Hiring managers often narrow their focus to job-specific skills when trying to fill particular roles. Will Martin says he’s glad those who have hired him have been more open-minded. Otherwise, he might not be one of the foremost experts in corporate real estate and facilities management today.
Martin, senior director of real estate and facilities at the Irving, Texas, headquarters of Health Management Systems (HMS), has saved companies—HMS included—millions of dollars by challenging the status quo. In fact, at HMS, he set the status quo he challenges today, reorganizing the entire real estate and facilities department from the start.
His current profession might seem like a far cry from his time at the US Military Academy at West Point and as a platoon leader with the Army Corps of Engineers, where he served from 1993 to 1996. However, Martin says the principles he learned then still guide him.
“I chose the engineers because it was infantry with a bang,” he says. “We did a lot of work with minefields and explosives.”
Martin says planning explosive charges was surprisingly exact—carefully measuring how much explosive was needed to create the desired effect. The rest of the work tended to be backbreaking, and included moving dirt and digging fighting positions for tanks. He also led his platoon on missions to clear minefields for tanks and install razor-sharp concertina wire to defend battle positions.
Although these were precise skills to master, his practical training didn’t translate so clearly to any single post-military career path—or so it seemed.
“When I left the military, my focus in every job interview was, ‘You can take me—a guy who’s a proven leader who has the ability to learn—and teach me how to make a widget easier than you can teach someone who knows widgets about leadership and problem solving,’” he says.
Martin recalls this ability to adapt showing itself in his first job with Emerson Power Company, for which he worked in quality control.
“The first day, I walked past a display of motors and didn’t know what they were,” he says. “But it didn’t matter what the product was because my skills with process and people translate very well to anything.”
Martin says West Point taught him the value of doing the “harder right” instead of the “easier wrong.” In other words, “Do things right the first time.”
He also learned about leadership in the military, primarily how success is largely influenced by putting everyone on his team in the best position to succeed.
“When I’ve taken over teams, I assume they want to be there and want to be successful,” he says. “My whole focus is to find out how the organization is running and make sure everyone knows how their roles fit in the overall vision. So often, they don’t. They’re just doing daily tasks and reacting to issues.”
Martin’s management approach has worked everywhere he’s been. At Emerson, he earned his ISO 9000 certification and led his team to pass an external audit in his first year. After moving to Procter & Gamble (P&G) in 1997, he earned two promotions in six years while successfully delivering multimillion-dollar projects and lowering repair and maintenance costs by 30 percent. He says he comes into every role challenging the way things have always been done.
“I tell my teams up front that I will question everything,” he says. “You don’t get to assume that the old way is the best way.”
P&G outsourced him to Jones Lang LaSalle, which eventually led him to a new assignment with Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) in Dallas in 2007. On the ACS account, Martin created a facility management organization to support more than 300 sites and established a new budget and vendor management program that saved the client more than $2 million. He delivered similar improvements in stints with Dallas-based Dean Foods and Santander Consumer USA Inc. Still, he says his role with HMS is the broadest yet.
“In other roles, when I managed the facility side of the business, I didn’t get involved in the brokerage side or the lease-planning side,” he says. “My focus was to operate the buildings once the leases were completed. Now, I manage both the real estate projects and the facility side, which is what excited me the most about this role.”
Martin received training and earned his master of corporate real estate with a workplace focus (MCRw) last year. Meanwhile, he winnowed the number of facilities HMS leased from 40 to a more manageable and efficient total of 26. Although the job pushes him every day, Martin’s military background and subsequent experiences in facilities management have prepared him for the array of challenges he faces now.
“I can go from talking to the CEO about location strategy to having to deal with a spill in one of our buildings that needs to be cleaned up,” he says. “My job goes quickly from strategic to tactical, and in the beginning I felt like I was being yanked in every direction.”
Tough as that may seem for some, this is a guy who once led teams that dug holes for tanks and figured out how to clear minefields. The figurative minefields of real estate and facilities management are, comparatively, a relative snap for Martin.
“A concept I learned in the military was field expedient,” he says. “When you inevitably end up in situations where you don’t have all the parts you need, you come up with a field expedient method to make it work. That mind-set has served me well in business because things don’t generally go according to plan.”