BUILDINGS - Smarter Facilities Management


A Day in the Life of Mike Bell

Balancing Act(ion)


Up Close and Personal

Mike, what is your favorite past time?

Three years ago, my wife and I bought a farm down in Virginia. We’ve been trying to learn about farming. The house on the property was built in 1835, and we’re fixing it up. My wife is a landscape architect, and last summer she spent three months down there working. It’s in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s such a beautiful area. You don’t hear anything but the cows once in awhile.

If you weren’t in this profession, what alternative occupation would you pursue?

There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing, but if I had to choose something different, I’d like to be an architect and specialize in low-cost, energy-efficient housing for the developing areas of the world.

What two people would you like to meet?

I would like to meet two ancestors of mine. My mother lives in our original family home in Cincinnati, a farm built in 1858. She has a needlepoint and some letters from one of our relatives, Rachel Hunt. Rachel was in her 20s during the Civil War and wrote letters to a soldier fighting in the war. She also went to Antioch College, which is something amazing unto itself for that day and age. I’d also like to meet her father, James Craig Hunt. In his letters, he refers to taking livestock to New Orleans via the Ohio River, where he’d sell them.

Twenty years ago, Mike Bell left the retail environment to accept a temporary assignment in Target Corporation’s Building Services department.

He expected to stay two years before returning back to hands-on work in the stores.

Today, Bell – Target’s vice president of Building Services – oversees more than 1,500 stores, headquarters buildings, and distribution centers nationwide, as well as a team of more than 2,700 building services professionals.

With degrees in business administration and marketing, as well as a U.S. Army tour of duty in Vietnam under his belt before he joined Target 24 years ago, Bell had no idea he would end up in facilities management and operations. It wasn’t his expertise. He expected to stay on the business and marketing side of the desk, but that “temporary” department transfer changed everything.

“Here I am 20 years later,” he says. “I really enjoy it because it gives you the opportunity to be creative.”

Bell and his nationwide staff are responsible for the maintenance and repairs of all corporate buildings in the Target family, which also includes Mervyn’s and Marshall Field’s. Their responsibilities reach well beyond standard MRO work. “We monitor the energy management, fire, and security systems; handle environmental issues; and take charge of the company’s business continuation management,” Bell explains.

In post 9-11 America, business continuation management has become a high priority in corporations across the map. Bell says Target already had such contingency plans in place prior to the events of 9-11, but that the terrorist attacks made company officials realize they needed to plan for different types of events than they had previously included in the program.

In 1992, the company had a big test of its capabilities when an earthquake in Northridge, CA, damaged 40 Target stores. The emergency prompted Target officials to develop a system they call “Alert One.” If any one of the company’s buildings has some sort of disaster or major problem, the facility contacts a central call center that pages the individuals responsible for responding. Contact people must respond back to the store or corporate building within 10 minutes, Bell says.

“We had thousands of those calls last year,” he says, adding that most calls are minor things such as power outages. Some, however, are more severe.

“Before Christmas, one of our stores in Houston was hit by a tornado, and we’ve also had some fairly major fires in the past,” Bell explains. “Because we were able to put the system in place, we have been able to get the stores open quickly. Our mission is to get them open as safely as possible, as quickly as possible.”

Not everything requires putting out literal fires. Bell and his team spend a great deal of time dealing with everyday facilities management issues. While more than 50 percent of Target’s MRO work is done by outside contractors, the in-house staff keeps busy. The maintenance operations call center issues roughly 24,000 work orders each month.

It also keeps Bell on the road. He spends a good part of each year visiting stores across the country. He admits that the travel isn’t always the favorite part of his work, but it’s necessary. He says: “It’s definitely not glamorous, but I try to see a cross section of stores so I can keep up to speed on everything. We’re getting a lot more unique stores now.”

Robin Suttell, based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.


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