TFM Names William Coleman Facility Executive Of The Year

Coleman reviews blueprints with Edinboro University of Pennsylvania President Frank G. Pogue in historic Reeder Hall.

By Heidi Schwartz
From the January 2007 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Facility management professionals generally tend to fall into one of two categories: micromanagers who insist on getting their hands into everything; or natural leaders confident enough to let staff members step up and take charge. Both personality types can enjoy success in a field as complex as facility management, but rarely do they meld so perfectly as in the case of William Coleman, associate vice president for facilities at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania in Edinboro, PA.

Coleman officially began his facility management career in 1986 after spending his post high school years in the military. After gathering experience in the Navy as a fire control technician and carpenter, he was hired as a civilian employee for the 99th Army Reserve Command near Pittsburgh to work in the logistics field. He recalls, “Finally, after several years with the army, I came to Edinboro as a maintenance superintendent and worked my way up.”

Coleman was promoted to the position of director of physical plant/assistant vice president for facilities shortly after joining the institution. This paved the way for his current spot as associate VP for facilities. In this role, TFM‘s 2007 Facility Executive of the Year (FEY) oversees 40 buildings and two extension locations on the University’s nearly 600-acre campus located in northwestern Pennsylvania.

It’s Academic!

In keeping with his inquisitive nature, Coleman earned a Bachelor’s Degree—magna cum laude—in Business Administration from Edinboro. “With being married, raising two children, and working 50 to 60 hours a week, I look back on it and wonder, could I do it today?” he asks.

Throughout the process, Coleman knew it would be important for him to have hands on knowledge of the learning process if he wanted to instill the same values in his children. That’s what kept him motivated throughout the 10 long years.

He recalls, “I didn’t want to get backed into a situation where, at some point they would say, ‘well dad, you didn’t get a degree and you’ve done pretty well for yourself.'”

Personal motivation aside, Coleman’s quest for knowledge has had its professional benefits as well, particularly due to his affiliation with the field of higher education. “I don’t believe I could have become an associate VP without [the degree],” Coleman confides.

To supplement his education, he joined APPA (formerly the Association of Physical Plant Administrators), became a charter member of the Pennsylvania chapter (KAPPA), and took targeted continuing education classes in facilities management through APPA. “Honestly,” he explains, “the facilities management portion of my job is much more difficult than the business portion. However, the higher I went, the more I needed to lean on my degree. Administration comes into play when you become more involved in human resources, budgeting, and all of the other facets of upper management.”

Innovative Accessibility

During his early years at Edinboro, Coleman instituted a campus-wide survey for ADA accessibility resulting in the development of a transition plan. This would eventually lead to the project of a lifetime: to take that accessibility based plan and convert it into an ambitious, campus wide building program.

This new master plan would involve 20 campus improvement/new construction/expansion projects including 193,135 square feet in new building construction involving four structures, 457,117 square feet of building renovations involving 12 structures, and four separate campus-wide infrastructure, technology, beautification, and deferred maintenance endeavors.

Judge Stu Carron, director, global facilities and real estate for JohnsonDiversey of Sturtevant, WI commends Coleman’s innovative approach to the massive project. “I like how the ADA issue was used to pole vault into an entire rethinking of the campus.”

Looking At The Big Picture

Because of his high level of involvement with the plan (“On a scale from one to 10, I’d give myself an eight,” he says), Coleman used an extremely practical approach to the complex, multi-year task. He dusted off the original 1962 plan for the campus, selected a design team with a strong background in master planning, supplemented his own knowledge with APPA’s research on the master planning process, and got to work.

The project began with numerous interviews of students, faculty, staff, and the local community. “We heard from everybody, and every idea was up for discussion,” according to Coleman. Design charettes pared down the ideas and made the process manageable.

Next came the incorporation of the academic plan. “This is where we asked the academicians to decide which programs would need space over the next 10 years, so we could accommodate this in the plan,” he explains.

Coleman and his team meet with Edinboro University of Pennsylvania President Frank G. Pogue in historic Reeder Hall. Seated from left to right are Coleman, President Pogue, and Appi R. Alla, director of campus design and construction. Standing from left to right are Syed Zaidi, director of energy management and facilities coordination, Lorraine Revak, office and general services manager, and Walter Patterson, director of environmental health and safety. Note the tartan plaid chairs in the conference room, symbolic of the Edinboro Fighting Scots. (All Photos: Ed Bernik of North East, PA)

In 2004, Coleman supervised the update and completion of a new, comprehensive facilities master plan that would accurately reflect the vision and goals of the University, its president, and its council of trustees. When asked about his approach to this huge undertaking, Coleman quotes Ted Baxter, the pompous anchorman from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, “‘It all started at a 5,000-watt radio station in Fresno, California…’ It began small like that,” he jokingly says.

Judge Carl Smith, chief executive officer/executive director of the GREENGUARD® Environmental Institute of Atlanta, GA comments, “The sheer size and magnitude of these buildings and the entire project show an overall management skill that is highly laudable. And his focus didn’t seem limited to the buildings themselves; the grounds, including walkways and landscaping also seemed central to his work.”

Coleman notes on the plan’s progress, “Fortunately, there weren’t many major changes because of close monitoring, but there have been some course corrections-primarily based on economics.”

Business Basics

Value engineering aside, Coleman turned to other proactive cost containment measures for construction and routine facilities and maintenance projects. He tapped members of his staff to deploy a software program that could replace the former system with a new, more efficient Windows-based program linked to the Internet.

Using this program, customers and staff can input their own maintenance requests and receive responses directly through one Web link. The program has resulted in avoidance of capital expenses and yearly maintenance costs, as well as providing greater control and flexibility to operators. “The customer input work order system is a great move,” notes Judge Tom Condon, facility technologist with Chicago, IL-based System Development Integration.

High Marks From Users

During this period of campus construction, each project was designed to enhance the pedestrian friendly nature of the site. “This was one of the most significant changes to come from the master planning process,” Coleman says. He shares the following example: “When we were doing our infrastructure project, we created a tree lined entrance boulevard by planting 300 or 400 trees over the past few years. So now there is a green space between the roadways and the sidewalks. While that doesn’t sound like much, a 10′ or 12′ green space between the sidewalk and the curb can make the pedestrian much more relaxed.”

Judge Tim Springer, founder and president of HERO, Inc. of Geneva, IL, recognizes, “The importance of pedestrian friendly environments-and the complexity of integrating facilities, settings, landscaping, pathways, and signage-is essential to a campus, whether it be academic or commercial. The success of Coleman’s efforts is in the ease with which people navigate the campus and the unobtrusive way his work blends into the environment.” Before the plan, not much connection was made between the appearance of the campus and recruitment of good employees. Things have now changed. “We’ve been very fortunate in attracting good people,” particularly in facilities, Coleman notes.

He confesses, “Since I came up through the ranks, I have this kinship with the folks in the trenches. But I have good people, and I appreciate them. They don’t need me to micromanage what they do. And my managers don’t need me to do it either. There is one author who says the key to successful management is to get the right people in the bus and then get them in the right seats, and that’s how I like to see things here.”

A Sensitive Legacy

Coleman acknowledges facility management as “a wonderful job with concrete results, tongue-in-cheek intended. We can see where we make a difference in the lives of the students every day. It’s very satisfying to walk across the campus and say, ‘gee, I was part of this.'”

He also takes his role quite seriously in terms of the bigger picture. “Facility managers, particularly in higher ed, have a sense of stewardship. These buildings need to be cared for and passed on for the future.”

In terms of concrete results, Coleman obtained funding and necessary project programming approvals for construction of the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver structure on campus (The Institute for Human Services and Civility building). “And LEED Silver gets high scores from FEY judges every time,” adds Judge Henning Bloech, manager of environmental initiatives for INVISTA, based in Kennesaw, GA. Coleman is considering the possibility of constructing the University’s first geothermal building. He is also directly responsible for installation of a bio infiltration system that removes hydrocarbons and other pollutants from rainwater drains to the groundwater feeding area wells.

“Walking the walk after talking the talk, Coleman is very much in tune with the needs of the school and the needs of future generations,” acknowledges Judge Steve Goldmacher, director of public affairs for Philips Lighting Company of Somerset, NJ.

Secrets To Success

When asked about the key to his accomplishments, Coleman credits his strong staff (“Hire people who are smarter than you”), his military background (“It’s an ideal training ground”), and a strong sense of professionalism tempered with knowledge (“At this level, we have all kinds of demands, and more than anything, conferences have helped me”).

His contribution to Edinboro inspired Dr. Frank G. Pogue, president of the University, to add these words to the entry he prompted: “This nomination is only a slice of the scope of Coleman’s facilities leadership during a 10-year period. His accomplishments before the nominated period, and those now in the planning stage, are equally impressive. Coleman’s facilities expertise, combined with his untiring dedication to accomplishing the University’s goals and objectives, has resulted in facilities management providing a safe, cost-effective, energy efficient, user friendly, handicapped accessible environment and a campus that remains one of the most aesthetically pleasing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I’m pleased and proud to give my unconditional, unqualified endorsement to his nomination as Today’s Facility Manager magazine’s Facility Executive of the Year.”

“I was surprised with the nomination,” Coleman says with typical modesty known so well to his co-workers. “But I can’t believe I won! If there have been successes during this period, it was due largely to the work of our facilities staff and the managers, all hard working, dedicated people, and because of the support I’ve received from President Pogue and Gordie Herbst (vice president for finance and administration). Nothing can ever get accomplished without support from the top, and I’ve always known and felt that support was there for us.”

When the nomination was being prepared last fall, the facilities staff sentiment was unanimous: “This would be really great for Bill and the University. But no matter what happens with the award, Bill Coleman is our Facility Executive of the Year-every year.”

Intuitive, intelligent and witty, Coleman acknowledges that winning TFM‘s 2007 FEY award has been his proudest professional accomplishment. “It’s truly very humbling,” he says with a nervous chuckle. This perfect blend of characteristics has created an ideal role model for the facility management profession.

This article was based on the nominee’s entry and interviews with Coleman.