Helen Edenfield Certainly Can

As Helen Edenfield keeps pace with NeoGenomics Laboratories’ impressive growth, she reflects on her journey in facilities as someone who never backs down from a challenge

Helen Edenfield stands proudly at NeoGenomics Laboratories’ site. Portraits by Evan Dowling

When employees enter NeoGenomics Laboratories’ mammoth new 150,000-square-foot headquarters in Fort Myers, Florida, in 2021 there will be plenty to be impressed by. But it might take them a little while to fully appreciate all the details.

After nearly a full year of remote work due to the coronavirus pandemic that required most employees to work from home in 2020, the 2021 opening of NeoGenomics Laboratories’ mammoth 150,000-square-foot headquarters is highly anticipated by employees.

The cancer diagnostics company has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade and its new state-of-the-art lab space will offer plenty of flexibility and room to spread out and meet future needs. As COVID-19 complications remain unclear, the new building space and its amenities have also been adapted so everything can easily be reconfigured to allow for more spacing.

Employees will begin to notice the small details as they spend time in the building that will make coming to work exciting, says Helen Edenfield, NeoGenomics’ global director of facilities and operations excellence. The building is designed to allow for easy flow of employees in and out of the buildings and their workspaces. There are mother’s rooms, hand washing stations, sanitization stations, collaboration areas, teaming rooms, a courtyard, an easily accessible cafeteria, and a nod toward the present and future with ample electric vehicle parking stations.

Edenfield notes that she and her teams also had lengthy discussions about basic functions. Garbage, for instance, remains hidden given the building’s design. Even the thought going into the faucet selection proved to be forward thinking as it combines a dryer inside the sink so that the company can eliminate paper without people walking out with dripping hands or standing in a line.

“There was a lot of thought that went into every aspect,” Edenfield says. “We tried to look at every detail.”

Helen Edenfield, Global Director of Facilities & Operations Excellence, NeoGenomics Laboratories

Paying attention to details has helped the facilities director distinguish herself in 18 years at NeoGenomics. When she joined, she was the company’s third hire. Now boasting more than 1,700 employees, the company’s cancer diagnostic labs are in demand worldwide and Edenfield got to be a part of the growth from the ground up.

“I learned a lot because you had to do a little bit of everything, so I was exposed to many different opportunities and challenges,” Edenfield says of her early years at the company. “As we grew, those opportunities became more frequent and challenging.”

That experience as a hands-on manager of everything within the operations and facilities umbrella over the years put her in a good position to help lead the new HQ project. To maintain and ensure a commitment to excellence with the project, NeoGenomics also hired its own project manager and worked with firms individually rather than calling on a large national firm to subcontract out the work. That approach has meant more local hiring and a more collaborative process that meets NeoGenomics’ specific needs and helps keep a lot of the build local, Edenfield explains.

The headquarters is based in Fort Myers, a location that is plenty proud to host the company. “NeoGenomics is a world leader in cancer diagnostics and pharma services and Lee County is honored to be home to its new world headquarters,” says John Talmage, Lee County economic development director. “Helen’s role is key to this new development. She exemplifies both the professional diversity and dedication to excellence that is becoming the hallmark of Lee County’s business community.”

“It really has been a team approach,” Edenfield says humbly. “We approved every company, subcontractor, trade, and every budget line item, and we’ve been really pleased at how things have evolved.”

That team approach didn’t always come easily for Edenfield. As someone who has learned most of her skills on the job, she wasn’t always eager to share responsibility. But, when she was called out on it during a 360-degree review years ago, she realized she had to make some changes.

“Somebody had mentioned that my teamwork needed improvement. I didn’t understand what that meant, as I thought I was a great team player,” Edenfield reflects. “I was always on the aggressive side, but I didn’t quite understand that feedback and I took it very personally. But after dissecting it, I realized I was just extremely eager, and didn’t allow other people to participate. I thought that I was being helpful and that I could be counted on to work through things and get it done.”

Edenfield says she has since learned to share the team’s responsibility. Now, she’s proud when operations and facilities teams are consistently known as being great teams to work with. She also serves as a mentor to folks who don’t have as much experience or formal education.

“I think a lot of people get discouraged when they think ‘I don’t have this, or I can’t,’” Edenfield said. “‘I can’t’ has never been something that has been in my vocabulary. If I’m told I can’t do something, that instills a bit of fire in me to say to others I certainly can.”

That confidence has also come from NeoGenomics’ leadership.

“I’ve been blessed to have mentors that were willing to work with me and certainly teach me about the business along the way,” Edenfield says. “That empowered me to pursue what I wanted to do within the organization. I love a challenge, I always have. And I’ve been empowered . . . not without hard work. I have thought that while going to school is not easy, sometimes I feel that would have been an easier route. But through a lot of perseverance and exposure to different aspects of our organization, I’ve been able to bring that work ethic to whatever department it is I’ve worked in.”

The HQ project offered Edenfield an opportunity to focus on both the big and small picture and help develop a space that NeoGenomics hopes will attract and retain the best for years to come. It has also allowed the facilities director to showcase her leadership philosophy.

“We’re not necessarily looking for perfection every time, but we are looking for improvement,” Edenfield says. “Sometimes, though, you have to come out of the gate and be the best.”

Her bold style is celebrated by vendor partners like DeAngelis Diamond’s vice president of strategic development, BJ Brundage. “Sometimes you can just tell when someone is so smart and knowledgeable by their life experiences in the industry. When we first met, we talked about how DeAngelis Diamond could help her as the general contractor to build the [new headquarters],” she says. “She talked about lean principles, utilizing analytics and dashboards to track her processes within NeoGenomics. We were speaking the same language.”

Recalling a time when Brundage invited Edenfield to attend her local Hospice Shine event that benefits children who have lost a parent, she continues, “Little did I know at the hospice event that Helen would outbid everyone for one of the major donations! It has been such a pleasure to get to know Helen Edenfield, a true leader in the healthcare industry.”