Episode 8: How Technology Revolutionizes the Facilities Management World
Welcome to Privacy Matters podcast! This is episode 8. I’m Andy Vawter your host.
Today, I have a guest from TD Industries. Brian Lillard is with me. VP of Facilities. So I’m really excited to have you here. It’s a different podcast episode because it’s actually outside of most of the industry stuff that we deal with. But I thought it was pretty exciting to bring you in here because you touch literally every facility in an aspect that all of us in our space is working in, installing, managing, working with customers that have problems and you guys are fixing problems for them. And, so that entire thing just intrigued me about some topics we could talk about and some ways that we could bring some value to our customers. So again, thanks for being here. (Brian: Glad to do it.) I thought let’s get started first with some personal questions, so I get to know you a little bit better. We’ll keep it professional. Right? I’ve had a couple of guests, get a little too personal about we’re like no more custody and you gotta stop that. So, we’ll keep it professional. Tell us a little about your background and what brought you to where you are now?
Yeah. So I’ve been in the real estate of facilities world for about 30 years and really that’s been my entire career other than one year in public accounting. And, anybody who’s been in public accounting realizes why I did it for one year. So, my career has been with large companies like Trammell Crow company, Toni Development company. So I’ve been on all sides of the coin as far as real estate and facilities, but really got involved with the outsourcing function at Trammell Crow. I like to believe they started the trend towards outsourcing in the mid-’90s. And so I was on several accounts there outsourcing both real estate and facilities. Throughout my career, I’ve focused on both of those areas and, now at TD industries where I head up a facilities team where we manage and maintain facilities mostly in the Southwest.
How long have you said one year? (Brian: Just over a year in TD.) Excellent. What do you like about the current position you’re doing?
Well, so I always like a challenge and you know at TD our facilities business it probably stagnated I would say. I liked the idea of being able to come in and jumpstart it and put some processes into place. I’d like to think some strategic thinking to get us to be prepared for what’s happening in the future and take advantage of those opportunities and what TD has to offer to the customer.
So is your goal for what you’re doing with them is this- does this have a long timeline, several year kinds of rollout plan or are you already starting to see some significant changes with that?
My first challenge was to put a team together and a team that could really execute on the strategy that we were wanting to put forth. And so that teams together, and we’re starting to have some results, but really our ultimate strategy is to be the best facilities operator in the country. And that really evolves because as technology changes, buildings change, requirements of the customers change that’s always evolving. And so we’ve got to stay on the top of the trend to make sure that we’re able to do that. So another thing within our company, TD also is a large mechanical construction company. And one of the goals of TD is to better divide up the business. So right now, construction is 65 to 70% of our business and they’d like it to be 50% so that means my business has to grow.
They’re not going to shrink that business now to accommodate that. What do you think- this is kind of a two-part question. What has been your recipe for success and that might be a personal kind of thing that you have found yourself good at? And then I guess that would translate into what do you see the recipe for success for you and your team in this role?
That’s a good question. You know what we do. I tell people all the time, we’re not selling widgets, we’re not building anything. What we sell our people and so it’s choosing the right people, training them, keeping them safe that’s a big important piece. Then delivering the right service that our customers want. And so always keep an eye on those two things helps us to be successful. A lot of times people can present those ideas but not follow through with them. And so, and in our world, it’s important to follow through and make sure we do what we’re supposed to do.
Absolutely. How would you describe yourself as a person? That’s a loaded question, right?
You know, it’s funny. I’m probably an intro extrovert, you know. I’m more than happy to be with the crowd, but then I can also go watch a movie by myself which my kids make fun of me but so I think that helps. I actually kinda like it because it gives me an opportunity to think and I like strategy and coming up with new ideas. I run so when I’m running I’m always thinking of new ways to do things and then I have to hurry home and write down some notes.
Yeah. So you run marathons like the long-distance type? (Brian: I haven’t in a while but up until three years ago.) And so, you know Fred Lin, our VP of sales, he just finished his second Ironman. (Brian: He’s crazy.) It’s ridiculous. (Brian: He keeps on telling me I need to do that. I don’t mind any marathons now.) Well, he learned how to swim to do it which was just silly. So, I just signed up for my first 5K so my wife is really into exercise. I used to play football, but not a long-distance type running thing. And so she just signed me up for it. It was like, we’re doing this. So I’m jogging up and down our road right now doing the couch to 5K. So hopefully I don’t die. We’ll see.
But, so one of the dig in a little bit more into kind of the facility management piece and a little bit more about your company and as it relates to I think people that listen to this podcast are partners. Our reps, the people that interact with us. A lot of them are working through the project with a contractor or with an end-user. And so facility management oftentimes is directly involved in that. Whether it’s before or oftentimes after the fact and probably half of our business is people move in. They realize they have an acoustical problem and then they start asking, people are Googling or whatever and that’s how we get involved. In that scenario, we’re almost 100% interacting with facilities in some way shape or form. I think learning more about that from your perspective and what you guys do and some of the challenges in ways you guys were standing on top of the game will be beneficial to everybody.
My first question there is how is facility management changed over the years? You mentioned technology a second ago and I’m sure that it is really important but from your perspective, especially with as many experiences you have.
Yeah, it’s changed a lot. You know, I can think back when I first got involved at the Trammell Crow company. Sometimes you would hear when referencing to facility managers and property managers they were an afterthought. We built the building, we leased it up. Oh no, we’ve got to find somebody to manage it. Okay. That person looks fine, throw them in there. And, really that probably didn’t change a whole lot until more recently, particularly on the facilities side, there’s an industry association called IFMA- International Facility Management Association that’s really done a lot to professionalize the role. There are certifications now. They’re even college degrees. Several universities now offer degrees even advanced degrees in facilities management. So from the personal side, it’s really grown and developed, I’d say in the last 10 years, which is important because now the buildings are becoming much more sophisticated. The technology in the buildings, everything from sensors to energy and the like are changing. But also the workforce is changing and I’m sure as you guys know with your tools that you offer workplaces are changing and they’re no longer the offices along the outer perimeter and a few cubes in the middle, it’s all open. And so facility managers have to now learn to deal with that change management. (Andrew: What does that look like in your experience?) It can be difficult. I’ve actually gone through that three times or will be my third year soon. Pizza Hut was a client of mine. They moved from all walled offices to open environment and that actually went over pretty well. It probably took about six to eight months for everybody to get used to it. I’m about to go through that with American Airlines as they move into a new headquarters facility just in the next month. Airlines, as you might know, are pretty institutional, lots of walled offices, lots of old ways of doing things. So it’s going to be interesting to see how they adapt in that environment.
Well, people don’t like change in general, so even if it’s a good chance, I’m not saying this is a good or bad change, but just any change. (Brian: They just resist it.) Until they can’t remember what life was like before that, then that’s the new normal. How has your company differentiated yourselves in this space? We talked before we started a little bit about the competition and I’d like you to expand a little bit about who are your competitors. Where do you guys find your hit your stride and kind of your niche?
Yeah. So at TD, from a competition standpoint, we primarily focus on single facilities, owner, user facilities. So when I say single, I mean corporate headquarters where there’s not much of a portfolio outside of it or college higher education campuses, K through 12 portfolios, government facilities, convention centers, city properties, and in that nature. And so because of those types that we pursue, those types of facilities and opportunities we pursue, it’s generally meaning that we’re dealing with companies like CVRE and JLL could be local mechanical companies that compete against us. But I’d say primarily our biggest competitor is somebody trying to do with themselves. (Andrew: Explain that in greater detail.) Yeah, I mean, so that kind of falls back onto Waka what I said before so some folks still have the belief that it’s easy to manage a building, it’s not a big deal. So let’s pull Joe from I.T or Betty from sales and just they’re not doing anything now, so let’s make them the facility manager. It can’t be that hard and so that’s kind of what we run into. And they don’t understand the full breadth of the offering that needs to be delivered. And in the cost or implications that it can have not only to their bottom line but to their workforce, particularly as we, that work for us evolves.
Sure. So you’ve got a changing workforce which changes literally everything around it. And if someone’s not prepared for that, they’re probably much more reactionary than planning for some of this stuff. You know, from my perspective, if you know that it’s how things are changing and like you said, I’ve already dealt with this once I’m about to deal with this again. I would hope then you’re better prepared to move these people into this new space and deal with the challenges there.
Yeah, I think so. And I think from the client-side, they really understand that today’s workforce, they’re more interested in what their office is going to be like with the amenities are like and their experience there. And they might be willing to forego both salary and income for that. Today’s employers wanting to recruit and retain the best talent they’ve gotta be able to offer a facility.
And you mentioned, higher ed K-12, local municipalities. I mean, those are areas where they probably can’t pay as much compared to maybe the larger private sector opportunities. So some of those things are what matter, right? I mean, if they can craft an experience for somebody, they can keep them or attract them.
Actually, here’s an interesting story. One of my clients at my previous company was Virginia Tech University and it was their DC campus and they taught a lot of MBA students there and they literally spent millions renovating this facility to make it attractive and appealing because they were charging a lot of money to these MBA students to come in and these students were coming from corporate campuses that looked spectacular. (Andrew: So they’re walking in there and it’s not the same.) Yes. The oldest institutional universities not as appealing to them.
Now that makes total sense. We’ve mentioned technology a few times. How are you seeing technology change to make your job easier or facility management in general, easier?
Yeah, there’s a lot of technology that’s out today and even more on the horizon that’s number one. So allowing for energy efficiency and the facility. And really I think of that starting at the central plant, most of our customers are in large enough facilities where there’s a chilled water system, right? That consumes a lot of energy, particularly in the Southwest. And so new technology is allowing our building operators as we call them the ability to operate those machines in a much more efficient manner and saving the customer a lot of money and doing good things for the environment so that’s a big change for us. A lot of the other changes as far as the use of sensors in the facility, it’s coming, it’s not quite there yet. Artificial intelligence isn’t quite there yet and my opinion is not going to be fully there for probably 15 years or so cause you’ve got so many legacy buildings out there and you know it would take a lot of money to invest in those but it’s going to be a slow evolution.
Just as new buildings are being brought up out of the ground and then gutted and renovated that right over the next few years, that’s going to be added to it. That’s one of the interesting things that we do. Our sound masking system is adaptive so it uses sensors that auto adapts the volume. And it’s always my favorite pitch whenever we’re doing a presentation and I know the facility managers in there because I can be like, how would you like to not have to deal with the complaints or making adjustments to this because it’s just going to automatically adjust. And they’re like, excuse me, could you say that again? From my perspective, what we do is one of those things where, the more we can leverage technology to make it automate for facility management, it’s gonna just make the job more effective, more efficient. And then you can focus on higher and better uses of the job or even like you said, TD industries. If you’re doing mechanical and facility management now you guys can touch energy efficiency from the design-build all the way into the management of the facility after the fact.
Yeah. I mean I could very well see our industry moving towards, I like to call it serves as a service. Facilities maintenance as a service where maybe remotely we’re able to adjust incorrect settings in the building and then only applying labor to it as needed. So I could see that being the way we do business in the not too distant.
That’s as soon as the technology is there to get down each device and get real time feedback and make adjustments. You don’t need a human on the elevator running around trying to get up in the ceiling. That’s really interesting. What would I think we’re talking about a lot of in my mind, a lot of future things, things come in, but what are some of the things that you’d say and you don’t have to get too personal in this book, are frustrating about maybe the industry or specifically what you do?
Yeah, well, we talked about resistance to change that’s the most frustrating thing. There’s still a lot of resistance to change. The average age of the facility managers, early 50s probably, and sometimes as people age, we don’t like to change. And so we get a lot of that. I think of stories of making presentations to CEOs and CFOs about how we can save them a lot of money by outsourcing facilities. And it’s just not, it doesn’t move the meter for them, they just how well and they come up with all these different reasons. So that’s probably the most frustrating thing.
Well, that’s, I mean that I would say that’s everybody, right? So if you were to ask me what’s my first most frustrating thing, it typically falls into that whenever you’re trying to change people’s perspectives or get them to get behind the new idea or something different, it’s just half the time you’re beating your head against a wall Tronic and happen. So, a couple more questions then we’ll be done. But, I would estimate in maybe not in your role, but in your company’s role as a facility manager, you’re dealing with all sorts of vendors, contractors, manufacturers, dealers, I mean name it, you have to kind of juggle all those different relationships. In your experience, how have you done that the best? I guess what I’m trying to say. Like what’s been your takeaway for how you do that effectively?
Yeah, so we’re offering now an integrated facility model, what that means is the client looks to us for all the services within their facility. So that means that we’re because we don’t do a lot of things like janitorial or landscaping or sound masking, it leads us to have to partner with quality vendors. And so I’m kind of a process guy probably from my accounting background. And so we’ve developed a process where we look toward, look for vendors to work with screen them, qualify them, and then go through a defined RFP process. And then once we’ve found good partners to work with and hopefully, we’re able to continue to bring them new opportunities that for us it’s really important because whenever we partner with someone, they then become an extension of us. And so we want our partners to have the same outlook on the business as we do the same interests and desire to have long term relationships that’s what we really want as a service provider.
Yeah. It sounds like if you’re, if you’re being that kind of go-to person for your customer, well then every relationship on the back end that you have is a direct reflection.
Exactly. Yeah. We help our customers think of us as their trusted partner and they understand that when we engage another partner that they can expect the same from them.
That’s important than that you have that process that you guys have. I mean, we’re all human and there’s going to be problems, right? But if you have a good standardized process in evaluating and bringing people on board, at least in my experience that you have a little bit better or a win rate. All right. Last question about this, if you had a magic wand and could fix anything like that? What would it be?
Wow, that’s a good one. I’d say probably we talked a little bit about this is, is the owner user of that facility really understanding the impact that that building has on their business? There have been numerous possible clients I’ve spoken to that just didn’t quite get it. Whether it be from the customer, their customer standpoint, or their employee standpoint. One time I was speaking to a medical or a healthcare system and the doctors always came in the back door. They never saw that with the lobby, looked like the fact that half the lights were out, the plant was dead in the corner, the carpet was stained. And so I used to tell them, I said, you need to make sure your doctors come in the front door a few times so that they can really see what their patients are looking at and understand why it’s important to properly maintain that facility. So, wow, I think we’re making progress and there are a lot of great owners and users out there. There’s still some that just feel like, you know, okay, we need a building, so let’s put them in there and then hope for the best. You really, really can’t do that. You’ve got to focus on the customer and the employee that’s going to be utilizing.
That makes a lot of sense. All right, my last two questions kind of, these are the silly personal ones. So first thing, what’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not at work? You mentioned running, but I mean I’m sure you have other.
I like to spend a lot of time with my family. I’ve got three kids all now out of college or almost out of college, but it’s still a lot of fun to spend time with them and with my wife as well. She and I just started playing golf which can be quite humorous to watch us but it’s a good time together. I run and then I’ve also got my pilot’s license so I like to fly occasionally.
Well rounded. So my wife requested for mother’s day to go to top golf and I knew something was up. I was very, cause she does not go off and I was like, she was like, yeah, we’ll take the kids, we’ll go to the top calls on Sundays. I go, okay. You know, I don’t need a second. The second suggestion there so we went and did it and I was like, something’s not right. Why is she doing this? And I found out she has a birthday party with a bunch of girls. They’re going there in two weeks and she wanted to practice and have me teachers so she doesn’t look so foolish. Hey, I’m not going to complain about that. No, we’re all here golfing, so I’m going. (Brian: My license only condition is that the drink cart lady shows up within the first three-hole.) There you go. That’s important. Then the last question, if you’ve had all the money in the world, what would you do? And it might be exactly what you’re doing, but you know.
I’d like to say I solve world hunger and probably I spent some of it on that. It’s funny, one of my partners this morning was talking about. He swears he’s going to win the lottery. (Andrew: The odds are in his favor, right?) Yeah, of course. And he’s going to be at work. Even if he wins, he’s gonna show for work. I’m like, no, you won’t. I don’t know. I mean, I would probably just try to take care of the people that I love and maybe spread a little bit around after beyond that.
So. Excellent. Well, I appreciate you taking a few minutes to sit down with us and everybody listening, please subscribe to the podcast. We’re putting these out every couple of weeks and I’m starting to branch out into different industries and some just getting some new perspective on building construction and just all the different things that we touch on a daily basis.
So, again, thanks for being here Brian. (Brian: Glad to do it.)