#54 George Alvarado: Veterans in Facilities Management

<- Back to podcast home

Episode Summary

Prior to taking on an FM in the civilian world, George spent 20+ years service in the United States Air Force.  While in the USAF, George was introduced to the world of Facilities Management, and was responsible for managing the Air Force's largest European single-occupancy lodging facility, a Nuclear Missile Facility, and a C-17 Maintenance Operations Control Center.  

On this episode, we discuss George's experience transitioning from military to civilian Facilities Management.  We also provide insight into steps veterans can take to get their shot in Facilities Management post-service.

George references a handful of organizations that helped him make this transition.  If you're interested, check out the links below!

Hiring Our Heroes

Hire Heroes USA



American Corporate Partners (ACP)



ProFM Credential

FM Pipeline Team, Inc. 501(C)(3)

Legacy FM

Cougar USA

Episode Transcription

Intro  00:10

Welcome to another episode of The Modern Facilities Management Podcast, brought to you by FlowPath. I'm your host, Griffin Hamilton. This is the show where I interview industry experts who share their stories, strategies, and insights into modern-day facilities management, from hospitality to commercial real estate and everything in between. We'll learn what it really takes to succeed as a facilities manager. 

Griffin Hamilton 

Welcome to another episode of The Modern Facilities Management Podcast, today I am pleased to have George Alvarado join me. George, how are you doing?

George Alvarado  00:49

Griffin, man. How are you doing, man? I'm doing well, thank you for having me.

Griffin Hamilton  00:52

Of course, this has been a long time coming. Shoot, it seems like a couple of months now that we've been trying to go back and forth and get this on the books but here we are.

George Alvarado  01:03

Yes, but I'm thankful to be here for sure and I mean, it's part and parcel because you are so successful at what you do, so it’s a lot.

 Griffin Hamilton  01:12

I appreciate that. Well, I know, as I said, it's been a while and I've been looking forward to having this conversation your background is really fascinating to me. And the audience is going to be really interested to learn what you're doing but before we dive into that, why don't you give the audience a little bit of context on who is George Alvarado?

George Alvarado  01:32

Well, thank you very much for that. I recently retired from the United States Air Force about a year ago on June 2021 and then during my transition, I was looking for a position. Of course, there are a lot of things that we could talk about when it comes to how the transition went, and then I was able to land a facility management training job. And then of course, now I'm leaving that position and I'm going to Cushman and Wakefield services and I'm going to be working with them as a maintenance manager, over five Amazon delivery sites over here in Texas. And before I came into the Air Force and had a military background, I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. And my mom and dad worked really hard to make sure I had the life that they did not have so I thank God for that.

Griffin Hamilton  02:16

Yeah, no doubt and so real quick on the military component of this. So, talk to me there, what were you doing in the military? Because I mean, there are a million careers, maybe literally a million careers in the military so what exactly were you doing? How long were you in and what were you doing?

George Alvarado  02:32

Yeah, 20 years, and I was hired on. When I say that, I say that enlisted is the proper terminology, enlisted on to be a jet aerospace propulsion mechanic. I tell everybody jokingly but seriously that I did that 25% of my Air Force career. My leadership at different times throughout my career saw the, I guess the delivery, I was able to bring in certain areas, certain career fields, certain special duties as they call them. Whereas on the civilian side, you would probably just, you know, work another job. Well, in the military, you're kind of still hired on as a specific job, you can just go do other things and some of those jobs that I was able to do were training and development. I was able to be an Asset and Logistics and Program manager, I was also able to take care of what they call residencies, where I had over 400 single lodging facility sites or rooms to manage. I had the biggest dormitory as they call it and United States Air Forces in Europe while I was stationed in England and I also had the privilege of being a nuclear facilities manager as well. And then, of course, I worked on A 15s, A 10s, and C 17s when I was actually doing my jet engine mechanics portion but I spent 75% of the time doing a lot of other things. And I thank my leadership for providing me with those opportunities because they pretty much made me the person that I am and gave me the skills that I have today.

Griffin Hamilton  04:02

Yeah, and it's funny because that translates quite well into facilities, where there's the idea of here's my day in, day out tasks. And as you mentioned in your career, 75% of it was doing other things, and what you're brought on initially, you just kind of rose through the ranks there, which we see all the time in the civilian world and Facilities Management. Did you know or did you seek out that position or that career trajectory within the Air Force?

George Alvarado  04:30

Yes, there were a few of those that I volunteer, I heard about it and I wanted to do it. The nuclear facilities management was one of them, the dormitory, where I was in charge of the one in England. I was selected for that position because they saw what I was doing while I was in training and they thought it'd be really good for my career, my skills, and development as well to do. So, I was able to do that based on my leadership/ volunteering. And then, of course, all the other positions I either had to move and they had a necessity there so I had to just be the boss there and do things there. Or while I was there, they moved me to another position somewhere else, so it can be a little combination of both, a little bit of what you want to do/ what they need.

Griffin Hamilton  05:11

And obviously having to perform, you know, no one's going to give out that task, so speaks to your skill set and your ambitions there. But one thing that you've mentioned a couple of times that really piques my interest is the nuclear plant, that you're managing that nuclear facility, that seems stressful just from the title. Talk to me about that!

George Alvarado  05:31

So nuclear facilities, there is no nuclear plant there. You know, across the United States and this is, I believe something you can find on Wikipedia so it's not classified. 

Griffin Hamilton  05:42

Yeah, when we are walking this line, don't let me get you into trouble here.

George Alvarado  05:46

Trust me, I've already figured this part out. There are missile sites all across the United States, right? So, if we ever have to respond with a nuclear weapon, we have sites that control those weapons in order to be able to deliver them wherever it needs to go. And those sites need people too for security to be manned and of course, you have facility managers taking care of the property, right? And of course, there are other things within that property that you're managing as well, you're not just managing the people and the security there, you're also doing emergency operations, if necessary. You're briefing a lot of upper leadership, you're taking care of the maintenance, whether it's the generator or the H vac or lighting or whatever it is, that's going to be necessary for that specific facility. And of course, you're going to do a lot of calling and coordinating, collaborating because there are a lot of things you can't touch. There are some things that you have to just make sure you understand its operations and maybe its basic functions but unfortunately, you have to be able to coordinate with other people to make sure it gets done correctly. So, there's a lot more to it, it was fun, it was great. We took care of the ground and we made sure everything was taken care of there as well. And being all the people there and being those sorts of ‘out of the chain of command, leadership and coaching and mentors’ for some of those people that were on the sites, that was fun, too. So, I enjoyed that time as well.

Griffin Hamilton  07:02

I'm sure there are a lot of people that are civilians listening to this that they're shaking their heads like, I do this. That sounds familiar and just take out the nuclear portion of it and you're kind of talking to a lot of the roles and responsibilities that we have on the civilian side. So, I think that's a good segue here of you retiring, you said last summer, correct? 

George Alvarado  07:24


Griffin Hamilton  07:25

So, this time a year ago, you're retiring going from military to civilian life and to me, very common or it just makes sense to move into facilities management. What was that transition like?

George Alvarado  07:37

Man, it's stressful. There is a lot that's going on, you're retiring, you're starting a new career, you're starting a new life in a sense, you're applying for jobs, you're looking for what is it you want to do. What were you good at, you're trying to match your skills with your ambitions, making sure that they both meet together and of course, you have to cross that with opportunity. Is there an opportunity to even get into these positions? So, understanding how to be able to transition and all the processes that come with that can be very stressful, right? And then when I finally arrived in Texas from Washington State where I retired, I was able to move in with some friends. And having some friends and a support group and a social network to help me out while I was doing all, so that was very beneficial. But in the transition process, there's a lot that goes into it and other organizations know this. So, you have it written out because there are so many Hiring Our Heroes, which helped me out a lot. I was able to do operational resilience, internship with them for a little bit until I transitioned out and that was amazing, that was with Caslon, Alyssa Stevens, she was great and helped me out with that Hire Heroes, there was Jeffrey [unsure 08:39], U.S.O Jeremy Woodworth. I was trying to go into business continuity because we talked about it a little bit before the show, how emergency management business continuity and continuity of operations is another skill set that I think is important for facility managers to have. And that was one of the fields that I was thinking about going into, so I had a lot of conversations with Mark Armour, which is amazing. FourBlock is another organization with the help of Gary Guzman, Sarah Smith, Barry and Bill [unsure 09:09], always jacks up his name, so I apologize if he's listening to this. American corporate partners, Eric Bru, that's the industry Steven Porter, JBSA skills program, which is Joint Base San Antonio Skills Program, when he banks and then the skills bridge, Ryan Norman and Ryan Norman actually deal specifically with people who are looking into getting into facilities management. And of course, there are other people who have helped me in my transition, once I figured out facilities were where I want it to go. But those are the organizations that helped really build me up, hope I mentioned FourBlock but they were really helping me with understanding this is what you need to do. This is how you do your LinkedIn, these are the ways you network, this is how you talk to people, use different vocabulary, you have all these transferable skills but no one's going to understand you if you use XYZ terms, right? So, you have to learn how to use the terms that they're familiar with and even though some of them can overlap, they mean things very differently. And as I started to understand that, being a linguistics major from my Bachelor's, it's very easy for me to make the translation, right? So, I was able to do that fairly quickly, it was just rough trying to find the transition into an actual job that was open. While there were a lot of people saying they had this huge skills gap, we heard about Facilities Management, having a huge skills gap. Many of them were saying, even though we're willing to hire, you don't have enough experience in this side of the house, right, the private sector or the public sector, right? And that was very difficult to handle because that was something, I wasn't ready for. Sometimes it's hyped up and it makes it sound like it's going to be easy, right? You're a military person, people want you, you have skill sets that people want and that might be true but there are some things that can be a disadvantage if you're not ready. And of course, a lot of those people who are telling me that I don't have enough experience on the civilian side are awakening me to that idea. So, once I started doing a lot more research, preparing myself for different certifications, pro FM, being one of them, I'm in one of those right now with Alaina Danoff, she's amazing and James Myers, those guys are awesome. I'm doing that certification now to help build me up. Once you start learning what you need to do, whether it's certifications, who you need to talk to, once you start building a network, whether it's on LinkedIn or you start talking to people trying to figure out what job you want to get into, it starts to get a lot easier. And then you're able to understand the lingo, you start to talk like them, you underthink, understand things like them and then the transition just becomes that much simpler. So, that's a very long story, trying to keep it short, there's a lot more I could probably say about that but that's a little bit about how my transition went.

Griffin Hamilton  11:40

No, and I think you touched on some great points and answered one of my questions I was going to follow up with, what can someone do that is making that transition? Because of your point, even with your background, which on paper and I acknowledged it from the get-go, it's like this translates quite well to hundreds of jobs that I've seen out there. And there's plenty of people I've talked to that would say, yes, this is what I'm doing but that starting point, I think is the most difficult, step one is always most difficult, where you may just feel lost. It's like I have the skills, I know I have the skills but what do I do with this and how do I portray these skills? And so, you listed off a handful of organizations that they're going to be in the show notes here, some people would reference because takes me to the next point that I want to follow up on, which is that skills gap. And facilities, I mean that's been a theme here on the show as well, as there's a great resignation as many are calling it. Where 50% of FMs are at retirement age over the next couple of years and we need to do something about that because there's only going to be more and more buildings, more and more openings, and less and less talent, which doesn't match up, isn't a good story to tell. So, we need folks that see this career path and the entrance is very simple, right? It's not like the process you went through, it's actually hey, okay, here are the steps; A, B, and C of what I need to do.

George Alvarado  13:00

Yes, and like those programs all try to help you get there, it’s just a matter of whether or not the organizations, do they have an onboarding process that provides a little bit more accommodation for that. And that's the challenge, depending on where you go, they may or may not be there.

Griffin Hamilton  13:17

Yeah and so that's another with a gap. You mentioned, Jim, I dropped his name here and he's been a guest on the show but Faciliton and FM pipeline are a couple of organizations that you mentioned. What's been your involvement with those organizations?

George Alvarado  13:31

So, with Faciliton, I first heard about they're one of the volunteering opportunities in Houston recently and I was able to go to their competitions. And I met Tim Zacharias there, Lindsey Brackett, I went with a gentleman here who worked in Aegis with me when I was hired on to Aegis, his name is Jeff Womack, and he's a Facility Manager on Joint Base San Antonio as well. And then, of course, I met Sharon Harrington and Jim Zerbo. Once they found out about this, they wanted to see who I was before I went to Houston, then they told me about Houston, saw the competition there, interviewed a bunch of young folks, really talented young folks, by the way. And all from all these different backgrounds and being able to just judge the competition there, instantly fell in love, love programs where I get not only to mentor and coach in a way but really show how people can succeed, whether it's career development, personal development, those kinds of things. It's one of my Forte’s, especially when I was in the military, they try to hone those kinds of crafts as well and now I get to do that on the outside. So, when I was there, I got to see that and absolutely loved volunteering for it. It was draining, it was tiring but it was awesome and then after that, a couple of weeks later, Jim Zerbo gave me a call and asked me if I would be willing to join the National Board for their organization to help out, to see if there's anything we can do to help with the volunteering or whatever activities and skills I bring to the table. So, still kind of talking through that to see what is it we can do on my side to see what kind of skills I bring to the table so that way we can help improve. And I was wanting to go to Atlanta and I think you're probably going to Atlanta too.

Griffin Hamilton 15:09

I will be at the National too.

George Alvarado 15:10

Yeah. So, I wanted to go there but then, you know, once I found out that I was onboarding with CNW services, I'm going to have to put that on hold, and hopefully next time, I can do it when it comes around. But I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do and helping out more with Faciliton for sure.

Griffin Hamilton 15:25

Yeah, and that's another great program that I would certainly encourage people to check out as well. And again, addressing this great resignation and this gap in skill set and really moving the industry forward but going back and want to touch on your skill sets and what in particular translated well over from military to civilian life. Because we've kind of covered what it was like being on that side of, the candidate side of if you will but now that you are on the other side in civilian life of having that perspective of here's what I'm doing day in and out. Here is the difference that I've noticed but here's what translated well, what advantages do you think the military has to make that transition into facilities on the civilian side?

George Alvarado  16:10

So first, there are three more shout-outs I have to make. As I talked about earlier, when it comes to networking and calling people and talking to people, I don't have any problem doing that, I love talking to people. There are three specific facility managers that really helped me out, one of them was Michael Thomas, Robert Climate Haagen, and then David Trask. Maybe people have heard about them, sent them my resume, and asked them, what do you guys think? And they gave me some great feedback and then as they gave me the feedback, even though I knew some of the translatable skills that we're going to talk about right now, I was able to hone that just a little bit more and understand what is it that a Facility Manager actually does. And of course, with facility management, the pro FM, the certification, it just keeps getting honed and sanded down and the edges that are rough are getting smoother, now that I'm understanding a little bit better the terminology. So, with some of those translatable skills, especially in the military, we have emergency management, security, environmental health, and safety. When it comes to compliance and standards and risk management, where their operations and maintenance depend on the person, depending on what technical background they come from, the military personnel can easily incorporate a lot of their skills from utility management to work management or any technical services that you guys would provide. Especially if they come already from a civil engineer background, right, they can do H Vac, they can do electrician, they can do a lot of those other things that are within the operation and maintenance. When it comes to like asset management, maybe strategic planning, project management, those kinds of things are really important and fundamental and of course, construction as well. Business Management, it just depends on how far up they are in the chain or how much exposure they've had to some of those things within business management. A lot of people in the management of course become contracting, leadership skills, we bring all those things to the table for sure. So, a lot of those topics that Pro FM certification goes over which I've just mentioned right now, are all the same translatable skills that the military goes over and of course, Process Improvement, Lean management. I taught Lean Management and Process Improvement, Logistics, anything dealing with quality, sustainability, communication, collaboration, the list can go on, there are so many words and buzzwords that we all use, right? That helps us to describe what we do as facility managers and there are people within the military that already are honing those skills, depending on how long they've already been in there and have mastered some of those skills, all they have to do is just translate it into the civilian world. And we're quick learners, we understand how to be able to adapt fairly quickly depending on where we go, we have to meet new people all the time and collaborate almost instantaneously with people we've never met. So, it takes a lot of people skills to be able to do that. Now, that's not to say that everybody that comes out of the military knows how to do these things, right? But once again, you have a pool of people who have that expertise already, they have that experience more than most people technically, depending on where they're coming from. And this isn't to say that people in the civilian world don't hone these skills, so I don't want anybody to think that just because I'm in the military, let me just say it this way, doesn't mean something doesn't stink, right? I understand my weaknesses, I know what I can and can't do and there are plenty of civilian people who do the exact same thing every day, day in and day out, for the amount of time they've been doing it, just as long as military people been doing it while they were in. So, that's not an either-or issue, all this means is that we can work together and I think if we can work together more, to try to translate some of these skills better, then it'd be a lot easier to do that transition. For myself, once I figured out how my training skills, my leadership skills, my operational resiliency skills, a lot of the skills that I just previously mentioned before and of course, my love for people processes and property, those are the big things that I focus on. And now that I'm out, I have to focus on quality products and profit, right? Now that I'm adding five Ps, right, that's something that I'm starting to figure out, especially when it comes to profit, now that I understand how those passions of mine, people process and property really fit into the mould of facility management and the other side of the private sector or public sector. It's once again, still honing the craft, still understanding how those skills can be translated as well as just improved upon and all that is hopefully a good capsule of what the military people can bring to the table.

Griffin Hamilton  20:28

Yeah, and I mean you nailed it there and there's so much that me as a civilian, I don't have any perspective that you do or have the perspective that you do coming from that background, just I haven't been immersed in that world as you have. And it's just impossible for me to completely grasp that, so it's great for you to kind of explain and bridge that gap because there are, you know, blurred lines there, of like what exactly occurs on the other side from both ends, right? And so, for me now having that experience, I think it’s extremely valuable and I'm glad that you're able to use this platform to really portray what you learned, how it translated, and then what that transition you know, really entailed, so I certainly appreciate that.

George Alvarado  21:12

Yes, and one of the things I'll say, one of the things, I think a good skill to have as a Facility Manager, we talked about leadership, right? But a good leader knows how to bring out something that people aren't aware that they already have. So, a lot of these terms, hopefully, if anybody's listening may sound foreign to you or maybe you think I've never heard of these terms or I don't have those skills. Don't say that, if I were to sit down with you for five minutes and ask you what you did for your career, whatever it may be, inside or outside the military, I've spoken to a lot of people from different backgrounds. I can translate those skills easily once I understand what you did and how long you have done it for. And there are still people even today, whom I'm trying to help in their career development and even the civilian side and talking to them about what is it that you do. And then how do you translate that into the other position that you're looking for I can easily make that translation for you. Because I understand everyday processes, and procedures, once you've explained it to me, now we can try to move and show how that can be transferable. So, understanding transferable skills aren't just the military to civilian skill and it isn't just for people who are trying to apply for a job. It's also for us as facility managers because if we're talking to all kinds of people from different backgrounds, it's important for us also to know to draw out those skills from other people so that we all can be better together, basically.

Griffin Hamilton  22:35

Yeah, and that's a great point there. And I mean, you also have to think of the role of the facilities manager and the different people you're interacting with on a day-to-day basis. And you're reliant on people from [unsure 22:47], people from the other technology department on the security team. Like, you're talking and interacting with each one of these stakeholders that you may be saying the same thing or trying to get to the same instate but you're going to get there in different ways, right? So, just being able to pull that out of someone and really level with somebody and be able to collaborate, I think that is another wonderful point to bring up there.

George Alvarado  23:11

Yes, the three C's; are collaboration, coordination, and communication. As you can see, I like alliterations and things that kind of flow, five Ps, and three C's.

Griffin Hamilton  23:21

I was about to call you out on that, I was like what’s the next one?

George Alvarado  23:24

Well, when it comes to people, I always focus on personal development and professional development. So, there's more piece to add on to that and it helps me to remember where my focuses are, so that way as I'm directing myself and some of the things, I want to help other people with, it's just easy to summarize and then people can run with it and that's the training side of me, right? I just love to be able to make things easy for people to remember, so they can chew on them and run with them.

Griffin Hamilton  23:49

Yeah, absolutely. Well, George, I certainly appreciate you coming on here and explaining your story and bridging this gap. But I do have one question to ask, I got one question I always ask. All right, so who or what has had the biggest impact on you and your career? And I know you kind of cheated earlier listing off about 40 different people, so you're going to have to take a step back and you have to choose one, maybe. Again, it's who or what so not necessarily to call some individual out but that is the question I always end on. 

George Alvarado 24:22

For facilities obviously, correct?

Griffin Hamilton 24:24

You and your career in general, you can run with it how you please.

George Alvarado  24:30

That's really hard, Griffin. There are so many people, I'm going to have to stick with my original answers with all the people that have mentioned, it does take a lot of people to make someone successful. There are people who can influence me now. Like right now, I'm in my program certification class, so Alana has a lot of influence and so does James Meyers for sure. People like yourself influenced me because there's so much that you do in the podcast world that I'm listening to, all right? I've listened to a few of your episodes even just some things like Automation and then the Art, I forgot who the guest was, you were talking about Art and Facilities? And of course, we're learning about aesthetics and how does that impact people in their workplace? So, someone like yourself is influential for me because I'm learning a lot from you as you're bringing all these different people on the show. So, hopefully, it doesn't sound like a weak answer, I haven't gotten to that point where there's that one person, maybe two, there's you know, sufficient mentors, Mark Armour from the business continuity side and the operational resilience side for sure. I've talked to him plenty of times but just when it comes to facilities management and everything as a whole and the multidisciplinary approach that we have, it is very difficult for me to just point out one or two single people. Maybe one day, I'll run into that person but right now, I don't have that one single person yet.

Griffin Hamilton  25:41

Hey, that's not a bad answer because you used exactly the right word. I mean, one, it's not going to be one individual. I mean, you have to as you continue to evolve as a professional; I mean every interaction you have; you can learn something from it. And just like something one line, some stranger could say on the side of the road can just have a huge impact on you. So, there is never a right or wrong answer, I'm more curious where people's mindset is on that. But again, I've appreciated you taking the time and this has been a long time coming and a great conversation here today. So George, absolute pleasure and look forward to staying in touch.

George Alvarado  26:18

Thank you very much, I appreciate you having me on, Griffin. 

Outro: 26:21

Thanks for tuning in to another episode of The Modern Facilities Management Podcast. Make sure to subscribe for future episodes and follow us on LinkedIn for more facilities management content.

Ready to dive in?
Let’s get things rolling and show you what the talk is all about.