An Architect’s Journey to Facilities Management

Like many maintenance and engineering directors, James Storfer Jr. took a non-traditional path to facilities management.

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor  

Like many maintenance and engineering directors, James Storfer Jr. took a non-traditional path to facilities management. Now, as director of operations and maintenance with MD Anderson Cancer Center, he brings an architect’s perspective to his job. 

FacilitiesNet: Why did you enter the facilities profession, and what was your first job? 

Storfer Jr.: My first job in facilities was as a project coordinator with the facilities planning, design and construction group for a large independent school district with a small administrative overhead. Prior to starting that position, I was part of a pilot program as an on-loan architectural consultant with that school district. This allowed me to learn about the job and become familiar with the work while giving me good insight into the whole of owner-side facilities. 

My responsibilities included creating a physical and digital drawing library for the school district. This was extremely exciting because the district had a long history, with documents dating back to the 1930s that needed to be digitized. I also was able to manually recreate the documents in CAD format. This was important because the facilities were still in use, and future renovations would need an accurate starting point. I also created a database for managing assets, which was similar to a CMMS but was focused specifically on running reports on systems and services for bond program planning. 

During my time at the independent school district, I was promoted to project manager and shortly after that to director of project management. I increased my knowledge and responsibilities to include contract writing, personnel management and financial responsibility for more than $1 billion in bonds. Those skills helped me train others to provide a level of quality and stewardship not seen in other districts of the size. 

FacilitiesNet: How long have you held your current job, and what are your job responsibilities? 

Storfer Jr.: I have been at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for more than eight years. I started my journey as the assistant director of property management, and I now serve as the director of operations and maintenance for patient care and prevention facilities building care and operations. 

I am privileged to lead a talented team responsible for managing utility systems, which consist of electrical, plumbing, HVAC, medical gases, pneumatic tube and other specialty systems. Our group also coordinates with multiple stakeholders to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for our patients, staff and caregivers while also keeping our facilities compliant with regulatory requirements. My team’s portfolio includes approximately 4 million square feet of inpatient and outpatient clinical space and business spaces. My responsibilities are focused on helping my team to be prepared for future needs and challenges. 

FacilitiesNet: What has been the biggest surprise during your career in facilities? 

Storfer Jr.: I’m surprised by my career journey and with where I now find myself as a leader. I am naturally an introvert, so I never really saw the leadership qualities in myself. Still, I have always been someone that likes to help others, and I enjoy brainstorming to find ways for my organization to be successful, and I think this propels me forward. 

FacilitiesNet: What do you wish you had known about facilities when you started that you know now? 

Storfer Jr.: I took a non-traditional career path for an architect working on the operations and maintenance side of facilities. I am one of six directors, but I am the only architect. What I’ve found and would want others to know is that this career is very rewarding, despite the challenges that come along. It brings me joy to see patients feel better, heal and go home to be with their families, and it makes the effort worthwhile. It is also great to work with so many others with the same vision. 

FacilitiesNet: What achievement are you most proud of in your career? 

Storfer Jr.: I have been privileged to serve and lead many initiatives and teams throughout my career, with responsibilities ranging from revamping processes to restructuring operations. However, it’s particularly rewarding when I, in concert with my team members, am able to bring teams into a culture where they are looking for opportunities to create more value. That never gets old. 

As a specific example, I was very proud watching our property management team as they developed training boards, determined best practices and proactively followed up on after actions. It is great to see your team understand their role, take ownership, have a reliability mindset and maintain a dedication to be their best. 

More recently, I was able to duplicate that culture in my new area when building on emergency management practices, such that our team manages issues with precision. Using shared documents, our team determines the needs, formulates the processes to execute and tracks the execution progress for a given issue. With this process, they have provided better feedback in our after-action reviews. The team also conducts after-action reviews following successful events in order to learn more and to improve in the future. 

I think my proudest achievements have been in building successful teams and guiding individuals so that they can excel and be confident moving forward in their careers. 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor of the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 

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  posted on 8/11/2023   Article Use Policy

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