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  • Writer's pictureConnexFM

Persistence, Agility and Connections

Learn the secrets to lasting success as a facilities manager.

By Myrna Traylor

There is so much information to absorb as someone entering the field of facilities management (Do I need a permit for that? Where is the water shut-off? When is the next regional meeting?) that it really helps to hear from people who have successfully launched themselves into this career. To help you build that good career foundation, Connexus spoke with three FMs — one who is starting out in the business and two who have decades of experience behind them — to gather some great advice.

New Man on the Block

Alex Foster, CVS Health
Alex Foster, CVS Health

Alex Foster, Regional Facilities Manager with CVS Health and based in Michigan, worked his way into facilities management after college and a stint in the Army. He began as a training manager for facilities at a charter school. In his first facilities role, he was a training manager tasked with training custodial staff and showing them how to properly comply with Association of Physical Plant Administrators (APPA) levels, SOPs and most of all, “how to own their operation.” “I saw an opportunity to create a culture of respect for us and wanted to do so much more than just custodial work,” Foster recalled. “Getting into facilities management was simple for me. All it took was one opportunity, and I ran with it. One of my managers gave me the opportunity to take on an area manager role and relocate back to my old stomping grounds, Ohio (where I had attended Central State University, an HBCU), I took on that challenge and where I started standardizing the operation. Everyone (client and colleagues) was pleased. I was considered a ‘highly promotable candidate.’”

Foster said, “I made it far in the facilities world by staying persistent, being responsive, and building relationships. By doing well, Foster was getting noticed by all the right people. After a stint in the Area Manager role, he was promoted to Regional Facilities Manager for Aramark, where he had oversight of 30 charter schools in five states and oversaw 150 staff members. Next, he interviewed and won the position of Director of Facilities for Sodexo, where he stayed for some time. “Then, CVS thought that I’d be a good fit, and I've been here for approximately 21 months now,” he said.

“My greatest challenge, during my experience in facilities, was getting through the COVID-19 crisis,” Foster recalled. This seemed to cement his outlook on how to approach his career. His advice is “Learn as much as you can as fast as you can, and then learn some more. I learned early on that as facilities personnel, you are there to support the operation. One thing you have to realize about facilities managers is that we have the ability to make or break a profit center with either informed capex decisions or ill-informed decisions, so there’s always pressure to ensure that I stay current on technology, cost-savings opportunities, and make timely decisions.

“Customer experience starts even before you walk into a facility. If you pull up to any retail location, you’re going to notice the tangibles (parking lots, landscaping, lighting, signage); and there may be times where you say, ‘This is a mess.’ That's all within the scope of facilities management. Moreover, there may be unique business requirements or ordinances, that FMs are expected to adhere to, such as beautification standards or SPECs provided by ordinance officers, based on agreements between your company and that locality. In some cases, in the facilities management world, non-compliance is non-negotiable, and it will lead to additional scrutiny in your role, and that’s the last thing that you want.”

Meeting Each Challenge

David Bauer, Barnes & Noble
David Bauer, Barnes & Noble

David Bauer, Regional Facilities Manager for Barnes & Noble, began his career on the supplier side, working for RSM Maintenance as a Project Manager from 2006 to 2009. When the economy took a downturn and his position was eliminated, Bauer parlayed his experience working with luxury clients into an Operations and Facilities Management position with MAC Cosmetics. “I think what made me successful in a retail environment was knowing the supplier world,” Bauer said. “MAC Cosmetics reached out to me [when I left RSM], saying, ‘We obviously know your work and what you're capable of. Join this side.’ And now I'm on the retail side, but I also know how to think like a supplier at the same time because that's where I started.” Bauer later worked with New York & Co., Diesel, David Yurman and Gucci before landing with Barnes & Noble.

Of course, having a good foundation is important, but one also has to accept new challenges. Bauer had to learn a new skill set while at New York & Co. “I said to my boss at the time, ‘I don't know anything about purchasing.’ Because he had a lot of confidence in me, he said, ‘You're a great facilities manager. You're going to become a great purchasing manager.’ That was something that I had to get used to when purchasing the fixtures and lighting packages based on the specifications and store drawings. I liked that there was something new that I took away from each position.”

Networking Counts

Ron Rau, Phoenix Energy Technologies
Ron Rau, Phoenix Energy Technologies

Ron Rau, Executive in Residence at Phoenix Energy Technologies, has been in facilities management for four decades. His experiences have run from managing big box retailers to warehouse complexes and a truck fleet to overseeing Limited Brands. It was in the latter role that he saw the need for an upgrade for managing multiple sites. “The first thing we had to figure out was how do we get control over what's happening in all these different places,” Rau says. “The biggest thing that helped me was using a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). We were one of the first ones to actually use the system.”

Rau also saw the change in information sharing. Initially, he would meet other multi-site counterparts at conferences that had a strong construction focus. Eventually, he found a network targeted to the needs of multi-site FMs. “When ConnexFM (previously known as PRSM) started, it was exactly what I was looking for. Not only did I want to gain knowledge, but I also wanted to utilize the knowledge that I had from the big box side and help other individuals.”

Rau advises people starting out as FMs to use data to your advantage. “You’ve got data coming in from the CMMS, so pick the things with your internal team that they believe are the major issues and talk to your operations team to identify those issues keeping them from selling. In addition, your supplier base can provide a lot of information about what is really happening in the stores versus what you might think is happening. Ground yourself and start with the biggest problems. Make them manageable so you can do your job. Don’t try to fix everything all at once.”

A Helping Hand

Rau spoke of another aspect of being a successful FM: helping other FMs during disasters.

“I would talk to other retailers regularly, even outside of ConnexFM, and became friends with them. We would do things for one another when there were crisis situations. If something was going on in California, and I was in Columbus, Ohio, I had no problem calling a colleague in California to ask them to look at my stores and provide feedback until we got through the crisis. Or when there were floods on the East Coast, we would go out and provide pictures and things like that for other brands to help them get through the issue.

“To get those relationships going with the other FMs was always extremely important because what I haven't gone through yet, somebody else has gone through, and vice versa,” he said. “Why go into it blind when I could go into it with some understanding of what will have to happen to get my stores reopened?”

Looking to get a jump start on your FM career? Get involved with the Young Professionals Committee today!

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