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Executive Search Case Study: University Director of Utilities and Program Manager, Utilities

Executive Search Case Study: University Director of Utilities and Program Manager, Utilities

Due to an unprecedented investment in its infrastructure capital improvements and the pending retirement of a long-term incumbent in its Director of Utilities role, our client, a private research university in Massachusetts, was seeking to add several leadership positions to enhance its ability to deliver successful projects, lead a long-term utilities strategy, and replace the retiring leader.

Our Client, Its Roles, and Its Objectives

Roles: Director of Utilities and Program Manager, Utilities

Our client is a prestigious private research university in Massachusetts. Within its structure, the Director of Utilities role provides overall direction to the facilities department’s utility group and is responsible for the operation of its central utility plant (CUP) and utility distribution systems, and management of all utility-related projects in conjunction with the other facilities departments. The Director also oversees utility project management, and design and operations staff to establish best practices for the design, construction, and operation of the utility infrastructure throughout the campus and within the CUP. 

Working closely with the Director, the Program Manager provides overall direction to the institution’s facilities department utility project management, and design and operations group. The Program Manager is responsible for the operation of the university’s electrical utility distribution systems and management of all utility-related projects in conjunction with the other facilities departments. This role was created to ensure the university is provided with the necessary utility support to achieve its sustainability goals and objectives in a cost-effective manner. 

Our Search Strategy

Because of the size of our client’s CUP and the level of investment into the utilities department, there was an extremely limited talent pool from which to draw. The institution wanted deep experience in candidates and strong knowledge of combined cycle utility generation and distribution in a closed- loop campus environment. 

Working closely with the outgoing Director of Utilities and the Director of Maintenance and Utilities, we developed a strategy that targeted highly qualified professionals in similar higher education institutions and relevant organizations. Our search focused on campuses nationally that had their own central utility functions and generated their own steam, chilled water, and electricity. We targeted large colleges and universities; major public institutions; medical centers with more than 300 beds and those that are nationally renowned; and major corporations, utility providers, and non-utility companies with power plants in the region as well as those outside of the area.

We identified passive candidates who were in similar capacities and directly approached them on the opportunities with our client, which were attractive due to the significant and progressive infrastructure program and the financial resources that were being expended.  

Search Results

Conducting the searches simultaneously, we were able to successfully complete the assginments within five months, from strategy development to the secured professionals embarking on their new career endeavors. 

Director of Utilities

Helbling secured an individual with 30 years of experience that spanned cogeneration plant operations, energy procurement, commissioning, retro-commissioning, and master planning primarily related to utility distribution systems, energy program management, and regulatory compliance. He was most recently the Director of Engineering & Utilities with an Ivy-League institution where he had numerous achievements such as developing a revolving loan fund and real-time metering, all while keeping energy conservation at the forefront. 

Our client selected this professional not only for his experience but for his strong industry knowledge and reputation for having the ability to create a vision, and build and lead teams towards achieving it. He is a collaborative leader and effective communicator, and he is able to garner support from maintenance employees and senior administrative team members alike.  

With our client, the Director works closely with representatives of the campus planning, sustainability, capital projects, capital renewal, systems engineering groups to develop and fulfill plans that to improve the institution’s utility infrastructure.  

Program Manager, Utilities

For the Program Manager role, Helbling secured a professional who was employed with a large financial institution as Vice President of Corporate Real Estate, Security and Facilities Management where he directed all critical infrastructure, facilities management, security, and tenant and real estate services. He coached a diverse in-house team of 90 employees including attorneys, engineers, real estate professionals, and tradespeople, as well as external engineering and architectural firms, construction managers, and service providers. 

Throughout his career, this individual’s innovation and skill sets were proven through the successful management of complex facilities and utility operations. He is knowledgeable of high-pressure steam and chilled water physical plants, and has experience managing the operation and maintenance of critical electrical and mechanical systems within a campus environment with a strong quality and customer-centered mindset. His skills go beyond the technical qualifications of the role as he has also developed high performance teams through talent development, metrics, documenting best practices, and encouraging open and collaborative cultures of continuous improvement. 

Both individuals were selected by the University for their technical skills and their strong cultural fits within its fast-paced environment. In following up with the retiring Director to ensure that both selected candidates continue to perform well, he expressed, “they are exceptionally good and there is a lot of respect for their opinions and the value they bring to the organization.  We could not have hoped to find two better candidates. I wanted to make sure that I turned over my legacy to the right team, and I’m sure that I have done so.”

The new Director’s and Program Manager’s achievements have been many thus far with our client. The preliminary budget for the Institution’s new cogeneration facility was grossly inadequate.  The professionals dedicated much time determining what was necessary and how to communicate the issues politically. They presented the board with their information and persuaded the members to release an additional $100M to ensure the project’s success. 

In speaking with the new Director, he expressed that he and the Program Manager are in the midst of the cogeneration plant’s construction and continuing other infrastructure upgrades across the university’s campus. He noted that the two of them work together well and their skill sets complement each other, ultimately benefitting the university and its objectives.