Search Case Study: Dir, Operations + Facilities for prep school

by Sami Barry
Northfield Mount Hermon

Northfield Mount Hermon (NMH) is a private, coeducational independent boarding school in Massachusetts. The institution retained Helbling & Associates to attract and secure a Director of Operations & Facilities (Director). Working closely with key members of NMH, together we attracted a professional with more than three decades of facilities experience. The Head of School Peter Fayroian reports that he “could not imagine how Rick Couture [the new Director] could be doing better.”

Northfield Mount Hermon's Objectives

The Director role has responsibility for the development, implementation, and ongoing administrative oversight of facilities planning, policy, operations, staff, and financial resources. To gain a solid understanding of NMH’s goals, its position, and its campus, we visited and had extensive discussions with the Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Head of School. Through these conversations, we were able to determine ideal candidate qualifications which included: solid experience in construction management; strong knowledge of electronic databases; and the ability to develop and meet budget targets, and to maintain focus on the School’s sustainability initiatives. The CFO expressed that the professional should realize that not only would he/she be focused on capital projects and strategic planning but they would also be actively involved in daily operations, understanding that the facilities department is a service organization.

NMH also sought a strong leader with an inclusive management style, and the ability to empower his/her staff who understands the dynamics of creating and managing an inter-generational team.

Helbling's Search Strategy

Our search process was highly collaborative between NMH representatives and our team of two consultants. After working together in creating a position description, we began a targeted search which focused on college preparatory boarding schools, universities and colleges, military bases, healthcare entities, and corporations. While we concentrated our efforts on the surrounding area, we also explored college preparatory boarding schools nationally.

Search Results

The successful candidate, Rick Couture, had previously spent three decades at a small private college with a nearly 700-acre campus, and he had most recently served as Associate Vice President of Facilities. In that role, he managed a staff of nearly 200, overseeing design, construction, maintenance, grounds, and housekeeping. He had managed close to $150M worth of construction and renovation projects during the last decade at the school.

In our follow-up conversations, we were happy to hear that Rick has earned the trust and respect of his colleagues by demonstrating his knowledge and experience in addressing facility issues. Head of School Peter Fayroian reports that he “could not imagine how Rick Couture [the new Director] could be doing better.” Thus far, Rick’s accomplishments include:

  • Managing multiple important projects including development of a compressed natural gas facility, construction of six new faculty houses, and a new campus key system.

  • Advancing NMH’s understanding of its deferred maintenance challenges. Rick worked closely with an outside firm on this initiative and the generated report has been highly valued by the School’s administration and trustees.

  • Identifying and implementing steps in improving the performance and morale of the maintenance crew which has included vehicle upgrades, new uniforms, and planned renovations of the facilities building.

NMH has also commented on Rick’s ability to inspire confidence within his team and his peers by being highly supportive of them. He is fun to work with, makes an excellent first impression, and consistently follows up with careful communication.

In our follow-up conversations with Rick, he has expressed that he is developing a strong rapport with his team, and he appreciates the passion and enthusiasm they have for their jobs and NMH’s mission. He says he feels like he he has already been there for years.