Professional Builder puts the questions to the new President of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).
PB. Firstly Jan, many congratulations on your recent appointment as President of the FMB, the first female in its eighty-year long history to hold such an esteemed position. And what a baptism of fire considering everything that has been happening these past nine months. How are you coping personally with the challenges on so many fronts?
Jan. It’s certainly been a time like no other to take on this role. But it’s a true honour, and a great responsibility. I’ve been so impressed by how resilient FMB members have been throughout the pandemic, and the support this community provides for each other. I’ve taken each day as it comes over the past nine months, and not taken anything for granted. I believe challenges make us stronger and more adaptable; and face any weaknesses head on.
PB. Perhaps you could give us some background to your involvement in the construction industry and the various roles you have for fulfilled within the FMB and what membership over the years has meant to you and your business?
Jan. I’ve been in this business for over forty years. I joined the building company set up by my first husband, Neal, in the early 1970s doing house building, heritage renovation, and domestic repair and maintenance until he died in 2011. We added Syntonic Kitchen Technicians as a separate entity in the mid-90s, providing commercial heating and plumbing services in London and the south east. From delivering kitchen installations for all the service stations up the M1, to working in hotels, prisons, hospitals and schools and people’s homes, life at Syntonic is never dull.
At the FMB, I started out in my Croydon branch, first as Secretary, then Chairman. I’ve sat on the London Council, then Board, and spent time as President. I was lucky enough to be elected by my local Master Builder colleagues to the National Board in 2013. Before taking on the role of National President in September 2020, I was Vice-President for two years, and learnt a huge amount from our brilliant former President, Arthur McArdle.
PB. Despite the best efforts of many interested parties, attracting young people especially women into the industry is still a major problem going forward. As someone who has clearly thrived in a traditionally male dominated arena, what advice can you pass on to anyone contemplating a career in construction?
Don’t expect to be treated any differently. We have lots of brilliant women working for FMB members and they stand in their own right. There are great examples on our National Board, but many more women are involved nowadays than ever before. We really must make our profession much more accessible to younger people of both genders. Construction is a great career.
PB. What practical business help has the FMB been able to afford its members during these difficult times and are there any additional measures you would you like to see from Government to help the industry, not only come through the pandemic but prosper in the years ahead?
Jan. Our members were hit hard initially. In the first month, 96 per cent of our members told us they had had to stop some or all of their work. The FMB acted fast, producing bespoke advice, when we didn’t get that from government. We kept our phonelines running, despite furlough, and introduced loads of regular updates and new support webinars.
The FMB took a leading role in pushing for more suitable financial support, like Bounce Back Loans. It’s been great to see so much collaboration by the construction industry to help put builders at the heart of the recovery. FMB members need certainty to help them win work. Rising material prices and shortages are really concerning me at the moment.
PB. One of the many consequences of COVID-19 is clearly a rise in mental health issues with the construction industry at the very forefront of this particular crisis. Is the FMB doing anything specific to address this horribly distressing illness within its own membership?
Jan. The FMB is a supporter of The Lighthouse Club, which runs the Construction Industry Helpline, specialising in mental health support for builders. It’s a fantastic organisation, and only a tragedy that it has to exist. I’ve chosen to support them as my charity during the two years of my Presidency. There will be lots of opportunities to raise its profile and to fundraise, such as at the Master Builder Awards later this year.
PB. Do you think the smaller builder /developer will have to fundamentally change the way they run their businesses to be successful in the future, given the way the world is moving towards a much greater reliance on digital interaction and communication?
Jan. I believe most SMEs have met the challenge head on. The thing to remember about SMEs is that everyone tends to wear more than one ‘hat’ within the company, and are, therefore, well equipped and adaptable to grow and change as required. This is something I want to support FMB members to do as I engage with them more over the coming two years.
PB. Without wishing your time in the new role away, when the moment comes to pass on the baton, what would you hope to have achieved during your role as President?
Jan. Quality is important to me – it’s what being a Master Builder is all about. So, I would like to see more done to counter the negative reputation of ‘cowboy builders’. That’s why I’m a supporter of a licensing system for UK construction to improve the industry. The green agenda is also really important, so I’d like to see a clear role for local builders in helping us tackle that huge challenge. For the FMB, I want to meet – even if it’s over Zoom – as many of our members as possible. Member engagement and making people feel involved matter a lot in my book.
PB. There’s been so much doom and gloom. Can you give us a reason to feel optimistic about 2021?
Jan. There’s the vaccine, of course, but for the FMB, 2021 is our 80th year, and we want to celebrate how far we’ve come. I’m excited about what’s ahead.
For further information on the Federation of Master Builders visit https://www.fmb.org.uk/