From ancient times, owners of large properties have often found it useful to employ managers to run the daily business matters of their estates. The lord of the manor sometimes was away fighting a war, sometimes held too much property to manage properly on his own, or sometimes was not interested in this responsibility or too incompetent to handle these matters by himself. In medieval England, the person managing the estate was known as a reeve, and one appears in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. The poet describes him as highly efficient, knowing exactly what harvests and livestock production the estate yields in all seasons, and sophisticated in negotiations—all skills that are still prized in facilities managers. One quality Chaucer mentions, never being in debt, is no longer desirable, because nowadays a facilities manager needs to know how to use credit effectively.
In the 20th century, facilities of all kinds—factories, stores, office buildings, hospitals, government buildings, stadiums, hotels, apartment buildings, and so forth—became increasingly complex, with dedicated staff, procedures, and systems to provide vital functions such as heat, ventilation, water, waste removal, lighting, and security. It no longer was practical for a manager who was responsible for the activities within a facility—a retail manager, an office manager, a hotel manager, and so forth—to handle the day-to-day management of the facility itself. As a result, facilities management became an industry in its own right.
Between 1992 and 1997, industry sales grew by 38 percent, the number of establishments grew by 175 percent, and the number of paid employees grew by half. Growth was slowed by the recession of 2000, but by 2002 the industry had chalked up increases of 71 percent in sales, 43 percent in the number of establishments, and 30 percent in paid employees. During the general economic expansion from 2002 to 2007, the industry grew yet again, nearly doubling in sales, and with increases of 64 percent in the number of establishments and 82 percent in paid employees.
The occupation tracked by the government that is most closely related to the facilities management industry—administrative services managers—has been sensitive to ups and downs in the economy. Along with the economy, the occupation was growing at the end of the 1990s. However, after the tech bubble burst in 2000, the paid workforce shrank by 5 percent from the previous year and by 10 percent the following year. It continued to decline over the next several years, only reversing this trend and resuming growth (by 3 percent) from 2006 to 2007 and growing another 3 percent the following year. This trend was stymied by the Great Recession, however, and the occupation shrank again for the next two years. It was only in 2011 and 2012 that it resumed growth yet again.
This occupation, administrative services managers, is sensitive to economic changes because so many facilities management businesses are small operations, with few or no employees. There is a notable disparity between this key managerial occupation, which shrank by 22 percent between 2002 and 2007, and the industry as a whole, which was growing during the same period, with a 64 percent increase in establishments and an 82 percent increase in employees. This disparity between administrative services managers and the industry as a whole is consistent with the trend toward a more consolidated business model, in which a comparatively few top managers supervise the range of departments (security, energy, cleaning, food service, and so forth) where specialized managers work.