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Building Operating Management

Downsized



A post-merger job squeeze left Larry Morgan on the outside looking in. Here’s how Morgan kept his career on track


By Brandon Lorenz, Senior Editor   Facilities Management

Larry Morgan seemed like the last person who would have to worry about downsizing.

While managing the building engineering department at Oracle’s 2-million-square-foot, class A corporate campus, Morgan had established an energy conservation and maintenance program that saved $2.5 million over 31⁄2 years. Before that, as director of engineering for a property management firm, he had launched a benchmarking program that led to reductions in engineering management costs of $250,000. And he had designed a program to manage energy for three class A high-rise buildings, which helped them garner an ENERGY STAR Label for Buildings.

But a solid track record is no defense against downsizing. When a corporation decides it has to make organizational changes, even stellar employees can find their jobs at risk. It doesn’t help if they are working in a department that overlaps functions or doesn’t support a company’s core competency.

Even before the merger of Oracle and PeopleSoft closed in January 2005, Morgan realized the deal would bring personnel changes. Part of what makes many mergers financially attractive is the opportunity to reduce the number of bodies on the payroll and look for more efficiency. So Morgan wasn’t surprised by the news that responsibilities had been shifted and positions eliminated. But no amount of foresight could alter the fact that Morgan was in a situation no one wants: He was looking for a new position without the security of a current job.

As he pursued a new position, Morgan shared his frustrations and his suggestions for other job seekers with Building Operating Management magazine.

Oct. 16 — It’s tough to keep Larry Morgan down. Morgan has made a career looking for ways to improve facility performance, from reducing energy consumption to optimizing project scheduling. Morgan is equally passionate about helping facility executives improve their skills through his work as a BOMI instructor. And he has no problem acting as a career coach for himself.

That means maintaining a relentlessly positive attitude while throwing himself into the job search. He quickly shakes off the separation once the job search begins. “Whether you are downsized or something else happens, you are still a valuable commodity or you would not have been employed to begin with,” he says.

With that, Morgan attacks the job search. He knows the timing isn’t great. He is forced to schedule interviews around the holidays and vacations that occur in November and December. Morgan’s goal is to find a new position by Feb. 1 — a little more than three months after parting ways with Oracle. It is an ambitious goal, particularly given the time of year.

But Morgan doesn’t have to start from square one on day one. He kept his resume and his list of accomplishments up to date while employed. What’s more, he developed an extensive list of contacts and tries to touch base with them at least semi-annually, so most of his information is current.

“I tell my students that you should make at least semi-annual runs through your contact lists, even if it is just to call people and say that you are updating your contact information and ask them how things are going,” he says.

Having his resume up-to-date and a network of contacts in place also helps prevent Morgan from feeling overwhelmed. Instead, he can focus on finding a position out of the gate.

As the job search begins, Morgan reaches out to his network of contacts — former students, colleagues and fellow instructors — to let them know he is looking for a job. Over the years, Morgan has helped many students and others move up to better jobs. Now it’s his turn.

A broadcast letter lets his contacts know he is searching for a position. The letter highlights some of his accomplishments, with examples of successes in reducing project costs, developing strategic and tactical programs and managing project risks. At the same time, Morgan browses job postings online from his northern California home.

Nov. 10 — Morgan is skeptical that broad-based Web sites such as mon-ster.com will be useful because of the specialized nature of facilities manage-ment.

He shouldn’t have worried. A recruiter cold-calls him to arrange an interview in San Francisco after seeing his resume posted online.

When Morgan takes a 30-minute train ride into San Francisco for an interview with Westfield’s San Francisco Centre, he already knows from online research and newspaper articles that Westfield is a growing company with a stake in 128 retail centers worldwide worth a combined $38.5 billion. He also knows that the San Francisco project is an important one for the company. The company’s new 1.5-million square foot Westfield San Francisco Centre will integrate the site of the former historic Emporium Building, originally opened in 1896, into a $440 million retail and office facility.

Having that kind of information is key, Morgan says. Armed with that knowledge, he has put himself in a position to ask thoughtful questions about the company and its facilities during the interview.

When it’s time to end an interview, Morgan likes to go out on a high note. Rather than looking at a job interview as a chance to get something — a job — Morgan uses the interview to demonstrate that he is interested in helping the company. “I’m not asking for help,” he says. “The conversation is about how I can help the team. That has to be the tone.”

After each interview, Morgan analyzes how things went. He’s looking for the techniques that made an impression. When trying to assess the success of the interview, Morgan considers the types of questions asked. Were they technical or did they focus on behavior and soft skills? He also considers more subtle cues. “It helps if you can understand the body language,” Morgan says. “It can tell you when it’s time to quit the interview.”

Nov. 15 — Morgan has an interview with an industrial company. Early on, he is trying to land as many interviews as he can for positions that he might reasonably consider. Not all go beyond the preliminary stage, but Morgan thinks it’s too early to rule anything out. “From an informational standpoint, I’m really trying to cast a broad net,” he says. “The worst thing I can do at this point is to exclude something.”

Morgan isn’t sure he wants to pursue the industrial position further. The job is two hours away and it is with a third-party management company. “I’m not sure it would be a long-term opportunity,” he says.

Morgan decides to focus on other positions. “The broadcast letter and the networking seem to be working,” he says. “I’m getting an increased volume of phone calls and inquiries.”

Nov. 17 — Morgan is upbeat after landing a follow-up interview with Westfield’s senior vice president of the West Coast. The interview lasts nearly two hours, with an in-depth discussion about the job and the company. “It was really a good sign that the interviewer was that comfortable with me,” he says.

Morgan quickly sends a brief thank-you note after the interview to restate his interest in the position, highlight his relevant experience and make sure he isn’t forgotten.

Still, Morgan knows that, with the holiday season quickly approaching, a window of opportunity is about to slam shut. If he doesn’t hear something from Westfield soon, it could be months before the right offer comes his way. “This is an important time right now. People are going to start taking vacations.”

Like any job seeker, Morgan has to guard against getting down on himself as the job search wears on. Knowing that a negative attitude will reduce his value to a prospective employer, Morgan fights the tendency. “Your attitude can dictate your altitude,” says Morgan. He means it. A lack of confidence or poor attitude during an interview can signal desperation to hiring managers. That can give the company an advantage in negotiations.

What’s more, once that negative attitude creeps into the search, it can become self-perpetuating.

“The last thing you should be doing if you are in an executive position and you need a new position is to panic and take something merely out of desperation,” Morgan reminds himself.

Nov. 28 — Morgan receives an offer from Westfield. He continues looking for positions and interviewing during the negotiations.

“Just because there is an offer on the table and they decide you are the person, remember that you don’t have the keys in your hand yet,” he says. By continuing the search during negotiations, Morgan knows he won’t feel like he is starting over if complications arise. “I’m staying positive with the offer,” he says. “But it’s not done until it’s done.”

Still, Morgan is confident that he has found the right company. “My take on the company is that it is a vertical organization that likes to move fast. It’s very diversified and dynamic,” he says. “That’s exciting because it fits with the kind of person I am.”

It’s no surprise that negotiation comes down to money. Good research can prevent facility executives from unknowingly accepting an offer that is below market value. Worse, a facility executive without salary information might kill a promising offer by pushing for a salary that is out of line for the market. Morgan has researched salaries online and discussed the offer with some of his contacts, so he feels grounded when negotiations begin.

Salary is important, but Morgan is comfortable with the company and he considers the complete offer — job title, salary and benefits — rather than salary alone. “Obviously we’re going to work for the money,” says Morgan. “But you should think about what else is included in that package.” The salary is reasonable. More importantly, the company feels right when he looks at the big picture, Morgan says.

Dec. 5 — Morgan begins his first day as the operations manager at Westfield’s San Francisco Centre. He knows he will be busy. With the upscale 1.5-million square foot retail and office facility scheduled to open Sept. 28, 2006, Morgan and his team are overseeing the development of operational programs and budgets for the building and are charged with making sure the building will reflect the company’s customer service goals.

For now, Morgan is focusing on making the transition smooth for himself and his new employer. That means learning the political alliances, meshing with the corporate culture and getting up to speed on the company’s policies.

“You want to make the transition equitable for both parties,” Morgan says. “The first couple of weeks is when you start branding yourself within the organization.”

April 5 — Morgan is starting to hit his stride, working on projects involving major building systems. He has already sent a brief thank-you note to his contacts, which also alerts them to his new position. It’s another way to keep in touch and to be prepared should the unexpected occur. “There is always going to be an end,” Morgan says. “Always ask yourself, ‘What are you doing to prepare for that?’”

Still, that doesn’t mean Morgan feels the need to look over his shoulder. “Things are falling into place about like I expected,” he says. “To be perfectly honest, it’s an exciting time in an exciting place.”


Four Guidelines to Keep Careers Moving

Even in the best of circumstances, finding a rewarding position that pays the bills can be a challenging proposition — doubly so for facility executives who are victims of corporate downsizing.

While there’s no such thing as a painless job hunt, a few steps can make the process easier.

Be Prepared

All the experience in the world can’t change one simple fact — facility management simply isn’t the core mission of most organizations. As such, when the bottom line doesn’t look good enough, facility executives can find themselves on the receiving end of cost-cutting moves.

“We’re always considered a cost center,” says Larry Morgan. “The macro- and micro-economics might change, but we’re still a cost center.”

Facility executives give themselves a competitive advantage by keeping their resumes current, by networking at trade shows and conventions, and by keeping in touch with their contacts in the industry.

Be Reasonable

Part of doing proper job research means knowing the market.

A slow-growth market, for example, could mean that facility executives need to give themselves more time to find a new position. “You have to be realistic about what the market is going to bear,” Morgan says.

Business is cyclical and understanding the local market — and the players in the market — will help facility executives know whether a potential company is moving “up” or “down” in the business cycle, providing an indicator to job expectations and potential salary.

Be Direct

When responding to a job posting or applying to a company that facility executives don’t have any contacts with, it is important to do the research so the application gets as close to the person making the hiring as possible.

“Who are the decision-makers?” Morgan says. “If you send your stuff to human resources, you may just end up getting bogged down in the screening process.”

Be Informed

Knowing what colleagues make in a market can help ground a facility executive during negotiations. In addition to Web sites such as monster.com, job seekers can also tap resources such as IFMA, which routinely surveys the salaries of facility executives.

In addition, SalaryBase on facilitiesnet.com allows users to sort salaries based on location, job title and the size and the type of space being managed.

— Brandon Lorenz, senior editor




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  posted on 5/1/2006   Article Use Policy

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