In His Own Words

This article accompanies Building a New Breed, a profile of the 2010 HR Executive of the Year -- Google's Laszlo Bock, and the 2010 HR Honor Roll.

By Andrew R. McIlvaine

HR leaders do many things, but overseeing a major construction project typically isn't one of them. But tell that to Mark Fogel.

Last year, the vice president of human resources and administration for Leviton Manufacturing Co. assumed oversight for the company's new headquarters building, a $24 million project in which an existing 5-story building was entirely rebuilt from the ground up. It was a relocation that meant a longer commute for many of the staff.

How did he make it happen? Here, in his own words, Fogel remembers his experience and offers a few pointers for other HR executives who just might find themselves in a similar situation.

"I was put in charge of corporate safety and corporate facilities in 2008. And what happened is, I actually wasn't the original project manager for construction but, due to business reasons, there was a need to reallocate senior-management resources and near the end of the planning process, a change was made and I was put in charge.

"This was the largest construction project on Long Island last year. We tore that building down to bare steel and rebuilt it completely in under 10 months.

"So I had to run HR and other functions and then run this project. It was fantastic -- it was really hard work, challenging, frustrating and all-consuming, but I learned so much about so many aspects of, not just physical construction, but the construction business itself and how to make things happen. 

"My advice for other HR people finding themselves doing a similar project is, first, know what you don't know. Realize that there are people out there who know more than you do and don't be afraid to seek them out.

"When I took this on, I knew nothing about construction, but I sought out folks -- there's nothing wrong with asking for help. We went to our local chamber of commerce and asked for help, we asked our real-estate people and construction-management people to give us an education.

"And that was critical for us because there's politics involved with a project like this -- you need permits and so on. We went to networking events, political events, shook a lot of hands and that really got things moving.

"I believe most people are good and want to help you. I think the fact that we were humble led folks to come to our side.

The new office is 17 miles up the Long Island Expressway from our old location. So, I'd say commutes were shortened for about 40 percent of our people and lengthened for about 60 percent. But we didn't lose a single full-time employee.

"We worked with a local nonprofit transportation organization and set up a carpooling program here, in which people meet up at our old facility to park, and then carpool to the new location using the HOV lane on the expressway.

"We've got parking for hybrids right near the entrance. The new building is only 300 feet off the LIE, by the way -- you can get in and out fast.

"The employees love it here. We went from a worn-out building last renovated in the early '70s to a beautiful state-of-the-art structure. Everything here is eco-friendly, ergonomic-friendly and user-friendly -- the technology is first-class.

"We've got a gorgeous cafeteria that we subsidize for employees that serves restaurant-quality food. We've become a showcase on Long Island -- it's not the Googleplex, it's just a nice, aesthetically pleasing place to work."

Oct 2, 2010
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