacted Portico to continue working with the business.

“A lot of my role is about forging deep relationships over time with our clients, and we have a lot of work based on that,” she continues. “It’s all about building meaningful relationships with people and creating a reliable reputation.”

The importance of maintaining and adding to the company’s reputation within the FM sector is emphasised by Ms Barrett, who states that in addition to assisting the smooth progress of their contracts with existing clients, this frequently leads to enquiries from new potential customers. This has additionally resulted in providing the business with the confidence to further extend its service offering.

“We now look to provide community managers, floor hosts, little bit of and soft security. The length of time we’ve successfully been in business is a credit that helps people feel they’re in safe hands and appreciate our knowledge and experience.”

One of the more notable developments in the company’s work is assisting clients with encouraging employees to return to their workplace following the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. This has included the need to make offices more comfortable and include home comforts.

“It’s a case of making the office feel more like home and including more soft comforts and that friendly face of someone who’s going to help them in the workplace in numerous ways and make it a nicer experience to come into work. We’ve certainly learned that humans need humans during the pandemic and so if we can get our day-to-day relationships right that leads to people wanting more of our services.”

Service delivery on this level means that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, Ms Barrett continues, and each contract must be established on its own merits to meet the requirements and expectations of the client and its staff. The company regards maintaining its focus on service delivery and people as essential, while also appreciating market developments and how these may impact on future operations.

While this may require the business to add more aspects to its service offering, these are only included if the company feels it has the expertise and capabilities to deliver them. The overall aim is to continue to grow the business in a steady and sustainable fashion without losing sight of its core objectives.

“It’s about going down those avenues where we can add value, rather than just doing something that will grow the business,” Ms Barrett continues. “It’s important that we work to a successful and established model and it’s important we have a sense of leadership on site.”

The Portico site leader acts as a vital point of daily contact between the company and its client, ensuring that standards are maintained, and all services are delivered in the best and correct way for the customer. This provides high levels of value and maintains the bespoke delivery of services, she continues, particularly when compared with the option of an account manager who could only visit the site on a weekly basis.

Another frequently seen aspect within the FM sector is the regular announcements of mergers and acquisitions between companies and industry partners. Ms Barrett says that although Portico can see the benefits, including rapid expansion of each business, any acquisitions will be carefully considered to ensure these meet all the requirements of the company.

“We don’t just look at a year ahead, we look at the future 10 years ahead and what that will look like for Portico, and it will never be a rash decision to partner with another business. It would have to be really solid and the right thing for us in all areas and would have to support and add value to our existing business.”

In the meantime, Ms Barrett states that the company will continue its focus on bringing more people into the business and further extending its diversity and inclusion. This will include the support for learning and development, from the initial teaching of essential skills to the mentoring and encouragement in gaining new qualifications.

Recruitment of new colleagues continues to be based more on each person’s character and what value they can bring to the company, which then matches with the Portico method of delivering bespoke services to each client. The fact that the company operates over several different sectors will see considerable differences within client expectations, which can be more easily delivered through encouraging colleagues to engage in personal development and work more closely with customers.

Ms Barrett is an enthusiastic supporter of all aspects of diversity and inclusion and the potential this has of increasing the pool of supply, while delivering benefits for individuals, the business and its clients and their employees. The efforts of the company have resulted in major developments, including an even division of male and female board members that many larger companies struggle to achieve, and bodes well for its future development and successful service delivery.