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Vice President, Facilities

  • Industry: Facilities Management
  • Location: Illinois - Evanston
  • Client: Higher Education
  • Search ID: 19-0105-07

Northwestern University has retained Helbling to conduct an executive search to secure a Vice President, Facilities.  

Position Summary

Northwestern University is seeking an experienced, qualified individual to lead its facilities functions. Reporting to the Senior Vice President for Business and Finance, the Vice President, Facilities will lead a staff of approximately 350 responsible for the following key functions: campus planning, new capital project management, renewal and replacement, energy and sustainability planning, operations and maintenance, and related real estate activities. Learn more at:

As a global research university, Northwestern operates in a continuous, 24x7 mode, and strives to assure that its facilities meet the service demands of its faculty, students, and staff. With a total workforce of approximately 10,000 in 12 schools and several primary administrative units, the University is a complex and diverse service environment.

The Context

The University undertook an ambitious capital expansion program in 2015 with the Board of Trustees approving a plan of nearly $2 billion in new construction and renovation projects, supported by a major fundraising campaign. This expansion approximately tripled the University's normal annual capital program expenditures. In the fourth year of this program, the University now finds itself in a period of capital absorption, with a commensurate focus on cost-effective maintenance strategies and aligned renewal and replacement programs that incorporate these new additions. The University anticipates returning to its more normalized pace of capital renewal (approximately $200M per year) in FY 2021 and beyond.

While the University's overall financial condition is very strong, the absorption of this capital expansion has put pressure on the University's operating margin. The University has a historical track record of balanced operating budgets and maintains a AAA credit rating, but now is in the midst of taking careful actions to restore balanced operating performance. In the summer of 2018, staff reductions were made in a number of areas, including Facilities, in response to this mandate. It is anticipated that additional cost containment strategies will need to be applied in order to meet a Board of Trustees-directed goal of balanced operating results before FY 2021.

The Vice President, Facilities must be committed to responsible partnership with the Senior Vice President for Business and Finance in fulfilling this financial management mandate, in a manner that is fully transparent and respectful of the inherent tensions between short-term and long-term operating and capital goals. The successful candidate will be conversant in best practice facilities strategies that enable careful investment in the University's facilities while striving for the most efficient operating models. The successful candidate will have experience in aligning organizational structure to optimal service objectives of the organization while identifying and establishing a leadership team to deliver on these goals.

The Vice President, Facilities will have a servant-leader focus in a University community which is highly distributed in terms of stakeholders, and will have a demonstrated teamwork orientation in a shared governance model.  Higher education experience is preferred, but not essential. Rather, demonstrated experience in comparable complex, service intensive environments is essential.


  • Lead and manage organizational change in order to accomplish ambitious objectives while enhancing departmental performance and efficiency, and building productive relationships and credibility across campus.Implement succession planning to ensure long-term stable leadership of the Facilities organization.
  • Analyze structure of the department and make necessary organizational changes to ensure efficient and effective structure.
  • Oversee the analysis, development, implementation, and monitoring of all facilities budgets, including operations, maintenance, and capital project budgets, ensuring that the department is delivering services in the most cost-effective and transparent way. Deliver facilities’ budget targets and agreed financial performance objectives.
  • Foster effective communication and collaboration within the facilities organization while serving as a staff advocate who supports high quality, innovative programs to attract, develop, motivate, and retain a diverse workforce. 
  • Promote the professional development and strong work ethic of the department staff, most of whom are unionized. Effectively oversee the full-range of departmental activities and services, and capably lead the senior management team in fulfilment of the department’s objectives.
  • Strengthen working relationships between the facilities management department and the campus community (faculty, students, and staff), achieving enhanced credibility and trust within and between the department and the Northwestern community.  Maximize flexibility and responsiveness for all operations and services and foster a strong commitment to customer service through the entire facilities area. Of specific importance is the relationship with the Office of the Provost, which oversees all academic (teaching and research) space and establishes priorities for institutional strategic initiatives.  
  • Develop, build support for, and execute a plan to address deferred maintenance and implement a comprehensive planned and predictive preventive maintenance program. Prioritize and remain apprised of upgrades and upkeep of campus buildings and landscape through the maintenance programs. Demonstrate that the re-investment in the campus is as strategic and efficient as possible. 
  • Facilitate continuing long-term planning to ensure that campus renewal meets the evolving needs of the institution and remains fully aligned with the strategic direction of the University. Demonstrate commitment to resource stewardship from both an economic and sustainability perspective. Lead and support sustainability objectives in both operating and capital programs.  
  • Deliver high quality construction and renovation projects within or below budget and on schedule. Ensure University leadership and the Board are confident that Northwestern has obtained the best possible solution at the lowest total lifetime cost that achieves the program, including design and aesthetic-objectives. Provide clear transparent reporting on capital activity.  
  • Evaluate public private partnerships and serve as the key representative of the University negotiating and partnering with private venture firms.  
  • Leverage technology, knowledge, and process management to continually increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the facilities organization. Introduce appropriate new approaches and techniques to build on Northwestern’s existing assets. 
  • Serve as a politically astute, key spokesperson and leader for the University on physical planning, design, development, construction, and facilities / operations issues. Develop and maintain a positive relationship with the University community, senior leadership, the Educational Properties Committee, the unions, the town of Evanston, the city of Chicago, and state and local government agencies. 
  • Ensure adherence to environmental and work safety requirements. 

Our Client

Founded in 1851, Northwestern University is a globally recognized private research university committed to excellent teaching, innovative research, and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community.

Facts & Figures:
  • 12 Schools & Colleges
  • #10 National University – US News & World Report
  • #6 Business School – US News & World Report
  • #10 Education School – US News & World Report
  • #11 Law School – US News & World Report
  • 21,000 Total Enrolled Students
  • 3,334 Full-Time Faculty Members
  • $9.8 billion Total Endowment & Other Trust Funds; $11.3 billion total invested assets 
  • $3.3 billion in Land, Buildings, Equipment 
  • Division I School in the Big Ten Athletic Conference

The University has three (3) primary campuses in Evanston, Chicago, and Doha, Qatar. Consisting of 296 acres in these three campuses (with approximately 220 acres in Evanston), the University has 227 buildings comprised of 16.6 million SF of academic, research, residential, and administrative space. Northwestern also has leased academic and administrative sites in Washington, DC, San Francisco, Miami, and New York City.


The two main campuses are situated along Lake Michigan’s lakefront. The Chicago campus, located between the Magnificent Mile and Lake Michigan, offers outstanding views and is within walking distance of some of the city’s main attractions. The Evanston campus, just 12 miles north of downtown Chicago, sits among charming residential neighborhoods, parks, beaches, and bike trails.

Evanston is a quintessential college town with a vibrant group of restaurants, cafés, shops, and entertainment a few blocks from the campus. Evanston is a diverse community with a successful K-12 school systems (two districts), as well as numerous private school options. Getting to and around Evanston is easy with a multitude of public and private transportation options, including to and from the City of Chicago.

With Lake Michigan to the east, Evanston residents are active both indoors and out, fully utilizing the phenomenal system of parks and recreation areas, access to which goes through Northwestern’s Evanston campus. With Chicago next door, one can easily take advantage of the music, theatre, museums, sports, and entertainment of a world-class city. With Northwestern’s participation in the Big Ten athletic conference, and its proximity to Chicago’s many professional teams, this area is rich in opportunities to participate in athletic endeavors at many levels.  

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  • Bachelor’s degree in Engineering, Business, Public Administration, Planning, Architecture, Construction Management, or related field is required. 
  • Relevant Master’s degree and/or applicable licensure or certification is preferred. 
  • Minimum of fifteen (15) years of progressively responsible experience in facilities management, design and construction, and/or real estate development is required. Professional experience in a college or university campus setting, or in similar organizations, is preferred. Demonstrated managerial experience in a complex, service-intensive environment is required. 
  • Experience creating efficiencies within facilities operations through organizational restructuring as well as implementation of facilities management technology and re-engineering of processes to enhance business practices. 
  • Effective and transparent communicator with excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Mastery of critical leadership competencies and behaviors, demonstrated decisiveness, and ability to model the University’s cultural values and attributes.
  • Experience developing preventative and predictive maintenance strategies and creative approaches to deferred maintenance. 
  • High level of personal integrity, ethics, initiative, emotional intelligence, and strong interpersonal skills.
  • Experience working in a unionized environment is strongly preferred. 
  • Strong customer service orientation.
  • Commitment to excellence and to being a part of an evolving, energetic, and forward-thinking campus environment.
  • Desire to improve the lives of those within the University and surrounding community.
  • Ability to grasp the bigger picture and goals of the institution and to integrate the goals fully into the facilities operation and capital programs.

Search Consultant: Joe Wargo

Please visit our Candidates page for more information.

Northwestern University is an Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action Employer of all protected classes, including veterans and individuals with disabilities. Women, racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, and veterans are encouraged to apply. Hiring is contingent upon eligibility to work in the United States.

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