A Profile of Rebecca Lanter
Balancing Technical Work, Soft Skills, Collaboration & Communication
Director of Plant Operations
Rebecca Lanter, Director of Plant Operations, Xavier University, believes that women come into the facilities management industry with an eye towards communication and collaboration, so she’s taking a leadership and management style that’s responsive to employees. This approach offers a contrast to the old school command and control approach to leadership.
Becki, as she prefers to be called, graduated from college in 2010 at the height of the recession when she landed her first job in a grant-based position as an energy manager for K-12 schools, which was funded through federal investments created to stimulate the economy.
She initially started college studying education because she thought she wanted to be a high school teacher. That’s when an advisor offered some valuable advice, “If you become a teacher and decide you’d rather be an engineer, what does that path look like?”
With an eye toward options, Becki chose a path that led her to facility management, which she learned can be applied in many different industries, such as healthcare, education, manufacturing, sports.
Possessing excellent communication, writing, analytical and technical skills, Becki is now fully appreciating the values and the supportive environment of Xavier, a private university located in Cincinnati, Ohio, providing a liberal arts education in the Jesuit Catholic tradition.
When she’s not “putting out fires,” she gets recharged and reinvigorated in the great outdoors, which is perfect because she, her husband and their two young children live on-site at a nature preserve, where her husband works.
“Enjoying life and nature are important to me. Living in a nature preserve is one of the most amazing experiences and biggest gifts of my life,” she said.
Working in a male-dominated field has presented both challenges and rewards, as she’s expanded her repertoire from being an individual contributor at several organizations to managing teams.
“I didn't sort of wake up in this job and realize I was the only woman in the room. That happened years and years ago. I think that it's important to recognize there are dynamics to it when you're doing the work, but you also know what you're getting into,” she said. “There’s a distinction between being a woman in facilities and being a leader as a woman.”
She was initially terrified at the prospect of managing 35 trades people at Northern Kentucky University when she first moved into a leadership role. Now, she and her 45-person team cover 2.5 million square feet on campus. Along the way, Becki has also picked up capital planning skills and she’s embraced using technology to keep her team on-task in the field.
Becki comes from a mechanical engineering background, and she also studied applied physics in college. During her career, she’s held facilities, operations, maintenance, sustainability and energy management positions and she has a strong appreciation for both the technical work and soft skills necessary to be successful in facilities management. She’s also taking a serious look at the retention and recruiting challenges in the facility management industry today.
“People aren't necessarily getting a job with one place, staying there for 40 years, and retiring with a gold watch and a pension. That’s not the way we work anymore,” she said. “We’ve got to focus on doing more to retain this talent and keep people engaged. I’m incredibly lucky to have a phenomenal team but many of them will retire long before I do.”
“We’ve got to look for opportunities to drive efficiency, hard costs, and labor, while using technology strategically. For example, paper gets in the way of getting things done, so we’re no longer printing work orders,” she said.
The higher education environment presents great opportunities to support learning and create a safe and secure living environment for students – balancing the need to get the work done and be sensitive to students living on campus.
“We had a situation where I had a technician doing some work in a residence hall over a break,” explained Becki. “There's nothing wrong with what he was doing, but the work hadn't been included on the list we'd sent to Residence Life saying, ‘Here's where our people are going to be.’ And there were two students still in the building over break -- two young women who were the only people in the building. My tech couldn't understand it and initially felt like he was being reprimanded, like, ‘I was just doing my job.’ And I said, ‘If I'm a young lady in the building and I've gone downstairs and I put my laundry in the washing machine and I go back downstairs and I hear these footsteps and I know there's no one else here, that's unsettling.’”
“Being able to understand the perspective of the students and my team, helps us bridge the communication gaps and provide better service. That level of communication, it communicates care to our students,” she added.
To create a positive and productive environment where learning is a part of work, Becki and her team meet every day to review the customer service aspect of campus facility management and focus on topics, themes, and challenges such as residence halls. They’re looking at problem solving in a way that involves more voices around the table with a better focus on pointing out blind spots and making continuous improvements.
Becki believes that there are still a lot of misconceptions about the facility management industry and what gets done daily. The reality, she says, is that every day is different, and you get to deal with people, systems, and infrastructure – the best of all worlds.
As for considering facility management as a career, Becki said, “I think it's important to know what you want to do and what skills you bring to the table and consider how those would or wouldn't mesh with the work. You must recognize the amount of firefighting in these positions. If you’re prepared to respond to emergencies at 2 am, then you’ll probably do all right.”
She added, “Think about the season of your life, what you want as a person outside of your career and how you’re going to fit those pieces together.”