An Industry Icon
Updated: Dec 9, 2021
ConnexFM celebrates the career of PRSM Founder Steve Waxman.
By Tyra Triche
These days, it’s rare to hear of someone working at a single company for more than a couple
of years — job-hopping has become somewhat common. However, there are still some individuals who find a company they love and stick with that organization for decades, leaving their mark at the company and in their industry. Steve Waxman is one of those people — and this year, after 40 years at Toys R Us, Waxman is leaving the world of full-time facilities management and will now be consulting on a part-time basis.
Waxman started at Toys R Us in 1981 as a Corporate Auditor. Two years later, he was promoted to office manager for a new subdivision of the company called Kids R Us. He held a number of positions at Kids R Us, including Operations Supervisor, Operations Manager and Director of Operations. In these roles, Waxman got a bit of experience with facilities management. However, it wasn’t until about a decade later that he got his real start in the industry.
“In 1992, I was working with the Kids R Us division,” he explained. “Toys R Us, the parent [company] really wasn’t doing much with the facilities, so they asked me to come and formally develop and roll out a facilities department for the entire Toys R Us brand.”
Hear from Steve on The Daily Grind
As the national Facilities Manager for Toys R Us, he became responsible for everything from air conditioning and roofing to janitorial services and maintenance, to interacting with landlords and code officials across the country.
Before Toys R Us, Waxman connected with one of his first and longest industry partners, Ron Prager. “I met Steve on the roof of a Kids R Us in Long Island more than 35 years ago,” said Prager, Executive Vice President and COO of Brinco Mechanical Management Services, Inc. “He was a newly appointed FM for the fledgling chain, and I was operating a local New York-based HVAC company. Over the years, we developed a relationship based on mutual respect, working as partners to provide innovative HVAC programs for all of his brand’s stores.”
A few years into this role, Waxman had been reading a magazine titled “Chain Store Age,” where he came across an article about FMs having a meeting at the SPECS Show in Orlando, Florida. At the trade show, he met other facilities professionals who wanted to create a new organization focused entirely on retail facilities management. He wanted to get involved with the group, so he volunteered to help at a regional trade show in New Jersey.
“There were about six retailers and about 15 to 20 suppliers there — a very small operation,”
he said. He continued his involvement with the organization, and in 1995, he became a Charter Member of PRSM, the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association.
Waxman recalled that during its infancy, PRSM was a hands-on organization. “We helped solicit membership, both retailers and suppliers. We helped run the trade show; we did all the trainings, presentations and seminars ourselves,” he said.
As the organization grew and he took on more leadership roles, Waxman was sure to maintain this hands-on approach. “I was the first person that was voted to the Board of Directors by the full membership. I was Secretary, then Vice President, and finally President,” he said. Even after being elected President of the Board of Directors in 2000, he still taught seminars, participated in trade shows and was a member of several committees.
“Very active,” he said, reflecting on his presidency. “I would say almost a day didn’t go by when I wasn’t communicating with another FM, another Supplier Member or someone promoting the organization.”
Looking back, he noted his most important achievement during presidency was PRSM beginning to organize and host its own trade shows. “Prior to that, we were in coordination with the National Retail Federation, but we decided to become independent and host our own events,” he said.
After 25 years of guidance from its members like Waxman, PRSM rebranded to ConnexFM to recognize the association’s evolution to include a wide variety of Multi-Site Organizations like locations focusing on healthcare, financial, and food and beverage.
In 2011, Waxman was honored with the Lawrence W. Whelan Connex Lifetime Achievement Award. This wasn’t his first time being honored by the organization, as he also won U.S. Multi-Site/Retail Company of the Year in 2000. However, the Lifetime Achievement award was more personal.
“That’s something you don’t run for and you don’t solicit votes for,” he said. “Especially having the name of the award be Larry Whelan, who was one of our Supplier Members for many years and highly respected in the industry and organization. To receive that award with Larry’s name was a proud moment for me.”
Bill Pegnato, CEO at Pegnato Roof Intelligence Network, said their work together with ConnexFM shows why Waxman’s Lifetime Achievement was well-deserved. “Over the years, I have been very active in the association,” he noted. “Steve has been one of the leaders of ConnexFM and is one of the bedrocks of its success.”
Having worked together and known each other for over 25 years, Pegnato said Waxman was “professional, caring and honest. You always felt Steve had your back, even during difficult times.”
Curt Picard, Vice President of Strategic Asset Management for Brinco, is a PRSM charter member alongside Waxman. What started as a professional relationship has grown over the years, and the two have become close friends.
“He was an extremely important mentor to me,” Picard said. “He taught me a lot about retail, he taught me a lot about PRSM and the organization. He’s really one of the most influential people in my career.”
He said Waxman influenced not only him but the facilities management industry as a whole. He noted the ways in which Waxman has mentored a number of Suppliers as well as many FMs over the years. “He’s probably one of the most well-respected and knowledgeable people in the industry,” Picard praised. “He was always known as the go-to person.”
James Malatesta, Director of Facilities Programs and Projects at Burlington, also attested to Waxman’s congeniality. “I worked with Steve on all aspects of facilities maintenance, property management and facilities finances,” he explained. “Steve always put people first — especially those on his own team. His genuine and honest approach with suppliers showed me the importance of relationship building in our industry.”
What the Future Holds
As he takes a step back, Waxman feels that ConnexFM will continue to be a great resource for the ever-evolving facility management industry.
“Training and education have been one of the cornerstones of the organization,” he said. “I think they must continue to invest in and allow education, and allow for information to be disseminated — really educate FMs and keep them on top of what they need to know to operate their business.”
He has seen some changes to the industry in recent times, as there is a great emphasis on sanitation due to COVID-19, as well as more advancements with technology. He advises FMs and directors to learn about and utilize these technologies.
“I think it’s harder to find technicians that are able to service our stores — the equipment is becoming more sophisticated every day,” he said.
He also encourages FMs and ConnexFM members to be involved with the organization, have conversations with other facilities professionals and form partnerships with suppliers. The relationships should go beyond just a transaction.
There’s no doubt that many people in the facilities management industry will miss Waxman’s presence and expertise, but both Prager and Picard said this is far from a goodbye.
“While I wish Steve well in his future endeavors, there is also a sense of loss for the industry and I would ask that he remain involved with ConnexFM to whatever degree possible, because we can all still benefit from his vast experience and comradery,” Prager said.
“I know Steve,” Picard said. “I know he will continue to do things within the FM industry. He’s not going to ride off into the sunset.”
Waxman will always have a home at ConnexFM, and everyone at the organization is looking forward to his next chapter.