David Brown has always been in the mix. The senior director of facilities, planning, and engineering at Baystate Health remembers pushing around wheelbarrows of sand while his father poured concrete blocks around a pool. Brown was just a kid, and, somehow, the wheelbarrow—sand and all—wound up in the pool.
“The next thing you know, my dad is making me stand on his back while he’s underwater [to prevent him from floating back to the surface] trying to shovel out of all of the sand from the bottom of the pool, and I’m 100 percent convinced I’m going to kill my old man,” Brown remembers, laughing. “I guess the crazy goes back a long way.”
Brown has plenty of these stories, recounted in a thick Massachusetts dialect. The senior director is decades into his career with equal interests in HVAC, sustainable building, virtual reality, and the metaverse. He even created an NFT for fun which he put up for sale on OpeaSea, a popular NFT marketplace. Brown is a true renaissance man, even though he bristles at the term.
“I just don’t do boredom very well,” the senior director says. “The more experience you get, the harder you have to work to find new things to challenge you. I have been fortunate over the years to always find opportunities to grow and learn new things.”
In a previous role, Brown found himself in downtown Manhattan, dealing with a tragedy. It wasn’t his first time there: After 9/11, Brown spent months at ground zero, working to help build out space for 800 employees whose office space was located in Building 2 of the World Trade Center. Fortunately, those employees weren’t onsite that day. “Those are times I can’t think about without my eyes tearing up,” Brown recalls earnestly. “We worked with pride and purpose. The bonds forged there will never be broken.”
But when Hurricane Sandy submerged a healthy portion of New York City in 2012, Brown returned. “I remember an email I got from one of the executives who had done our lease at our downtown Manhattan office space,” Brown says. “He said, ‘I just got a call from the property manager. He said you’re the only tenant that showed up to help and offered pumps and people.’ It’s a little thing, but looking back it is something I’m proud of. It’s what facilities people do.”
Baystate Health is Brown’s latest challenge, where he’s been since late 2019. That is not to say the facilities expert roamed from company to company over his career. He spent 12 years at Northeast Utilities, 20 at MassMutual Financial Group, and 3 at MIT. He evolved exponentially under the banner of only a few different organizations, displaying a willingness to build out entirely new positions that required more work, less certainty, and the need to cultivate new skill sets as quickly as he could amass them.
At Baystate, Brown dedicates himself to enabling health care providers in advancing care and enhancing lives. “Our teams are building state-of-the-art facilities. Today’s operating rooms, interventional labs, and supporting space involve some of the most sophisticated construction I have ever been involved with,” he says. “The technology and infrastructure behind the walls are incredible and the logistics involved with working within a hospital are very challenging.”
While relatively new to healthcare, Brown says his diversity is an asset, not a liability.
“Whether you’re working in finance, education, or healthcare there is generally a preference to hire people with similar backgrounds,” he says. “I guess it might be safer to hire people from the same industry, but I believe it is important to hire people with different experiences and perspectives. I think any organization can benefit from bringing in talent from different sectors. We have an incredible team, and we all bring different strengths to the table.”
Brown and his team are currently focused on Baystate’s sustainability planning and is intent on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and his cogeneration expertise is coming in especially handy. Baystate generates nearly 75 percent of its electricity through its on-site cogeneration plant.
“By utilizing waste heat energy rather than fossil fuel we are able to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 10,000 metric tons a year,” Brown shares. “It’s a start, but we are looking at other ways including energy storage, solar, building system optimization, and electrification of thermal loads to reduce our impact on the environment.”
That future-looking perspective brings us to the often discussed, rarely understood metaverse. Brown says his thinking is in almost complete opposition to how others are viewing the extension into virtual reality.
“We hear about people coming together in VR as a way to do an activity together or drive collaboration, but I’m thinking about healthcare workers who, frankly, are so committed to the care of others they have no time for themselves,” Brown explains. “I’m thinking about finding ways to get people to be able to disconnect for five-to-ten minutes and just relax and recharge. Maybe we can help a healthcare worker get to a sunny beach for a few minutes of their day.”
Whether it’s virtual real estate or more traditional facilities, Brown says at this point in his career, he’s focused on helping others grow. For a natural “doer,” this is harder than it sounds. The senior director works hard to clear obstacles for his team so members can tackle individual challenges as they see fit. He knows it’s how a younger version of himself would have preferred to be led. And he knows firsthand that diversity of experience will help build the strongest leaders.
“I’ve had a chance to do it all,” Brown says. “When they say, ‘from the boiler room to the boardroom,’ I’m not entirely sure they always mean it. But as a VP, I still remember signing the book down in the boiler room. I lived it. You’ve just got to stay curious and stay interested.”