Faces of Facilities

Faces of Facilities: Amber Gratkowski from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

If you’re looking for a mundane career of predictability, facilities management probably isn’t for you. In fact, one of Amber Gratkowski’s favorite things about the FM industry is that every day on the job is different.

Gratkowski works as the Facilities Manager of the Central Campus at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC). The commission is responsible for operating and maintaining over 550 miles of roadway statewide, as well as numerous facilities and service plazas along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

In her role, Gratkowski is in charge of overseeing all four of the PTC’s Central Campus facilities and related projects. Her duties include managing operations, campus and equipment maintenance, grounds personnel, inventory, and budget. Additionally, she handles the design and procurement of furniture, décor, and fixtures for PTC facilities.

Gratkowski has worked with state government agencies for over 20 years and has held her current position at the PTC for eight.

To learn more about Gratkowski and her take on the industry, please read Facilities Management Advisor‘s latest “Faces of Facilities” interview below.

How did you get your start in the field?

I received my bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Communications with the big dreams of having my own TV talk show; that did not pan out as expected, so I kind of fell into the facilities field (LOL).

I started at the very bottom in my career and worked my way up. Early on, I worked for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and would take a position, learn everything I could, and every two years, I would go for a higher position/promotion.

I then worked my way up to a Real Estate Officer, where I oversaw 54 of our facility leases, worked with property managers on maintenance issues/leasehold improvements, and relocated facilities, as needed. I loved the idea of working in real estate and turning old, outdated facilities into beautiful spaces to meet the needs of my customers and knew at that time I wanted to continue in the facilities field.

Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry, and why?

I have been very fortunate throughout my career to have some great leaders who have seen my potential, drive, and ambition and have taken me under their wings and showed me the ropes.

One of my first managers was a great leader. I looked up to her as a mentor. I was in my late 20s, and she saw what I was lacking and guided me in the right direction through constructive criticism.

Another influence I have is a past director. He pushed me to get my credentials and to get involved with professional organizations in the industry. He also introduced me to some great peers in the field.

What’s a notable mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

My biggest mistake when starting in the field was thinking I had to have an immediate answer for everything. In this field, you are the “go-to” person for everything and anything at your facility. In the beginning, because I was learning so much, so fast, I would think I would have to respond right away.

Now, if I do not have the answer, I let them know that! I always follow back up and get the answer, but it may not be immediately. 

What’s your favorite part about working in the industry?

My favorite part of working in this industry is the everyday hustle and bustle of ensuring that the facilities are up and running smoothly so that daily operations are not affected. You wake up in the morning and have no idea what your day entails. No one day is ever the same.

What do you think are some of the biggest facilities management issues right now?

It is no secret that the pandemic changed the FM industry. Companies are now looking at their facilities a lot differently.

The biggest FM issue I see happening in the industry is the downsizing of commercial space due to teleworking and hybrid schedules and how to effectively and efficiently use our facilities that are not fully occupied.

What changes would you like to see in the industry?

The biggest change I am hoping to see is that with the new culture of our workdays, now is the time to look at your office space and determine how much space is actually needed and find out the “needs” for each department.

With many people working a hybrid schedule, now is a great time to update your facility amenities and technology to fit the environment and culture for your organization.

Remote working may not mean just an office in your home; it could mean sitting in a café in your building, an outdoor patio, or checking in to a hoteling space in your facility.

Are you noticing any other major trends?

Another change that is growing in this industry is implementing more sustainable practices in our facilities and reducing the carbon footprint to make our buildings eco-friendlier.

What are you most proud of?

I am really proud of my team. During the pandemic, they didn’t skip a beat. When the rest of the world shut down, they continued with their normal schedules. They showed up every day and kept our facilities safe and clean, while continuing their workload.

I am also proud of the roles and opportunities presented to me in the professional organizations I am involved with. I am past president for PFMA (Pennsylvania Facilities Managers Association), where I held the last conference before COVID at the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pa., and am currently Vice President for our local chapter of IFMA. Both organizations have introduced me to great peers in the industry and have taught me so much.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Stay on top of the industry by learning about new products and the latest technology and techniques in the field. Stay on top of your PMs. Earn your credentials in this field.

Network, network, network! Join IFMA. Join professional organizations. There is a lot to learn in this industry, so getting to know your peers and having go-to people to call on is the best way to be successful.

Most importantly, always give thanks and show appreciation to your team!

Are you or a colleague an FM professional interested in being profiled for the “Faces of Facilities” series? Please contact Editor Joe Bebon at JBebon@BLR.com