Vice President of Facilities & Campus Operations
for a private research university

The new President of a prestigious, private research university wanted to change how the institution was managing its capital and facility development, as well as effectively address educators' and administrators' needs. Helbling worked in collaboration with the president and a search committee to attain a professional with a strategic mindset and dynamic capabilities who has changed the course of how the university's facilities are managed.

The university’s search for a Vice President of Facilities and Campus Operations (VP) was prompted by the recent acquisition of a new President who wanted to dynamically change how the university was managing its capital and facility development plans and strategies. The President sought a VP who would benchmark the facility department’s abilities and performance; implement new practices and procedures; and address educators’ and administrators’ specific needs thus instilling trust and credibility.

The VP would be expected to engrain her/himself in the culture and community of the university, and assume the stature of a significant figure from an operational and community involvement standpoint. He/she would develop and execute a comprehensive plan to enhance campus facilities and operations; ensure smooth operation of instruction, research, and administrative facilities; and execute the Institution’s short- and long-term construction projects in the next several years.

The search involved numerous individuals at the university ranging from the newly appointed President to a search committee consisting of faculty and staff, all of whom had ideas, expectations, and desired qualities of prospective candidates. After multiple face-to-face meetings and brainstorming sessions with these individuals, Helbing was able to discern the qualifications, background, and emotional intelligence that would be required of a successful candidate.

The ideal professional would possess thorough knowledge of facilities operations, construction management, planning, real estate development, and management, as well as have capabilities to provide oversight of auxiliary services. He/she would need to have an orientation toward innovation and commitment to diversity; and a distinguished record of progressive leadership in higher education, corporate, or similar organizations with significant experience in construction and facilities management.

To conduct this search effectively, Helbling designated two consultants to the assignment who worked in high collaboration with the President, the Vice President of Human Resources, and the search committee that included faculty and staff.

Our primary strategy was to identify and approach individuals from a variety of sectors ranging from higher education, healthcare, and cultural institutions, to architectural firms and corporate entities that had significant real estate assets and/or large campus environments. Casting a wide net led to strong referral sources and, ultimately, a diverse pool of highly qualified candidates with varying skill sets, experiences, and management styles.

While Helbling spoke to professionals from a multitude of sectors, our final slate of candidates largely consisted of individuals who were currently within a higher education environment. The candidate who stood apart from the others was deeply entrenched in his role as a senior manager responsible for the design and construction of a portfolio of projects with a premier academic medical center in the same metropolitan area. At the time of recruitment, he was in the midst of several high-profile projects that were part of a large capital program.

This professional was selected by our client for his varied and extensive background in facilities, construction management, and real estate working with private and not-for-profit organizations, and financial conglomerates with multi-site operations. He has a unique blend of the necessary engineering and strategic planning capabilities, and the understanding of how to navigate the politics in an institutional environment, which was highly applicable to our client’s organization.

In speaking with our client many times since securing the Vice President two years ago (at the time of developing this case study), it has been expressed that the VP is a strategic executive whose technical and intangible abilities are evident. He has worked alongside his peers to effectively create a vision for the university as it embarked on its strategic plan. He has developed a strong rapport with individuals of all levels within the Institution, from end users to the board of directors, and his management capabilities are proven by maintained project schedules and enhanced efficiency throughout the various aspects of the capital program.

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The search involved numerous individuals at the university ranging from the newly appointed President to a search committee consisting of faculty and staff, all of whom had ideas, expectations, and desired qualities of prospective candidates. After multiple face-to-face meetings and brainstorming sessions with these individuals, we were able to discern the qualifications, background, and emotional intelligence that would be required of a successful candidate.
Tom Helbling, President

Learn about Helbling’s search process