#62 Captain Tom McLemore, US Naval Academy

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Episode Summary

We've had several Veterans on the podcast to discuss their transition from active duty into civilian life, and how Facilities Management made for a smooth career transition.

Captain Tom brings a different perspective to the show – he is actively heading facilities for the Unites States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.

On this episode, we deep dive into being efficient with limited resources, and discuss best practices on:

- Cross-department communication

- Vendor management

- Budgeting


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 Captain Tom McLemore join me. Tom, how are you doing? 

Captain Tom McLemore 00:49

Doing great. How are you? 

Griffin Hamilton 00:51

You know, after you figured out the technical difficulties here, I'm doing all right.

Captain Tom McLemore 00:57

Hopefully, we can keep out having more of those, but let's see how that goes.

Griffin Hamilton 01:00

You know what, that's just the name of the game, right, and it gets good with facilities management, you got to be able to think on your feet and just roll with it, right? So here we are, but once you tell the audience a little bit more about who you are and what it is you do.

Captain Tom McLemore 01:16

So, Captain Tom McLemore. I've been in the Navy for about 25 years now. I'm a Civil Engineer Corps officer. We do construction management, expeditionary with the Seabees, and facilities management. Right now, I'm the Public Works officer at Naval Support Activity Annapolis. So primarily supporting the United States Naval Academy, is a little bit of an anomaly in my career versus normal careers. This is my fourth time being a public works officer. So normally, Civil Engineer Corps officers will get one maybe two public works officer tours, this is my fourth. I would definitely say that I enjoy being at the field level, executing projects, and working on the base a lot more than I'd say maybe a staff job. So for my career, it's something that I've looked forward to doing and kind of pushed in my career path. So it's been beneficial to me, and it's something I love doing.

Griffin Hamilton 02:20

Yeah and so just anything stand out that made you, now, your fourth go around here and the public works as opposed to just once or twice stop?

Captain Tom McLemore 02:32

Well, I'd say at least stop number four, it was the chance to do public works at the Naval Academy. I'm a Naval Academy graduate myself, and having the opportunity to come back to Annapolis and support the institution that I spent four years at and then started my career at has been very beneficial and very rewarding for me.

Griffin Hamilton 02:56

Yeah, full circle, to say the least. That's really cool and obviously, a really unique opportunity there, and I guess going and going way back, your first go around in that in Annapolis, what exactly happened that got you into facilities management or piqued your interest in going down this career path?

Captain Tom McLemore 03:18

Well, it's interesting that you asked that. In order to graduate from the academy and get a Civil Engineer Corps, you kind of have to be broken. They call it not physically qualified in order to go into an unrestricted or restricted line bill. So my plebe summer, which is the first summer that you're here you go through kind of like a boot camp, little bit, six-week indoctrination. I was on the rifle range and I had a piece of brass that flew up from either my weapon or one of the ones beside me, came down and landed and stuck right behind my ear and it was hot, and it started burning in the back of my ear. So I went and took my hand and kind of knocked it off and when I did that, I knocked the earplugs out and that ended up causing a guy next to me to get off a couple of shots and ruptured a tube in my ear, and caused vertigo that I've had some issues with over time, and it's caused some other problems there, but it was not bad enough. They were able, at least to get it to a point where it wasn't bad enough to where they kicked me out of the Navy, but it was bad enough to where they didn't want me to go on ships, aircraft, or things like that. So that's all kinds of Civil Engineer Corps. My roommate’s dad was a Civil Engineer Corps officer and my roommate was like, hey, with these issues, you should look at being a CV and I was like, what's that? And then I started learning more about it. I was already an engineer, so I didn't have to change too much of what I was doing, and then I did everything at that point to work towards being a civil engineer Corps officer,

Griffin Hamilton 05:02

That’s incredible and obviously terrible luck with that happening and what are the chances of that happening and then what do you do from there, you actually make a career out of it by adjusting really quickly and you're already in, like, you mentioned the engineering path, and then taking it from there and like you mentioned, you made a whole career out of that. 

Captain Tom McLemore 05:25

That it's been fun. So it's been great. It's a great opportunity. I have fun at work every single day. And part of it doesn't matter if it's the construction side, the facilities management side, the expeditionary side, and a lot of it has to do with the people that I work with, but every job that I've had has been wonderful.

Griffin Hamilton 05:50

Yeah and that's something where you can't put a price tag on that where you are one, and the very few that have that luxury of waking up and just enjoying and having fun at work and I think that's been something that a lot of the people that have come on the show, they share that mentality where, something new every day, you're not just clocking in nine to five and doing the exact same thing over and over again, it's something new, and if you embrace that change and embrace the challenges that come with facilities management, I mean, it is certainly a career path that is unique, and you can make the most out of it. 

So we've had a couple of people on that kind of reverse where they went from being in the military into the civilian world and transitioning to facilities management after the fact and you're currently heading facilities over in Annapolis. So I was really interested to talk to you and kind of learn more about just what differences there are really between civilian life and then a day in and day out of managing the facilities in Annapolis and what are some of the challenges that go along with what I would imagine being kind of resource-constrained objectives that you have to hit?

Captain Tom McLemore 07:06

Yeah. So I have the benefit of being on the military side and don't have the benefit of the civilian side yet. So I'll give it to you, at least from the military perspective and when we start talking about resource constraints, that's kind of where we've been for at least the last 10 years. Maybe before that, there was this time of sequestration, we had thought that we were in a resource-constrained environment, but I think we saw new levels of that, but definitely, when you look at funding, for where seals are in the submarine programs in the aviation programs, it's kind of like, what they talked about in the movie Money ball, where we're like, the Oakland A's, there's like, the New York Yankees, which are like the seals, and then you got all these other teams, 50 feet of crap and then there's that. So we're kind of at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the funding and part of that when you're dealing in a resource-constrained environment, you really have to work with your customers or your tenants and let them know this, you got to set the expectation of here's where we're at. 

There have been base CEOs that I've worked with, that didn't really understand what the level of funding is that we had and just said, oh, yeah, I want you to do this and then I want you to do this and I got to the point where I was like, okay, I'm just going to pull up the HHVAC equipment, I'd pull up chillers, air handlers, cooling towers, and fan coil units and just those four pieces of equipment, the recapitalization with a standard cost and lifecycle, I was able to show him I'm like, hey, I can't afford to recapitalize just this equipment on our base with the funding that I currently have and I was like, yeah, I gotta do the roads, I got to do the routes, I got to do everything else on the base and I don't have enough money if I do the basic maintenance on everything just to recapitalize my HHVAC equipment with the money that we have. That's a shocker to a lot of people, especially people in those communities where they were the New York Yankees, and they're like, hey, my ice cream maker goes out on the submarine if it's a 15-year lifecycle, and you're, 11, I've got that in the palm and it's ready, I'm getting a new ice cream maker. So I don't know if that's real or not, but that's my understanding of how that works, but it doesn't work. It's not anything like that for us. So make sure that you're able to define what your priorities are and as one of my guys in the office says, prioritize your number one priorities because everything for everybody seems to like it's their number one, but you still have to go through and prioritize those. 

The other thing I think is important is you got to understand what you're spending your money on. If you don't know what your inventory is, if you don't know what you're doing as part of basic maintenance, you don't really know where you're spending your money. So how do you know if you're getting the best bang for your buck? I'll use an example here at the academy with things like cleaning services, well, hey, the kids go on spring break, do I need to clean the bathrooms the same amount of times as I do during spring break, as I do during the academic year, or during like, the winter break or the summer break, we don't have as many people in there and some of the administrative buildings like during COVID, we had people who were teleworking a little bit more, how many people are in that building or, are you cleaning buildings based off of the number of people that are in that building or, does everybody get the same number of head cleanings or restroom cleanings? Just because that's what everybody else gets, they're going to get the same thing. 

So you start really looking hard at, hey, if there are only 100 people in this building versus 300, well, maybe I need to clean the one with 300 a little bit more, and I'll back off the one, so you find ways to save money that way and there's, hey, maybe I'm not scrubbing the toilets, but I'm still emptying the trash. So you find those types of ways to save money and they're tradeoffs that you can get to and hey if I saved the money, what am I going to spend that money on now, right? You find ways to buy things back for people that are really the things that they're complaining about that are saying things they really need. Some of it too is if you start looking at your workforce. If you've got an in-house workforce, and you're fiscally constrained, sometimes you got to look at how much overtime some of the guys are doing. What are the people working on, is it something that's important? That's one of those priorities or, is it something else that's not important, and focusing in on those efforts? Even contracting, if you look at the contracting piece of it, we're seeing a lot more savings when you compete things than with when your sole source, or sometimes even going with the lowest bidder, we're finding, hey, maybe that's not the best way to do things because if you go with the lowest bidder, and don't have some kind of tradeoffs there, you may be getting the lowest bidder from a perspective of, hey, we're not necessarily the best value, right?

Griffin Hamilton 12:59

Just because it's going to be the cheapest doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be the least expensive.

Captain Tom McLemore 13:05

Right. There could be long-term impacts from that and the other thing we've seen, especially when I had my own in-house workforce, is sometimes your suppliers can be somebody that can hurt you or, the guys who are buying all your materials for you. If you need to replace a chiller, and you spec everything out for them, and then they come back, and they're like, hey, I got the best news ever for you. I saved you $25,000 on this chiller because I found this other one for you and then you get it, and then you've got a chiller that's down, and you need to replace it and you find out, okay, hey, now I gotta order all this extra piping because the configuration that the chiller is, or the chiller has that they bought for you is messed up, the maintenance door may be on the side that's facing the wall now and now you've got to reconfigure all of that and you end up spending more money than what you saved, and trying to get the thing hooked up, plus, you lose all the time and effort and trying to make that happen. So really making sure that the buyers who are getting your materials for you know what they're doing and are on the same page as you and that that communication is there is key because sometimes it may not cost you money, but it's definitely cost you in the capital and the relationships that you have with the customers and providing them the things that they need to meet their mission because that’s at the end of the day. 

Facilities Management isn't about us, it’s about the things the people we support and if we're doing our job right, we should be kind of in the background where nobody really notices us and I'm going to tell you right now, I don't think, we might have gotten one, but I don't think we get many calls where people call us up and they're like, hey, my toilet flush today, it's not something that happens, it's normally we get the angry calls, like, hey, this doesn't work or this doesn't work, what are you doing to fix it? How come you're not over here already? You know what, why is it going to take this long and, and sometimes it does take a little bit longer and there's a little probably a little bit more red tape on the government side with the contracting rules that we have and we can jump through hoops when we need to, but it's definitely not easy and there are definitely some challenges and things that we have to go through that I would say on the civilian side that you don't have to go through and many of those are to make sure that we give everybody an equitable, equitable shot and at the same time, we want to make sure that when we do spend money that we're going to get what we pay for them and all of that makes sense and it's something that I'm very used to, at this point in the game. It's just I'm kind of curious as I get kind of closer to the end of my career in the Navy, how that differs a little bit on the outside as well.

Griffin Hamilton 16:21

Well, it's interesting, that you bring that up because I think one of the main themes, that you just mentioned was communication. From the get-go, I think there's a lot of its oftentimes, leadership and the organization has this expectation that is just unrealistic and there's this large gap between reality and the facilities team knows that reality versus the expectations of leadership and it falls on facilities team to bridge that gap and saying, hey, we don't have the budget as you mentioned, outline, and here's what we need to do. Here's our budget, and there's just no way we could meet all your expectations and I think that translates quite well to just about every industry is that communication and holding everyone accountable and just making sure that you're doing what you can in a resourceful manner, but also communicating with other stakeholders there throughout the entirety of the process.

Captain Tom McLemore 17:14

Oh, yeah and I think the big piece there is being realistic. I'll tell you, I'm one of those that will help you find a way to yes, I don't like to say no, but I'll caveat it by saying, hey, we can do this, or we can do this and most of the time, when leadership comes in and says I want you to do X, Y or Z, you get a good idea of where they're going with it. It's just whether or not you can provide something that comes close to meeting their need if you can't provide the exact thing that they want and part of it's just trying to get that understanding of okay, whatever we have now isn't working, what can we do and what's the timeline, and then just being realistic with it, with regards to laying out that timeline, and what we can accomplish? Some people go conservative, and then they set that conservative goal, and then they meet it, and some people will set an overly aggressive goal, and then fail to meet it, I kind of give a range. I try not to talk in absolutes because it's very difficult with everything from the contracting process to supply chain management there's a huge number of things that can go wrong and if you can just talk about things in ranges rather than exact dates, I think you tend to do a lot better than that.

Griffin Hamilton 18:50

Yeah and you bring up just a couple of factors that go into timing there, but to your point, nothing and there's a lot that's out of our control and facilities, you mentioned supply chain and vendor relationships in their availability, and there are things that you don't necessarily have control over that have an impact and you can't skip steps, C, D, and to get to the final stage, there are all these factors outside factors that play an impact on it and I think, to your point, just communicating and setting expectations from the get-go is it's vital.

Captain Tom McLemore 19:24

Oh, yeah. I'm looking at some other things that we've done and part of it is how much risk you're willing to take and I think the more constrained the environment is, the more risk you're already taking, but then part of it is how good is your planning? We've all seen the story of the newly paved road that's going back in and they're digging it up because they forgot to put some utility across it and then you start scratching your head like who was doing that, but there's a lot of stories like that we've got a lot of historical buildings on naval bases and I've seen more than my share of things like air handlers where you have to take the roof off in order to get the equipment out and in, but when the air handlers ready to be replaced, the roof may not be ready to be replaced. So how do you tie those things together in order to get the best bang for your buck so that the roof needs replacement at the same time that the air handler do we've been doing things like air handler, refurbishments, and things like that to help buy a little bit more time in the on-air handlers that may be well past their service life, but if you can extend those out a little bit further, get more years out of them, then you can focus your dollars elsewhere until you can get the money to actually go and replace those and the roof at the same time? So some of it's that creativity, some of it's the planning piece of it, and just knowing how to match those things together to be able to come up with solutions that work within the budget. 

Griffin Hamilton 21:17

Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mean, those are all great bits of advice that, I think especially nowadays, everyone at facilities, both on your side of things, as well as the civilian side, we're all very tight on budget and that's always something that you've got to be smart and creative to make the most out of the resources you do have because complaining about it won't give you a budget overnight, it won't add head overnight, right? So you got to be creative and think on your feet about how to just be resourceful. So love all the information you give him today and Tom, I got one last question for you, I asked everybody and that's who or what has had the biggest impact on you and your career. Outside of a stray bullet, I'll say that outside of the stray bullet on the ear.

Captain Tom McLemore 22:08

I'll go back to my mom. My mom was a wastewater engineer and she was an engineer back in the 1970s, when she was probably one of the few females that was in the engineering industry and I remember running around the house when I was a little kid when my mom was studying for the PE exam and if we got close to where she was studying my dad would give us that look like I'm gonna help whoop you if you take another step or say something loud, but there was a lot of conversations where I'd listen to my mom talk about work, especially after I got into the Navy, just having more conversations about, hey, how does this work or, how does that work or, some of its just the relationships you build with people and over time, I found that I'm probably more and more like my mom then than I thought I was definitely 15-20 years ago, but if you're asking me who my biggest influence is, without a doubt, I'd say my mom,  she's She definitely had a great career, working with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District down in the Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, Norfolk area, and just somebody that if I had to say, I've looked up to my whole life, whether it be as an engineer or just as a person, she would definitely meet the mark there. 

Griffin Hamilton 23:47

Love that. Well, Tom, again, certainly appreciate you taking the time to come on. Thank you for the insight. Thank you for your service and started looking forward to staying in touch.

Captain Tom McLemore 23:56

All right, thanks Griffin, appreciate it.

Outro 23:59

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