Alan Dessoff, a freelance writer based in Bethesda, Maryland, has written profiles of several APPA Presidents. He can be reached at email@example.com.
John Harrod believes that relating well to other people is as important as anything else a higher education facilities manager does. "Our business is taking care of facilities, but our true assets are the people we work with who take care of those facilities," says Harrod, director of physical plant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and APPA's current President.
"We need to look at both assets," Harrod says, and that means within APPA as well as on college and university campuses. That underscores the agenda he has developed as the association's President. He calls it "the personal touch," and he intends to emphasize it in enhanced communication between APPA and its members to ensure that their membership is "of value" to them.
"There's a real interest and need for members to feel that they are in touch with those who guide and direct the organization, so the personal touch is critical. E-mails don't always do it and written publications don't do it. Members need to know that there is a face behind a name, a personality behind that face, someone who really cares about them. That personal touch is what makes the organization strong," Harrod asserts.
Understanding members' experiences and interests also will help APPA address issues of concern to them in their jobs, Harrod says. In a field governed significantly by legislative, regulatory, and political developments, "the challenge is trying to find out what's going to change next, to anticipate what's coming down the pike," he says.
Environmental issues is one area that demands continued focus. "The PCBs are behind us, but asbestos remains a threat. We know about underground storage tanks and air quality, but we don't know what's going to happen next. Will the federal government prohibit coal burning in our heating plants? That has been looming out there," Harrod says.
The impact of technology on campus operations is another area of concern. "The challenge is that everybody wants information now, but being able to make it available sometimes is difficult. The support systems aren't necessarily in place to provide the data that people want. That causes anxiety for our customers," Harrod says. On his campus, "we work with information technology staff and we have some in-house support staff to guide us through this process, because most of us are not database managers," Harrod says.
Budgets are a continuing problem for facilities managers. "They're always behind," says Harrod, although in some parts of the country, "this isn't too bad a time right now; some catch-up is occurring, whether for staff salaries or infrastructure. There seems to be some sensitivity to those needs, but not to the degree of need that's really out there."
So part of the challenge for facilities officers, Harrod maintains, is "keeping people aware that it's an ongoing need. It's not something that politicians or the board of regents can fund once and then forget about it for five or ten years. It's a recurring expense."
APPA can help its members address these issues. The association is "healthy," he says. "We have some dynamic people in the organization, both support staff and on our Board and committees. There are a lot of people who are interested in making this organization wholesome, purposeful, and real to its members."
But APPA also must address issues of its own, including retaining and supporting members and minding the association's resources. "We've been pretty lucky with our financial health and with Board support, and we keep up to date with our systems. But we still want to be prudent about what we put in place and what information people really want to have available," Harrod says.
"We're in transition," he continues. "We're coming out of the strategic plan and putting together initiatives that will support it. We have to put together different Ôwhat if' scenarios that represent options that our members want."
Building bridges with other associations is critical, particularly with organizations of college and university planners, housing managers, and business managers that "we have identified as important to APPA and our membership," Harrod says. The private sector also has "a lot to offer," he adds. "Our Business Partner members have experiences that we may not have had yet but probably will in time. They can assist us through some of the peaks and valleys that might be ahead. Doing that together benefits everyone, whether we are their future customer or vice versa. Partnerships where everybody wins is the way business is going these days."
In all those activities, personal contact becomes important, Harrod declares. "It's communication; being able to communicate and get feedback and provide feedback to members about the services in place for them. APPA's website can tell you everything you want to know about APPA, but do you know where to go there? We can collect data all day long, but is that of value to our members? Can we make it immediately accessible?"
It comes down to efficient collection of information and its timely delivery to members, Harrod says. "Associations have to sift and sort the massive amount of information that's out there, and if we don't somebody else will," he advises.
Maintaining close contact with members is part of the role of APPA's elected officersÑ"to be as available as possible to the membership, listen to what they have to say," Harrod says. He plans to travel to regional meetings in the U.S. and abroad to fulfill that responsibility. "We're in a global economy, and I'd like to tap the experiences of others and bring it into the organization," Harrod says.
Harrod also wants APPA's staff to become more involved, through travel and increased communication from the Alexandria, Virginia office. "I would like to see staff take the initiative to call the Board members of every region on a regularly scheduled basis and ask how they're doing. That's what gets members to think ÔGee, APPA really does care; they're interested in what I'm doing and what I have to say.' That personal contact is vital," Harrod states.
Meanwhile, maintaining good staff presents its own challenges, Harrod says. Particularly in the Washington, D.C. area, where there is strong competition for human resources in the association community, "we've been very lucky; we've had good staff," Harrod says. "When people leave, it can create a real burden," Harrod says. It's the same on campuses as employees depart, often drawn away by better-paying positions in the technology sector. "For a long time, people came into a business or profession and stayed there. Now, they job-hop. How can we compete with the techies?"
At his institution, Harrod says, some employees with more than 30 years of experience are preparing to retire and when they do, "institutional memory goes with them, and finding their replacements is going to be a challenge." On campuses and in APPA, "we have to figure out how to groom more people to take the reins when some of us move on. We have to bring new people into the facilities business and prepare them to be the managers of the future."
Harrod prepares to move into APPA's top leadership position from a traditional place: the Midwest, where APPA began in 1914 as a regionally-based organization with a Big Ten core. Harrod has spent his entire career in the Midwest, at three institutionsÑIowa State University, Northern Illinois University, and since 1991, the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He credits William (Bill) Whitman, an APPA member emeritus and past APPA President, with giving him his start at Iowa State, where Whitman was assistant vice president for facilities. "I was still going to school and he hired me as a landscape designer," says Harrod, who remained at Iowa State for 18 years, moving up to associate director for physical plant operations.
When the job at Northern Illinois opened and Harrod applied because "I felt I needed to continue to grow," Whitman was supportive. "I asked him what opportunities there were for me if I remained at Iowa State and he said 'none' and I asked what I should do and he said 'leave,'" Harrod relates. He spent four years at Northern Illinois before moving to Wisconsin.
Harrod is proud of two programs he initiated at Wisconsin to address problems of deferred maintenance. One is CURB (Concentrated Upgrade and Repair of Buildings) and the other is CARE (Concentrated Assessment and Refurbishment of Equipment). By putting together cross-disciplinary teams of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and other specialists who previously never worked well together, Harrod has managed an efficient and cost-saving process that has upgraded buildings and also "turned the tide of how we are viewed at our institution." Now, "there is a campaign at the Deans' level to see who is going to get the next CURB/CARE assignment. They want us to come into their facilities," Harrod says.
Harrod also has worked his way up through the ranks in APPA, as a member since 1982 and a board member who has undertaken various assignments since 1990. "John Harrod is a consummate professional," states Ron Flinn, Past APPA President and assistant vice president for physical plant at Michigan State University. "I've been especially impressed by his commitment to our profession and the contributions he has made to APPA, especially in the educational arena. I'm extremely pleased that the APPA membership has seen fit to elect him to our highest office."
Harrod and his wife, Jane, have two sons-Scott, 29, a loan officer, and James, 20, who attends a local community college near their Wisconsin home. The boys, avid water skiers, have performed in ski shows. Their father skis recreationally but otherwise, "I drive the boat." When not skiing, he and Jane enjoy cruising Wisconsin's lakes in their 21-foot Master Craft.
With John Harrod at the controls, it's bound to be a smooth ride. After all, he gives it the personal touch.