A Day in the Life

Aug. 31, 2004
Robert Burgess Is High Energy
Admitting that he sleeps only about four hours most nights, the executive vice president of real estate at the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association (NRECA) in Arlington, VA, believes in hard work and getting a jump on the day.“I always get into work by 5:00 a.m. When I was little, I started working by the time I was eight years old, delivering papers. My father used to come in and say, ‘It’s time to start an honest day’s work,’ ” recalls Burgess, CPM, RPA, who heads up NRECA’s National Real Estate Property Management Services division, a for-profit sector of the national non-profit organization that represents the interests of electrical cooperatives and their constituents.“I was taught if you work hard and use common sense, you can do whatever you need to do in life,” he adds.Call it nature or nurture, but the facilities industry runs deep in Burgess’ blood. An engineer by trade, Burgess is the product of a mother who worked as a senior general manager for a property management corporation and a father who was director of engineering for a commercial facility. “It helped me bridge the gap,” he says. “I could understand the engineering side and the PM side. That helped me grow in my career.”Burgess has been with NRECA for two years and worked as a property manger and senior chief engineer for CarrAmerica before that. In fact, NRECA was a client in the CarrAmerica portfolio.“They came to me and offered to hire me directly,” Burgess says.Burgess oversees the day-to-day operations of NRECA’s six facilities in the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Nebraska. While most of the tenants in the buildings are part of the NRECA, the organization recently began to provide property management services to outside tenants. As a result, National Real Estate Property Management Services now functions as a for-profit division within the non-profit NRECA.“We sold one of our buildings, and the new owners came back and said we were doing things they didn’t see other management companies doing. They offered us a contract to manage the building even though we were selling it to them,” Burgess says. “We thought, ‘Why not branch out and do that with other properties and bring in more revenue?’ ”Burgess manages a staff of 25 employees including, but not limited to, property managers, engineers, maintenance and janitorial, security, landscapers, and outside contractors. “My function runs from A to Z – whatever it takes to get the job done,” he says, noting that a typical day could include budgeting and financials at his desk, negotiating contracts, touring grounds to be sure the landscaping looks right, and even picking up trash.“I’m there grabbing a light bulb because a customer needs one,” he says. “I was always told to lead by example, and the rest will follow. The best thing I can say is surround yourself with the best people possible. I try to hire people whose strengths are my weaknesses, so we have everything covered.”Burgess actively teaches for Arnold, MD-based BOMI Institute, for which he authored a book, Refrigeration Systems and Accessories, in 2002. Its publication is one of the major highlights of his career, he notes. He also has taught courses for the National Association of Power Engineers; Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, MD; and for various management companies and corporations. Through this experience, he’s had the advantage of coming into contact with potential employees on a regular basis. He estimates he has taught more than 5,000 students in his 14 years behind the desk and says he plans to keep on teaching.“It’s a competition to find good people,” he admits. “Through teaching I’m able to network with a lot of people. When you’re teaching, people open up. I get to see a certain side of the property managers, the chief engineers, and the entry-level maintenance people. You get to see who they really are. I’m going to hire the people who have let me see inside of them.”Robin Suttell ([email protected]), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.

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