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Search Case Study: Multiple University Facilities Roles

Search Case Study: Multiple University Facilities Roles

Helbling & Associates was retained by the University of Massachusetts Amherst to execute three executive searches simultaneously for the roles of: Director of Design & Construction Management, Director of Transportation Services, and Director of Physical Plant. To conduct the searches in the most productive manner, we formed a team of three consultants, one acting as the Lead Consultant who was the primary contact for the University. Our firm and the University's representatives worked collaboratively, and together we secured exceptional professionals who have the skills, knowledge, and personalities necessary to perform within the institution's highly political system. 

Our Client's Objectives

University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) is ranked among the top public research universities in the nation, and is the flagship campus of the state university system. The institution rests on almost 1,450 acres and its campus facilities total roughly 6M square feet of space.

Shortly after becoming a pre-approved vendor through an RFP process, Helbling was retained by the University's Associate Vice Chancellor of Facilities & Campus Planning (AVC), to conduct executive searches simultaneously for: Director of Design & Construction Management, Director of Transportation Services, and Director of Physical Plant. While the Director of Design & Construction role had been vacant for one year after the unexpected departure of their long-time director, the AVC waited to fill the role because of planned retirements of the individuals in the other two positions. She wanted all three searches to be executed at the same time so that all Directors could be onboarded simultaneously for efficiency and continuity. While she was the hiring executive for all of the roles, we worked directly with three individual search committees and search chairs. We developed separate recruiting campaigns, and were accountable for the assessment of internal as well as external candidates.

As a large state institution, UMass felt that candidates who had performed in similar positions within comparable campus environments would be optimal. The University needed executives who could lead the transitions of these large departments from the previous Directors who had long tenures with the Institution. The also sought Directors who knew how to manage a “do more with less” environment, while at the same time, developing innovative processes and procedures to increase efficiencies.

Our Search Strategies

To conduct the assignments concurrently in the most efficient manner, Helbling created an internal search team of three consultants. While each handled a specific search, the designated Lead Consultant worked closely with the hiring authority and the search committees to provide oversight and direction for all of the searches.

At the onset, together with the Associate Vice Chancellor, we determined five to ten attributes, experiences, and/or skills, which would serve as guidelines for each of the three roles, ensuring that we were focusing on the most ideal characteristics both technically and culturally. We targeted individuals at the Director level within universities and colleges nationally, while also considering potential individuals from large healthcare, corporate, public agency, or pharmaceutical environments. Throughout the executive search processes, UMass had specific requirements to be adhered to, including:

  • Specific advertising campaigns for each role, which included outreach to minority and diversified candidates. A plan was developed by our consultant team, and was presented to UMass’s Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action department for approval. There were requirements for ad wording, ad timing and placement, and our recruitment activities. We worked to ensure that all rules and regulations were strictly followed.

  • We were required to send a response to each individual who applied for a role, and to forward a form that he/ she could complete and submit confidentially to report demographic information. Our consultant team collected and summarized this information so that UMass had the required records and tracking activity.

  • All communication with the hiring executive, the search chairs, and other committee members had to be managed in a specific and approved manner.

Search Results

  • Director of Design & Construction Management. The selected executive was an internal candidate who had been the Interim Director of Design & Construction for several months, and had served nine years as the Associate Director of Design & Construction. He was selected for his abilities to build strong relationships with end-users and the campus at-large as they relate to capital construction plans. UMass has relationships with key state agencies that play a role in capital funding and project execution, and this individual has more than 15 years of experience working in this highly political system that would be complicated to external candidates from outside of the state system. He is also a Professional Engineer (PE), which gives him a different approach to the role and its objectives.

  • Director of Transportation Services. This individual had been the Assistant Director of Parking & Transportation Services at a large public university in Texas. She was selected for her experience in overseeing parking and transportation operations on a campus larger than UMass. She has innate leadership and management abilities that differentiate her from others. In fact, she had earned such a strong reputation at her institution, that her direct report selflessly encouraged her to take the UMass position.

  • Director of Physical Plant. The chosen professional was an internal candidate who had been the Interim Director of Physical Plant for nearly six months. He had been with the University for more than 15 years, and was the Assistant Director of Utilities for 10 of those years. He was selected for his exceptional performance in the Interim Director capacity, along with his vast knowledge of campus facilities and infrastructure, allowing for an expeditious transition.