Chief Operations Officer for a leading public library system

Based on the endorsement by a construction company client, Helbling was invited to meet with the executive team of a leading public library system.
One of the nation’s leading public library systems, established in 1869, found Helbling & Associates through a referral by one our clients also located in the Midwest U.S. The Chief Operations Officer, which is the lead facilities role at the organization, oversees day-to-day operations of 27 library branches as well as a $100 million capital construction program. Acting as a pillar of the community, the organization provides printed and online educational resources, business resources, online classes, and information about community health and wellness, and also serves as a social destination and safe haven for many community members.

Based on the endorsement by his construction company client, Helbling’s regional manager was invited for an in-person meeting with the Library’s Chief Executive Officer and other members of the executive team. Our firm’s experience in the state of Ohio, as well as our experience representing civic and cultural organizations (especially Brooklyn Public Library on six searches) convinced the team that we were qualified for the challenge.

The Chief Operations Officer position was vacant due to a departure from the organization; however, an outside consultant was helping to manage the construction process, and the internal operations and maintenance director provided ample leadership in the interim. This allowed time to conduct a thorough and unbiased search to find the best candidate for the opportunity.
Helbling search consultants managed client expectations from the beginning of the assignment by explaining that a comprehensive search would involve looking for candidates with the right skillset and leadership ability—and that those candidates may come from other environments.

The hiring team was comprised of three human resources leaders: Chief Talent Officer; Director of Human Resources; and an internal recruiter. The individuals were very engaged and brought depth and decisiveness (and some fun!) to the search process.

They agreed that in addition to researching and contacting management personnel at the top 40-50 library systems in the country, Helbling would conduct a local and regional search of cultural, civic, educational, and healthcare organizations. Local municipalities and third-party facilities management firms were also included. The common factor was that organizations had to have multiple locations or sites because the library had many branches to supervise. Individuals at those organizations had to have a demonstrated track record of managing physical plant and significant capital programs as well as the ability to collaborate with top executives and communicate with the Board of Trustees.

As Helbling researched possible candidates, the hiring team emphasized the importance of a well-represented pool. They appreciated our widespread promotion of the position, which included outreach to historically under-represented groups. In total, Helbling identified more than 300 candidates.
With four great finalists presented, it was difficult for Library leaders to decide who to hire. The Director of Human Resources referred to the situation as the “best kind of success [on a search].”

The candidate ultimately selected for the role was employed by a local college with 14 campuses and training centers served by a robust capital projects group. He was recruited by a Helbling search consultant who appreciated his familiarity with local architects, engineers, and construction firms. The polished and poised professional had a 26-year military career in the Coast Guard. He also has a master’s degree in civil engineering and a P.E. (professional engineer) license, and he was intrigued at the prospect of this new career opportunity.

Most interviews were conducted via video due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon finally meeting the candidate in person, the Library’s CEO observed his calm and assuring demeanor. He gave the impression that he would not be fazed by challenges within the role and had a proven ability to lead a team and manage complex situations.

That initial observation has proven to be accurate. The candidate transitioned quickly into the role and even surprised the executive leadership team with how well he has interacted in and contributed to meetings and other situations.

The first bond issuance of the major capital construction program covers 11 branches, with five in construction and six in design status. The candidate is also working closely with the Director of Property Management on strategic planning, capital forecasting, and maintenance management initiatives. Most importantly, he appreciates the trust that has been placed in him by the CEO and is enjoying his new role.

Learn about Helbling’s search process