Senior Director U.S. Operations & Engineering
for a real estate developer and owner

Helbling partnered with our long-term client, a U.S.-based real estate developer and owner with global property holdings and projects, in attracting a Senior Director of Operations and Engineering.  Finding a replacement for a 20+ year executive who made significant contributions within their engineering and operations divisions was a challenge. But with proactive communications and strong collaboration, the end-result was securing a dynamic and highly respected senior-level leader with extensive facilities management and real estate experience overseeing large and diverse property portfolios. This professional serves as a key member of the company’s management team; collaborating broadly across various divisions within the organization to make strategic operational / engineering recommendations and decisions. He projects as a strong cultural fit over time, and he has a balance of leadership abilities and technical skills that are difficult to find in an engineering-focused leader.

Our client is a globally recognized real estate firm with one of the larger and more sophisticated business-models in the industry. The previous executive in the role spent 20+ years with the organization building the department to what it is today. He was the company’s expert, department leader, and go-to problem solver for engineering-related issues; and his shoes would be difficult to fill. Therefore, our client wanted to find a candidate who could value his prior contributions, as well as have the ability to drive change within the organization with respect to innovation, best practices, and culture.

As Senior Director, the individual would handle all technical and engineering services for the infrastructure, HVAC, and critical systems needs for the organization’s existing assets along with their major new developments. For existing assets, the Senior Director and his/her team would be responsible for oversight of buildings’ HVAC, electrical distribution, plumbing, building envelope, elevators, environmental, fire and life safety, and energy conservation systems. For new developments, he/she would serve as internal advisor for those areas and work closely with the construction department on operational and planning challenges once the building is occupied. Along with having first-class technical expertise, the selected candidate would also need to be an adept leader, a natural problem solver, and a relationship builder. Our client sought an executive who was capable of managing laterally and upward across their organization at a high level, as well as serving as a face of the organization with vendors, investors, tenants, and clients. 

Working closely with the Director of Recruitment, Global Head of Human Capital, and hiring managers from both the operations and the design/construction divisions, Helbling devised a strategy centered around our client’s recognizable global brand. Our team focused on highlighting the past, present, and future of the organization; and educating candidates on how the position may evolve in time based on the skills, expertise, success, and leadership of the right candidate. Many of their employees and executives have been with the company for decades, which allowed us to articulate the company’s culture, expectations, and what it would take for someone to be successful as an outsider who is integrating themselves into a longstanding culture.  

The goal was to find and attract an individual who oversaw engineering, operations, and facilities management for a large real estate portfolio or campus environment. To find the right fit, we targeted candidates in similar capacities from within peer real estate developers/owners; large Fortune 500 corporations with global real estate portfolios/operations; third-party property operations and engineering companies; and unconventional venues that operate large campus environments with a mix of property holdings such as universities, cultural institutions, and other similar venues. 

The search and selection process was highly competitive, and with proper planning and effective communication, the chosen candidate was a consensus fit. In his prior experience, he successfully managed large campus environments with diverse building portfolios and operational challenges. Accustomed to leading large technical teams, the candidate managed in excess of 1,000 employees and 200 properties at any given time. His strong combination of technical expertise and business acumen stood-out to our client’s hiring managers, and they were confident in his ability and confidence to communicate with boards, executive committees, government officials, vendors, investors, and other highly influential individuals. Additionally, the candidate came from what would be considered an unconventional venue and not a direct competitor, so the client’s openness to untraditional options ultimately led to their ideal candidate.  

The professional was selected because of his cultural fit, both in the short- and long-term. He was able to build a trust, rapport, and connection with our client that stood out amongst the broader pool of candidates. He possesses a confidence and edge (polished and tempered to the situation) that is appealing for such a visible, fast-paced, and high-pressure position.

Since joining our client in January of 2018, the selected candidate has spent his first six months evaluating his department, updating processes/procedures, conducting internal outreach of key stakeholders to learn and integrate himself into the culture, and establishing strategic priorities for the remainder of 2018. A byproduct of those efforts has been some organizational restructuring within the department where he has created two new “deputy” positions that had previously not existed. These additions of talent will free up the placed candidate to be more strategic and focus on bigger-picture challenges while building more depth of technical and leadership experience within the Engineering and Operations department. The organization also has several major projects in active development that the professional is expected to be involved in as an internal expert/consultant for complex engineering/operations issues, and he is poised to represent the organization and brand for many years. 

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I had lunch with the placed candidate six months into his transition with our client, and while there is always an organizational learning curve that occurs during any career transition (executive or otherwise), there is nothing more satisfying than hearing, ‘I remain very happy that I made the move.’ The ultimate success of a placed candidate can only truly be evaluated after they have had the opportunity to build up a body of work (usually two to three years), and the first six months to a year are critical in laying a foundation from what future successes are built upon. Integrating oneself into an organization at a high level with many long-term employees and executives is not easy, and it’s fulfilling to see the executive’s confidence and energy about the impact that he can make with time, patience, and hard work.
Tom Dunn, Managing Director - Mid-Atlantic

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