Devoted to Development ~ Interview With Clara Smith, IFMA Atlanta Vice President of Professional Development

by Chris Sanders

It’s a perfect fall afternoon and I am sitting in my local Starbucks waiting to meet with Clara.  As Clara arrives I feel woefully underdressed.  Clara is dressed in a beautiful bright blue silk suit that matches the color of her eyes.  Noticeably placed on the label of Clara’s suit are Delta Zeta pins, the reason for Clara’s Saturday formality as she had just come from her Sorority Founders Brunch.  Clara explains that she has received a National Award for her support of Delta Zeta.  As is revealed in this interview, the Delta Zeta National Award is not the only award Clara will receive this year.

Clara, what is your current relationship to the Facilities Management profession?

I own CMS Enterprises.  I am a Facilities Strategic Planning and Project Management consultant.  I have been in the Facility Management business for 20 years.  I started out as an Interior Designer and I would often hear from frustrated building owners that once the design was complete, they felt that they were left with all the issues and no way to address them.  I became more and more involved in addressing my client’s needs after they took (occupancy.  I love what I do.  I love the constant changing landscape and the latest developments in technology that enable me to help my clients in ways that were not possible even 5 years ago.

How did you get involved in IFMA?

I joined IFMA Nashville in 1987 as a Charter member and was their first Programs Chair.  I originally saw IFMA as a great conduit for business development.  As I grew in my profession I saw how IFMA is also a great asset to professional development.  I moved to Atlanta at the end of 1993 and transferred to IFMA Atlanta.  It was a great way for me to develop new friendships and professional relationships and get to know my new home.

What are your responsibilities to the chapter in the position of VP of Professional Development?

This position is responsible for several committees that fall under Professional Development.  I am primarily make sure that the committees are receiving and have access to all the tools and programs necessary to support our mission statement:  Provide and engage Chapter members with opportunities that expand their professional growth, build business relationships and advance their career paths.” In this position it is also important to keep benchmarking on track.  Due to our accomplishments this past 2009/2010 year we were awarded the “Professional Development Award of Excellence” at WWP 2010. It was a welcome and deserving surprise.

Where could we have found you at World Workplace?

Everywhere! I was booked solid; from working the Foundation Gala on Tuesday to the Grand March into the exhibit hall and Welcome Reception on Wednesday; to the Award of Excellence Banquet  Friday.  In between I attended some great Education Sessions.  There was plenty of opportunity to catch me in action.  I was very excited for the opportunity to participate in such a visible way.  I went into this fantastic event with the hope that our members and attendees took away that IFMA is the organization that supports the FM professional both in their personal career and in the day to day applications of facilities.

What will be your biggest win for the chapter at the end of your term?

It would have to be the commitment of the IFMA Atlanta Chapter Board to a secession plan.  We are working very hard to continue what was started last year and to take it even further.  We will have a plan in place that the next Board can build on to meet/exceed the needs of the Professional Member.  It’s important to have continuity year to year that fosters professional growth and our member’s individual educational needs.  One of the changes that we have made is to require that the VP of Professional Development be a Professional Member.  This is an important change as it adds a level of credibility to the position.    A professional FM understands what Facilities Managers and our professional members need in ways of educational support and opportunities.  The Professional Development Committee is devoted to making certain that the programs and educational opportunities are all credited with CEU’s and CFM points for the professional members that attend.  What a benefit to our members.

What would you like to see achieved beyond this year?

I think mentoring our up and coming young professionals is critical to the future of the profession and to IFMA.  I would like to see the development of mentoring groups through IFMA that align seasoned professionals with junior professionals to help guide them through their career.  It’s imperative that we embrace and help foster our future leaders

What keeps you inspired?

The world is changing at such a fast pace.  There are new advancements in technology that both challenge and empower our profession.  You have to really be plugged in to stay up to speed on these developments and to be able to use them to add value for your clients and organizations.  I am excited by the correlation between the science of business and the environment.  We are starting to see real benefit from strategic facilities planning and sustainable practices.  The new technologies have given us tools to measure and track initiatives that show the correlation between proactive facilities management and value added expenses.  CEO’s are starting to pay attention because now we have the tools to track the benefits.

When Clara is not busy with IFMA Atlanta or Delta Zeta, she enjoys spending time in Nashville with her two grandchildren, scrapbooking, photography and watching documentaries.  Clara also sings in her church Choir and helped her niece research for her recently published book “Kid Carolina”, the story of RJ Reynolds Jr.