Associate Vice President, Planning, Design & Construction
for a private research university.

Partnering with a private research, higher education institution with a strong international component, Helbling consultants attracted and secured an Associate Vice President of Planning, Design, & Construction (PDC). The university was preparing to embark on a new master plan while also transitioning to a new budget model, leading to the expectation that PDC would need to reinvent itself. The professional placed has more than thirty years of experience which includes integrating PDC at a large state institution with a capital program of over $1.4B. In follow-up conversations, our client describes the professional’s strategic thinking as invaluable and his cultural fit as perfect. After coming on board, he immediately proposed a new organizational structure that will move them into the future with a ‘deeper bench’.

The university was preparing to embark on a new master plan while, at the same time, was experiencing growth and initiating many changes in an effort to enhance their international standing. They were looking to secure a professional who could provide experienced leadership to a team of fifteen design and project management professionals. These individuals, despite being engaged at the university for a long time, had not had the benefit of learning proper processes and having training support to keep up with the growing demands of the university.

Subsequently, the university was in the process of transitioning to a new budget model that led to the expectation that the Planning, Design, & Construction Department would need to reinvent itself with an increased focus on client interface and inter-university communication. The Associate Vice President (AVP) would be tasked with structuring the Department to affect this change and lead it through the change.

Reporting directly to the Vice President of Facilities (VP), the AVP role provides leadership and direction for space management, campus/project planning and development, and the timely, successful delivery of construction and renovation projects. It is responsible for assessing the effectiveness of current practices, processes and systems; identifying areas for improvement; and recommending, developing, and implementing improvement projects to standardize professional practices, streamline processes, and facilitate effective management and responsive service delivery.

In our initial discussions with the VP, they had several desired qualifications in candidates including: Master’s degree in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning, Construction Management or Engineering Management; a minimum of ten years of experience managing campus planning, design and construction organizations within a research university; and licensure as a Registered Architect, Professional Engineer, Certified Planner or Certified Construction Project Manager.

We agreed that to accomplish the university’s objectives, they would need to secure an individual who was articulate, diplomatic, and strategic with strong leadership skills and a collaborative, service-oriented approach. Along with these qualities, they would need a deep understanding of both the service and stewardship roles of university facilities organizations; and the intellectual capacity to envision, develop and communicate ways in which physical space and facilities can express, support and help drive the implementation of the university’s strategic plans.

To identify candidates who would possess all of the above technical qualifications and experiences, we targeted public and private universities, healthcare institutions, public agencies, facilities management firms, architectural and construction firms that have a focus within the higher education sector, and organizations with significant capital construction programs. We conducted a national search with a heavy focus on New England.

In consideration of candidates’ soft skill sets, we had extensive phone interviews, face-to-face meetings, and conducted reference checks to discuss philosophies and leadership approaches. Our final slate of candidates was diverse and included individuals who were in roles from Program Management to Planning.

Our client selected an individual who was the Director of Facilities Planning with a large state institution that has multiple campuses. In fact, he had integrated planning, design and construction at the university whose capital program is valued at over $1.4B. He has more than thirty years of experience in planning, design and construction, earned a Master’s degree in Architecture, and is a Registered Architect.

During follow-up conversations with our client, they say that the placed candidate’s professionalism and strategic thinking are invaluable, and his cultural fit is perfect. After coming on board, the professional immediately proposed a new organizational structure that will move them into the future with a ‘deeper bench’. At the same time, their Institutional master plan was in the process of being finalized, and planning for the first major capital project began. Thus far, the professional has hired a new Senior Capital Projects Manager for the project and a second individual to address the workload. Our client says that both hires are great and are setting a new example for existing staff going forward. 

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In follow-up conversations with our client, he described the secured professional’s strategic thinking as invaluable and his cultural fit as perfect. Upon coming on board, the individual immediately proposed a new organizational structure that moved them into the future with a ‘deeper bench' of talent.
Jim Lord, Executive Director - Northeast

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