Written by Henri Brickey, Whitco Roofing.
More than 20 years after entering the facilities management field, Jason Tolan still considers himself lucky for discovering the industry he works in today, and he wonders why so many people still don’t know what it is he does.
“This is a great career for those of us who find out about it,” said Tolan, who serves as Facility Manager for Fiserv’s 400,000-square-foot building in Alpharetta, which the company moved into in August 2015.
Following a recent career day at one of his daughter’s schools, Tolan realized that a generation isn’t learning that an entire career field exists.
“No one is going into the schools and saying “Do you want to be a facility manager?’” said Tolan, who is married with two daughters – age 12 and 14. “I wish kids knew more about this career field.”
Facilities management wasn’t Tolan’s original plan.
“We stumble into the field because it’s not widely recognized as a profession,” said Tolan, who majored in sociology while in college at The Ohio State University. Initially, Tolan had planned for a career in law enforcement.
“I figured I’d end up in the FBI or something like that,” Tolan said recently while taking a break from his busy schedule.
But that’s not what happened.
While in college, Tolan was offered a position as an assistant to a building engineer. It didn’t take long for Tolan to discover that facilities management combined two of his primary interests; solving mechanical problems and interacting with a variety of people on a daily basis.
“It’s a job that fits with who I am. There’s never a dull moment and I’m never bound to a desk – for too long,” said Tolan, who credits his father for helping him develop his mechanical aptitude while working on projects around the house growing up.
And Tolan’s interest in sociology and how people interact in groups is a major part of his daily routine, despite never entering the law enforcement field or another position directly related to his college major.
“I encounter unique interactions and experiences every day,” said Tolan, who manages 18 members of the Facility Action Service Team (FAST), which maintains the Fiserv Alpharetta complex – home to almost 2,000 employees.
Unlike some companies that outsource facility maintenance, Fiserv manages its buildings in house. It’s a model that Tolan says can have advantages to outsourcing facility services.
“There’s a level of commitment that I get from the people who work for me,” he said. “They’re a part of Fiserv and they have some ownership… We consider this building to be a physical manifestation of our brand. Everything the FAST Team does reflect that.”
The Fiserv campus in Alpharetta was first conceptualized in 2011. At the time, Fiserv was operating out of eight buildings on five properties in the Norcross area. The company needed to consolidate its workforce.
Fiserv discovered two buildings sitting tandem to one another in Alpharetta that would accommodate the entire Atlanta area workforce. Then an idea was hatched to connect two existing buildings to make a contiguous facility, housing the entire complex under one roof. It was a massive project and Tolan was brought down from where he was living in Dublin, Ohio to help manage it.
“I was travelling a lot. It started once a month, then once a week, and now I live here,” said Tolan, who moved with his family to Alpharetta almost two years ago as the building’s renovation was nearing completion.
“When it was over, they asked me to stay and run the building. I had a great sense of pride of what we accomplished and I didn’t want to let it go.”
Tolan may be relatively new to the Atlanta scene, but he has been an active member in IFMA for almost 20 years and says the organization has been very beneficial to his career over the years.
“Especially the ability IFMA provides to reach out to another FM when in need,” Tolan said. “Getting the chance to talk with other facility managers and knowing you’re not alone. Every FM has gone through some of the same things at different times.”
Tolan also credits IFMA’s building tours for helping him keep up to date on methods and procedures.
“You always get new ideas when you see how other buildings are operating.”
Now that Tolan is in charge of operating a facility, he is in the position to offer others an opportunity to discover what he considers an undiscovered career calling.
When Tolan looks for new talent to bring aboard his team, there are a few attributes that will always catch his attention. He tends to prefer individuals with varied and diverse backgrounds.
“Someone who has done several different jobs, who is inquisitive nature, interested in learning new things,” he said.
Communication is also an important skill for people wanting to work in facility management, according to Tolan.
“You have to be professional and know how to communicate. It’s important that facility managers not be thought of as a janitor or wrench turner.”
As the facility management field evolves in the future, Tolan sees building managers having an even more expansive role than they have today. Even now, Fiserv’s method of in-house facility management is expanding the responsibilities typically assigned to building engineers.
“We are delivering services that support the core business. It’s more than just keeping the lights on and keeping the place warm or cool.”
Just a couple examples of this are how Fiserv centralized printing procedures to reduce waste and protect data security and also creating a supply management program that has reduced the footprint of file cabinets.
In the future, Tolan sees the role of facility managers expanding even more. And it’s a role he says he proud to be a part of.