Joel F. Orton, FMP, CFM, AIA
Director, Strategic Real Estate Projects
NJ IFMA Member since November 1993
Share something that no one knows about you.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me but I love to run. I’ve been running for over 20 years and find it to be a great stress reliever. In 1999, I got involved with the Leukemia Society’s Team-in-Training which combines fundraising for a very worthy cause with training to run a marathon. During a 2-1/2 year span, I completed five marathons.
How did you get into the Facilities field?
Like many facility managers, my path was not a direct one. I graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in architecture. Following graduation, I worked six years for an architectural firm and obtained my professional license. One of the firm’s major clients was Marion Laboratories, a Kansas City-based pharmaceutical company, and for the last two years with the firm most of my time was spent working with that client. Marion was growing rapidly and needed someone in-house to guide their facility planning activities. I saw the opportunity to join a company where I would be more closely involved in the strategic decision making process for projects and made the switch. Through various mergers and acquisitions, I have been with the company ever since.
Over the years, my responsibilities have focused primarily on facility planning, project management and real estate. Being on the end user’s side of projects I came to appreciate the importance of understanding the operational issues associated with a facility once the project is turned over for occupancy. I have found IFMA to be a tremendous resource in staying apprised of the issues faced by facility managers.
Although it’s not the career I envisioned when graduating college, I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and opportunities it has provided.
Tell us about a favorite project.
One of my favorite projects and one I’m quite proud of because of the relationships resulting from it, involved our Canadian headquarters in Laval, QC – just north of Montreal. Sanofi had divested its dermatology businesss, which included the sale of the site where the HQ was located, and the remaining Sanofi operations had to move. As project executive I was involved from site selection through lease negotiations, design, construction and move-in. To see the project through from beginning to end was a great opportunity and also presented many challenges.
To begin with, the core project team was US-based and we had to establish a trusting relationship with our Canadian colleagues and demonstrate we had the expertise to lead the project. In addition, the company was rolling out new workplace standards, significantly reducing private offices with a preference for open workspace complemented by a variety of shared, enclosed spaces. Coming from a work environment with 50% private offices, this represented a huge change. A third major challenge was the schedule the divestment agreement required that we vacate the site by the end of February 2013. Options for existing office space in the local market were very limited and so the decision was taken to have a developer construct a new building. Ground was broken in June 2012, giving us eight months for core and shell construction, interior fit-out and move-in with the final four months occurring during the Canadian winter.
With great support from the local leadership and working with a project team of talented and dedicated individuals, we were able to deliver the project on time and underbudget. More importantly, the occupants continue to be very happy with their new work environment and it has served as a model for subsequent projects.
Tell us about a challenge or obstacle that you face in the Facilities world.
Dealing with change is one of my biggest challenges and I suspect I’m not alone. The world is constantly changing and we need to be agile in responding to the changes. However, the natural instinct is to resist change, particularly if we feel the change is outside of our control.
As an FM, there are new initiatives – whether changes in business processes or changes to the work environment – that we have to roll out to our customers. Working with them to understand and embrace these changes requires a skill set for which most of us were not trained. It requires that we not only explain the rationale behind the change but also understand the emotions they are experiencing in considering the change.
What learning experience would you pass onto future FMs?
Customer service is at the heart of successful facility management. To be effective, an FM needs to have good people skills. In addition, you need to be familiar with a wide range of issues impacting facilities. No one is an expert in everything and so, to be successful, you have to collaborate with subject matter experts and develop strong teams.
In both of these areas, it’s all about working with people and developing relationships built on trust. One of my favorite books is The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey. He writes about how trust is based on character and competency, is developed over time, and can improve performance on both a personal level as well as that of the business. I highly recommend the book.