Steve Spencer was born with facilities management in his blood; or so his history makes it seem. His first job in high school was with Holiday Inn, where he served as everything from desk clerk to maintenance worker. After graduating with a history degree from the University of Illinois, a former hotel manager he had worked for offered him a full-time position in hotel management.
After years in management, Spencer accepted a position with a contract cleaning company, which eventually led to a position involving sales of janitorial supplies and equipment. After eight years on the road, he switched gears again – this time, accepting an environmental services job with a local healthcare facility.
A friend who was working for State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, IL, had been telling Spencer he should consider working there. After a rough day of work at the healthcare facility, Spencer asked his friend to get him an application. He filled it out, interviewed, and was told he would have been perfect for a position they just filled. They asked to keep his résumé on file, and later that same day, he received a call leading to a job offer.
“The interesting thing is that I met a gentleman about 20 or 25 years ago who had the job I have now [at State Farm]. And I said, ‘Boy, I’d like to have that job. That’s the job to have.’ And now I’ve got it,” says Spencer.
As a facilities specialist, Spencer is responsible for “anything to do with cleaning or interior maintenance,” as he puts it. He is also the company’s resource for flooring specifications, and coordinates and teaches its Interior Maintenance School. “That impact has made a major difference in our organization. The people I taught eight years ago are now becoming managers and assistant managers … they’re coming back to the things we taught them and insisting that their people come to class, that they do things the right way.”
Spencer’s knowledge of the cleaning and interior maintenance industry has had major effects. By implementing an appropriate maintenance program, he has doubled the life of the company’s carpet and flooring finishes. When he began in 1994, State Farm was replacing carpet every five or six years. Now, the company’s average carpet lasts 10 to 12 years. The “how, why, and what-if” phrase Spencer employs is the key to how he discovers better ways of doing things. “If we know how we do it, we can ask why we are doing it that way, and then decide [what would happen] if we did it a different way,” he explains.
The biggest challenge Spencer believes his industry will face in 2003 is maintaining quality while reducing costs. “I see people cutting back on frequency in maintenance without any concern for maintaining the quality.” He explains that when budget cuts are made, cleaning and maintenance are the first things to go. “That’s where the big number is. A lot of people think it’s a pretty big cost on a daily basis, but they don’t realize what it would cost if you didn’t maintain [something] and then have to replace it in an emergency situation four years down the road.”
A piece of advice he offers? “Be the expert. It comes back to the ‘how, why, and what-if.’ If you don’t know the how, you can’t do the why and what-if. You have to know everything about your operation,” he says. As such, Spencer has become involved in all selections throughout the company’s facilities, with co-workers asking for advice regarding design and layout to provide better function and easier maintenance from day to day. “You have to be the expert,” he notes.
Leah B. Garris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editorial coordinator at Buildings magazine.