Nancy Johnson is recognized for leading initiatives that improved the image of the busiest US airport system, surface transportation assets, regional marine terminals and ports, and the World Trade Center. Her programs, including the EAM and Storm Mitigation and Resiliency program following Hurricane Sandy, have reduced cost and risk, increased external funding, improved cash flow, and enhanced customer experience.
In the lead up to her session at Mainstream Conference in Melbourne and Perth, she explains how she found herself in one of the most heavily male-dominated industries, and shares some lessons she learned along the way.
Q: You were the first female “Maintenance Man” at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. How did that come to be?
I had grown up doing pretty non-traditional things. I had an Industrial Arts major in high school with auto mechanics as my core area of study. So it seemed natural to me to apply when I saw the job advertised. The application involved taking a 9-month course and passing a practical exam based on what we learned. When I passed it became news throughout the Port Authority. I didn’t feel that I fit into the office work lifestyle. It didn’t give me a sense of accomplishment. Since moving people and goods was the mission of The Port Authority, and maintaining the facilities was critical to carrying out that mission, I felt more directly involved, and at home, in the field.
Q: Was there a particular challenge that you remember overcoming?
My first role at the Port Authority at La Guardia Airport comes to mind. It was the middle of winter, and the first job that they gave me was installing grounding rods using a jackhammer. Talk about being thrown in the deep end! There were three different types of jackhammers I could choose from- a 60-pound, 90-pound or 120-pound jackhammer. And of course I couldn’t choose the smallest one because what would that say about me? But I couldn’t pick the largest one because I probably would have failed miserably. So I chose the middle one and did the job admirably. That was my first real test and the start of my journey to prove myself.
Q: What was the most positive thing to come out of your experience?
I gained the respect of the people I worked with. That’s something to be proud of when you’re breaking new ground. I did equal work for equal pay and never refused any job that was sent my way.
The first-hand experience and understanding gained from working in the field helped me to develop communications skills that work with both front-line staff and top management. It’s clear that I understand the issues on both sides of the table and this helps when proposing new concepts or changes in policies and procedures.
Q: This year’s Mainstream speaker line-up features some strong, inspiring women (yourself included!). What value do you think the female perspective can bring to a male dominated industry like asset management?
Women are communicators and they have a natural tendency to want to develop staff for their next challenge. Communication that results in shared understanding results in strong bonds that stimulate teamwork.
Q: In your session at Mainstream Conference you explore the notion that we should treat plants like we do our financial portfolios. Can you expand on that?
When you manage your finances, you look for the greatest payback at the lowest level of risk. The same is true for a plant. Whether you sell goods or services, you seek the greatest output, with the highest quality, at the lowest cost.
How you achieve these things is the challenge. The key is for staff at all levels to be invested in the process so that early indicators can be used to determine whether things are going right. If things are not going right, only small corrections will be needed to get things back on track. Even if outsourcing is preferred, the investment in physical assets and the corporate brand still require protection. Short-term objectives should not compromise long-term goals.
A well-run facility will increase the value of a business. To do this successfully, facility managers need to have two often overlooked management skills – in data management and sales. Without these skills, they will be ill-prepared to demonstrate ROI.
Nancy Johnson is the CEO of Facility Matters LLC. She is recognized for leading initiatives that improved the image of the busiest US airport system, surface transportation assets, regional marine terminals and ports, and the World Trade Center.
Don’t miss Nancy’s presentation at Mainstream Conference where she will illustrate what data to select, how to present it, and how to sell a winning asset management strategy to the power brokers of the organization.