As the new president of BOMA International, Larry Soehren has aspirations of leaving in his wake a new generation of effective managers and team leaders. His idealistic views of what management should mean will indeed shape the future of the industry under his helm.
Soehren is vice president of Spokane, WA-based Kiemle & Hagood Co., a property management and commercial real estate company. He joined the company’s commercial management division in 1983, became director of commercial management in 1992, and became full partner of the company in 1996. He currently oversees the management services activities of the company. The commercial division provides management and leasing services for over two million square feet of primary office space.
In addition to traditional management, Kiemle & Hagood also provides facility management and consulting services to several national companies with facilities located in the Spokane area, including Guardian Life Insurance’s western regional office, SAFECO Insurance’s regional offices, State of Washington, Itronix, and Sterling Bank. These sites vary in size from 20,000 to 100,000 square feet.
In 1981, Soehren received a Bachelor of Arts in business administration from Eastern Washington University, with majors in marketing and management. Since then, he has kept current in the industry by completing continuing education courses in different areas of real estate management and leasing.
Soehren became a local chapter member of BOMA upon first being employed at Kiemle & Hagood, and he has been an active participant in the association ever since. From his tenure as chapter president to his new status as president of the International organization, Soehren claims his journey up through the ranks followed a natural progression. That progression led him to the BOMA International 2002 conference and exposition, where TFM Associate Editor Jill Aronson-Korot had the opportunity to learn a little bit about where he came from and where he hopes to take the profession during his tenure.
TFM: What do you think successful management of a facility entails?
LS: Successful management requires partnerships between management and employees, giving both a seat at the table when decisions are made. Employees should also be recognized as corporate assets. Since changes in companies and efficiencies are unavoidable, the workers should be seen as performing assets.
It is equally important to develop a customer service relationship with employees and occupants—all of these elements enhance the performance of the building and the employees.
TFM: How would you describe your approach to your vocation?
LS: I like to get in there and understand my client’s needs. I try to become an employee, get to know the culture, and understand the roles of members of the community. It is crucial for me to understand the business and how it operates. As a third party management firm, Kiemle & Hagood strives to become a successful part of a management strategy. It becomes part of the team instead of trying to manage as an outsider.
TFM: What has been your greatest professional inspiration throughout your career?
LS: What inspires me is when I look at leaders who are collaborators and who are engaged in the business. I am successful if I know everyone from the CEO to the janitorial staff. I disengage from the hierarchy of business and engage in all aspects and levels of the company.
TFM: What role does technology play in your daily operations?
LS: I spend an inordinate amount of time staring at my computer screen. Too many people are fearful of technology. We have to get into the eight year old mentality of “you can’t break it.” I learn by doing. As with anything else, you have to engage.
I use my computer for scheduling and e-mail. So much communication comes via e-mail.
Technology leads to efficiency, but there is still value in face-to-face interactions. Balance is key.
Corporate models are built on key technologies that fit what helps companies to advance their core businesses. Every time new technologies are integrated, there is a learning curve. Integration must be seamless. The IT people need to be able to implement hardware and software with minimal downtime. The technology will be there, so it must be managed.
TFM: What is the professional accomplishment in which you take the most pride?
LS: I think I am most proud that I built a team of people at Kiemle & Hagood who can work as leaders in industry and community, who can develop leadership, and can see people grow and stay with the company. Kiemle and Hagood has a very low rate of attrition, so that shows we have created an environment of which people enjoy being a part.
TFM: What has been the most significant change you have seen in the workplace? What makes it so significant?
LS: Locating more people in the same space has become very significant. Cubes get smaller. This creates systemic challenges in a building.
Plus there are workplace performance issues where we have to make the crowded space feel comfortable. This can create tension in the workplace, and we have to work hard to manage it.
TFM: Over the past year, what news event do you feel has had the greatest impact on facility professionals and how they do their jobs?
LS: The anthrax scare hit us pretty hard. We are a second tier company, so a sense of security in the workplace had already been an established practice. This was an issue of learning on the fly.
Because of boma.org, I was able to take protocol information to the clients and have a process in place even before the fire professionals did. Keeping the occupants comfortable was a management issue.
Economy and security bring all issues to human resources and people management (like layoffs). It all comes down to managing the situation.
The economy is currently a big problem. Maintaining a sense of security for people in the economy and in the workplace requires planning.
Preparedness plans have been established to make people feel more secure. This is a secondary job to security now. It boils down to managing uncertainty on several fronts. Our country’s not used to being so uncertain on so many levels at once.
TFM: What would you say being employed at the same firm for 19 years has taught you about your profession?
LS: It forces you to look at what else is out there in the world. You have to get out—through BOMA and other organizational affiliations—to make new challenges for yourself, too. It is easy to see how someone could get focused on just what the company does and begin to think that the Kiemle & Hagood way is the only way. The up side to it is that living and working in the same place for all of these years allows the security and values that jumping around a lot could break.
TFM: What role has education played in shaping your approach to your profession?
LS: Education conveys the fundamentals of business. The greatest value of education lies in learning how people think—not in the content of the course work. Facility management cannot be taught out of a book—the nuts and bolts, personal development, the ability to keep life in focus. With the help of BOMA, members can filter out what is of value: an educated workforce and increase in market value. It prevents stagnation.
TFM: Which had a greater impact on your daily operations—your education or your experience?
LS: Definitely my experience. Education provides fundamentals and a foundation, but experience extends the learning process. The further you get from your college degree, the less important it becomes. If you can’t relate to employees and clients, then you won’t succeed. Thinking skills can’t be taught the way facility management skills can.
TFM: What made you decide to become an active member of the industry association?
LS: My first day on the job brought me to a BOMA meeting. At these meetings, I had exposure to people who were not normally accessible. I came up through the ranks through a normal progression, and I ultimately stayed longer than my tenure in office as local chapter president. Then, this year, I ran for president of BOMA International and won.
TFM: What policy making issues would you like to see BOMA address more actively?
LS: BOMA’s core goal is advocacy. The nation looks to us for best practices. Anyone who wants to know about real estate looks to BOMA.
We made the Americans With Disabilities Act a better law 10 years ago. We sat at the table when we thought things weren’t workable. We made a solution by working together with the Justice Department.
Going forward, we need to continue to be a resource for skills development. We need to strive to enhance individuals’ marketability with a network of people and skills to call upon. This network is very important, and being actively involved in it enhances your market value.
TFM: Where do you see ergonomics heading?
LS: The general concept is a great idea. To recognize the impact, we need to address issues that cause pain, injury, and/or illness, but it needs to be reasonable.
Regulation is always better for its purpose than for the sake of regulating. It needs to be based on research. Ergonomics is a new evolution that needs to keep evolving. ADA is being tweaked now. BOMA keeps an eye on these things and becomes involved when involvement can accomplish something.
TFM: What do you foresee in public access to AEDs?
LS: BOMA supports PAD [public access to defibrillation] programs because “it is the right thing to do.” We can’t just put them in a building, so BOMA offers programs for implementing these initiatives.
Implications need to be addressed, such as occupancy levels and response times, and someone needs to know how to use the devices, too.
TFM: BOMI Institute Chairman Arnie Kumorek has raised the issue of an upcoming exodus from the facility management field and of a shortage of qualified and talented personnel to fill the void. What can facility professionals do to make a difference in this trend?
LS: There is an obvious graying of the workforce. My role in BOMA is to groom the leadership of tomorrow, to reinvent meetings and education, and to provide a compelling reason for membership. We have to be the best at providing people with the skills to move up. We also need to get people into the profession. This can be accomplished by recruiting at colleges.
We need to advance the profession (facility management and property management) in the public eye by increasing awareness of the opportunities and rewards it holds. The value of working for a company with an environment that makes people want to be there—and stay there—is immeasurable.
Someone in an interview I was conducting once closed by asking to see her prospective work station to see whether or not she wanted to work there. This is important. Facility managers need to maintain a workplace for retention and recruiting.
In my mindset, the thinking that makes the elders in the profession horde their information diminishes their value and accelerates their departure. Sharing what you know and what you do and helping to bring up leaders behind you is good for the team. It is a trend that is changing—a paradigm shift. You cannot maintain a business that way. My success will evidence itself in the success of those who follow. Selling the values is what it is all about.
TFM: What is on the top of your agenda for your term as president?
LS: Leadership development is my top priority. I ran for office with a strategic plan. (It is rewarding that we do not run on a platform.) My job is to help volunteers get involved and get engaged. Once they are in, we have to keep them.
We have to address the needs of the profession and keep it from getting stale. Managers need to be educated, knowledgeable, and productive, and they need to maintain balance in their lives.
My tombstone won’t say “Larry attended many meetings.” Balance between life and career is important. Being happy at home helps life at the office. That is what my tombstone will say: “Larry lived a good and balanced life.”
For additional information about BOMA International’s policies and initiatives, visit the Web at www.boma.org.