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Search Case Study: Assistant Vice President for Physical Plant Division of a university

Search Case Study: Assistant Vice President for Physical Plant Division of a university

Helbling worked closely with a repeat client, one of the nation’s leading research institutions, to secure an Assistant Vice President (AVP) for Physical Plant Division. The selected candidate directs a team of 800+ employees and ensures a seamless process for maintaining and improving the physical environment of the campus.  He has implemented a rebranding initiative to improve customer satisfaction and integrate a comprehensive communication plan.


Assistant Vice President for Physical Plant Division

Our client is one of the nation’s leading research institutions. They needed a strong professional to replace a 30-year veteran at the institution as his retirement was approaching.  While respectful of the incumbent’s tenure and contributions to the institution, the client envisioned this significant change as an opportunity to introduce new processes, initiatives, and ideas through the hiring of a visionary leader who would be cognizant of the existing staff’s history and energize them to embrace the changes to come. The candidate had to bring sophistication to the operation of world-class facilities, as well as fit in with an extremely diverse and culturally responsive community. 

Upon meeting with the Vice President with whom we would work on the search, it was understood that the candidate needed to be results-driven and have an operations/management background to implement new initiatives. Our client’s long-term goal was to become an international leader in more than two dozen sectors, including health, agriculture, computing, and education. Therefore, they needed someone who had experience working on a large, public campus and strategic vision to support them in achieving their goals. 


Because the search was initiated due to the retirement of an individual who had spent 30 years with the university leading a large division on a 12M SF campus, we knew it was imperative to find a person with similar scope and experience; someone who possessed the technical expertise necessary to improve the environment, as well as strong interpersonal skills to engage the academic community and the staff within the physical plant division. We embarked on a national search, branching out into government and healthcare along with the higher education sector. Working directly with the Vice President, the search committee, and human resources, we targeted leaders in facilities management roles that focused on operations. 


The successful candidate was the Director of Facilities Operations for a major Mid-Atlantic university where he was in charge of the maintenance operations; co-generation power plant; energy management and GIS programs; and the custodial, groundskeeping, and electrical services of more than 2,600 acres and 125 buildings.  Our client selected this individual based on his 30 years of experience and also his adaptive, innovative, and directive management style.  They felt he would promote the strategic vision of the university, and motivate and empower his team to perform to their utmost potential. 

In follow-up conversations with our client, they indicate how pleased they are with the individual’s performance and the impact he has made thus far.

His accomplishments include:  

  • Restructuring and reorganizing the institution’s plant operations;
  • Optimizing the computerized maintenance management and facilities management business systems; and
  • Enhancing the quality of service by addressing financial and budget issues.