Published in the July 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Over Memorial Day Weekend I had an opportunity to visit one of my best friends. We met in fourth grade, and over the past 26 years, we’ve shared a lot of memories. In our younger days, we were always excited about the future and looked forward to seeking new opportunities. I remember inventing “non-standard” uses for WD-40, chlorine, hairspray, gasoline, golf clubs, grapefruits, and fireworks (use your imagination). We often worked on our cars trying to figure out how to squeeze more horsepower under the hood. Although we’ve lived in different parts of the country since leaving high school, I’ve always thought of him as my brother.
Today, my friend considers power in terms of turbine thrust. He is a mechanic for what is most likely the best airline in the world. I won’t mention its name (unless it agrees to paint my name on a jet), but if I tell you it’s based in Texas and actually makes money, you can probably figure it out!
My buddy didn’t begin his career with that company. He paid his dues as a civilian working on military fuel planes. He worked on engines at an assembly plant, and finally got a chance to work for one of the major airlines.
After 9/11—like thousands of others in the travel industry—he lost his job. He spent some time unemployed before finding work with a contract maintenance firm. He was not earning as much, wasn’t happy with the work conditions, and was very close to abandoning his trade completely when he earned the opportunity for his current position.
Why, do you ask, is the airline industry and one of my buddies relevant to FM Frequency this month?
Well, talking to him about the airline industry reminded me of the debate swirling around the health and future of our own profession. Some think we’re professionally doomed because of change. Specifically, they believe that as more companies outsource facilities management, pay scales will drop and quality will be sacrificed in the name of cost efficiency. They worry that making a commodity of facilities management will only weaken our trade.
Others argue that change is inevitable and healthy. They believe that technology improvements, a sharper corporate focus on operating costs (particularly energy), and a shrinking number of qualified facility managers indicate that we’re approaching a golden age. They believe that as more companies consider what we do as their core competency (even if they’re third party service providers), it will strengthen the industry, improve standards, encourage best practice sharing, and make us more valuable.
So which view is correct?
It’s hard to think of an industry or profession unaffected by major changes over the past five, 10, or 100 years. Many have gone through much more rapid evolutions than we’re likely to see. The absence of unions, pensions, and collective bargaining for facility managers and the diversity of our facilities, occupants, and corporate interests should help minimize the extreme type of post-9/11 shockwaves that forced many travel agencies, hotels, convention planners, auto renters, and airlines into bankruptcy and/or extinction.
Cycles of industry evolution usually include short-term pain but long-term benefits for the economy and society. Consider the deregulation and rapid rate of change in the telecommunications industry in the 1990s. Didn’t it hurt many individuals and major companies? But consider the aftermath—long distance is free today on most mobile phone plans, high speed Internet access is standard in most businesses—and common for most schools—and the world has become a smaller place. More choices, more features, less cost.
We could probably list many industries and trades that have practically disappeared over the past 100 years due to technology advances or alternate ways of doing business. But couldn’t we similarly list many industries and trades created in the past 100 years? Think about it: in 1905, how many Midwestern farmers would have predicted that one of their great-grandchildren would own a commercial HVAC business (especially since commercial HVAC applications didn’t flourish until the 1930s)? How many steamship captains in the late 1800s could predict that a single aircraft would some day ferry more than 400 people across the Atlantic in a few hours instead of a few weeks? (The Wright brothers first successful glider didn’t fly at Kitty Hawk until 1902.)
I think we should trust the power of optimism, personal freedom, and competition. The United States continues to offer many opportunities to individuals motivated to make things happen. Unfortunately, sometimes we natives take these opportunities for granted.
In predicting our own demise, we establish little motivation for assuring our survival, let alone guaranteeing our success. History contains countless examples proving that motivated individuals are capable of creating opportunities, adapting to new realities, and even creating entirely new industries. To be competitive, sometimes we have to learn new skills or move to another part of the country. We might even have to change professional gears and try something completely new.
Constantly seeing a half empty glass and fostering prolonged anxiety can damage our health, careers, and relationships. And we all know that negativity is contagious. If we aren’t happy where we are or where we think we’re heading, we can either wait for someone else to free up our future or we can be proactive and implement change. If we look for and expect the best in ourselves and others, we’re likely to find it. If we look for and expect the worst…well, you know where that leads.
I’ve mentioned in a prior column that luck can be defined as a condition “when preparation meets opportunity.” If we are committed to working hard, having faith, being prepared, and seeking opportunities, maybe, just maybe, we’ll even get lucky!
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.