With great respect and admiration (and a healthy dose of intimidation), I agreed to attempt a substitute column for Maria Vickers. With a unique ability to illustrate Dilbert-like facility management issues with humor and pride in our profession, her column was always the first thing I read in a new issue of TFM. I hope Maria’s column will return soon, bringing the first stringer back into the lineup!
I should probably offer a quick history regarding my perspective. While I reserve the right to tell my two young sons timeless “grumpy old man” stories about walking to school uphill in the snow (both ways!), mowing lawns to earn money, awful food service jobs, TVs with no remotes (“Come on dad, only 13 channels?” they ask), and life before XBox, my engineering and construction roots actually “took” back in 1989. Back then, I was a junior studying mechanical engineering at North Carolina State University.
During that time, a part time job in a warehouse had me picking parts, running errands, driving forklifts, and making deliveries. Eventually, that job turned into a full time project management position with a niche manufacturer. Once the drafting table replaced the forklift, my facility management career was off and running—even before I completed my degree. (Note: Just to clarify the drafting table reference, I can’t claim to predate AutoCAD; it’s just that cigarettes and digitizers were standard CAD tools at this place, so I stuck with the soft stuff—T-squares and pencils!)
The current position I hold began with a design/build project for a new 230,000 square foot corporate headquarters and a 5,000-seat stadium for a local A-League professional soccer team. When I started, the stadium was 95% complete, and the office building had just come out of the ground. With a few exceptions, we had a fantastic design/build team that was able to bring the project in under budget and pretty well on schedule.
This was my first chance to represent an owner directly, and I really enjoyed being on the other side of the table, especially in “value engineering” meetings. It gave me the opportunity to experience what happened when designs and calculations leapt off the prints and became a reality—something I’ve always considered rather magical.
The end of construction didn’t bring any relief to the 16-hour days associated with meeting an aggressive schedule. For 18 months, we had been planning the massive move of staff, furniture, and equipment. So instead of dragging the misery out over multiple weekends and paying for the inconvenience of network and telephone services among three locations (as we originally intended), we decided to bite the bullet and move our main facility (about 500 people, modular furniture, two phone switches, and about 100 servers) in a weekend I won’t soon forget. We followed that effort by moving the second facility (about 200 people) two weeks later. By the end of the construction and move process, we were all weary. However, important relationships had been forged among many departments (especially Facilities, IT, and Finance/Admin). These relationships continue to this day.
Since the construction and big move, my responsibilities have expanded to include purchasing, security, shipping and receiving, reception, software production, food service, supported employment program, auditing/reporting functions, corporate travel, and the sale of specialty business forms to our clients. I have more than 20 staff members and 20 subcontractors working on site each day. Fortunately, I continue to maintain service relationships with several of the original contractors. The lessons learned during the construction and commissioning process could fill another column!
Late last year, I defined Team Lead roles to delegate more effectively, and I carefully adjusted staff levels for shifting workloads. That has made a significant impact, but I’m finding it difficult to set aside enough time to fine-tune my HVAC controls, create proactive maintenance procedures, optimize my security systems, understand my fire protection systems, maintain as-built drawings, look for utilities efficiencies, and have fun with my “toys.”
As my career evolves, I find myself spending more time managing people and money and less time dealing with equipment and facilities. So how can I maintain my engineering and steel toe roots while advancing my career and wearing starched shirts? At least I know I’m not alone. Following my second trip to The TFM Show (formerly Facility Forum), I met several fellow facility managers in the same position. Although we have various “roots” (real estate, maintenance, engineering, architecture, construction, finance, HR, accounting, etc.), we all provide critical, diverse functions for our organizations. And as technology becomes increasingly intertwined with traditional facilities roles, this is likely to be a dynamic business for many years.
I have been lucky enough to participate in many phases of the facilities life cycle, including conception and design, construction, maintenance, renovation, and the final stage of far too many projects–litigation. However, I’m still looking for advice. If you have any suggestions on how you have managed your career evolution while remaining in touch with your roots, I would love to hear from you!
Crane is a mechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property management services provider in the Southeast.