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Search Case Study: Vice President of Facilities & Campus Services

Search Case Study: Vice President of Facilities & Campus Services

An Ivy League research institution and long-term partner of Helbling was looking to secure a Vice President of Facilities and Campus Services to advance their facilities and utilities maintenance program through a more operationally-driven, sophisticated, long-term strategy and master plan. With an architecturally rich campus and a team of over 1,000 facilities professionals, our client needed an experienced, hands-on engineer with extensive knowledge of sustainability and deferred maintenance programs, as well as a collaborative leadership style to meet the expectations of the executive leadership team, facilities management team, end-users, stakeholders, and local community. The selected candidate embodies inclusivity, and has a proven track record of enhancing the personal and professional development of his colleagues. Since joining, he has hired new team members and elevated existing ones to help achieve the long-term goals of the institution’s master plan.

Challenge

As an Ivy League research university with a rich architectural history, our client recently underwent a substantial capital construction program lasting 10+ years to renovate and create space fit for collaboration, scientific advancement, and student engagement. At the end of this lengthy endeavor, they recognized a need for an operationally-driven, long-term strategy professional to act as their Vice President of Facilities and Campus Services (Vice President). This individual needed to possess a strong background in operations, maintenance, engineering, utilities, and energy along with high-quality interpersonal skills, strong business acumen, negotiation techniques, and leadership traits. 

Due to the campus location, relocation was inevitable, so we proactively discussed with our client that a viable strategy would be to seek out-of-the-box candidates with an appreciation for the small-town atmosphere. The Vice President would need to be ingrained in the tight-knit local community, while leading a team of over 1,000 facilities professionals for a campus comprising 300 buildings spanning over 14M square feet. Understanding this ahead of time helped us to develop a strategic plan for national outreach, encompassing professionals from vastly different backgrounds. 

Reporting to the Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President, the desired candidate would support the executive leadership team to transform the university to a world-recognized model of excellence, innovation, and sustainability. Overseeing the real estate function, campus mail, and parking services while leading the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the university buildings, grounds, and utilities infrastructure, this highly sought after individual needed to have master planning in his or her background, a keen eye for detail, and the ability to address and guide the facilities management (FM) team through complex challenges in relation to those services.

Although technical skills and project delivery experience are always a requirement, our client emphasized the high degree of emotional intelligence necessary for the university’s, and the FM team’s, success. The ideal candidate would be an outward-facing, senior leader. Therefore, critical thinking skills, good people and communication skills, and adaptability were all important strengths. In managing a facilities team of such magnitude, the preferred candidate would also need to be able to demonstrate their knowledge and experience creating and implementing professional development programs, as well as successful recruitment and hiring strategies. 

Strategy

Partnering with the university search committee, Chief Financial Officer, and Executive Vice President, we first sought individuals who had experience leading large teams of over 500 and, from there, ensure they had an engineering background. Targeting healthcare and higher education institutions, and organizations with complex campuses, such as pharmaceutical firms, large corporations, and military complexes, afforded us a broader, more diverse spectrum of candidates. The field narrowed as we looked for a real “hands-on” professional who could balance our client’s high expectations while remaining collaborative and inclusive as a team leader. Even more so, they had to possess experience implementing long-term sustainability processes and procedures, as this is extremely important to achieve the institution’s long-term goals. 

Ultimately, the opportunity to sit in a prominent leadership position of an Ivy League institution was attractive to many. We specifically looked for people who had the perspective of viewing challenges as opportunities and the political sophistication necessary to make a significant impact driving change. These types of ‘soft skills’ provide the energy and enthusiasm that permeate through teams and organizations, and our client felt that leadership style would be essential to ensure the long-term durability of the university’s infrastructure.

Results

The selected candidate was previously a Commanding Officer in the U.S. Military charged with supervising the planning and design of capital projects, acquisitions, contracting, construction management, environmental compliance and remediation, facilities maintenance, transportation, and utilities services for nine Navy Marine Corps and Joint Bases. Leading a diverse workforce of more than 1,300 military and civilians, he spent the last few years establishing a robust professional development training program, as well as a supervisor training program aligned with the military’s operational standards, energy programs, and project delivery methods. 

Chosen not just for his experience leading these initiatives, but also his strong business acumen, negotiation skills, and positive leadership qualities, the selected candidate quelled pre-conceived notions of military personnel, and made our client comfortable in his ability to inclusively collaborate across executive leadership, end-users, stakeholders, and the local community. In his military tenure, he progressed through the ranks due to his well-mannered communicative style and ability to calculate, deliberate, and articulate direction and vision to his team. As a full-picture thinker, he has both the ability to exceed high expectations of senior employees, as well as get hands-on to teach his technical background to his subordinates. Ultimately, our client was impressed with his dedication and level of care that would fit in perfectly with the nature of the institution and its historical architecture. 

The selected candidate has implemented several new processes and procedures that have increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the facilities department. His transparent and open communication style has empowered his team and increased morale. Additionally, he has made several key hires including a new University Architect who has provided tremendous design guidance for building projects, capital planning, and campus master planning efforts.