“Perspective is all that separates mistakes from opportunities,” said Christine Burkett, Senior Regional Facilities Manager of Sam’s Club and a life-long learner.
A membership-only retail warehouse club owned and operated by Walmart Inc., Sam’s Club has over 600 locations across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. In her role, Burkett helps oversee 180 of them in the South Central and Mississippi Valley regions. She has earned a ProFM certification and is currently working on receiving a CFM credential from IFMA.
In the “Faces of Facilities” profile interview below, Burkett discussed her career and provided industry advice. To help mark FM Compliance Week 2023, she also highlighted some of the main compliance issues she and her team deal with at the major retailer.
How did you get your start in the field?
I started my career in the U.S. Army as an HVAC/R tech. I then worked in various aspects of the industry, landing in the supermarket refrigeration niche. I have continued to pursue all avenues of continuing education. Classes, certifications, and FM credentials are all part of continuing to grow and push myself to the next level. Taking a chance and leaving the field for a Mechanical Construction Manager position with Sam’s Club was a turning point in my career. The team and culture made the career change a successful move. I later became the HVAC/R manager and moved up to Senior Regional Facilities Manager.
Who is/was your biggest influence in the industry, and why?
I feel I am still learning and making connections in the facilities management industry. As mentioned, the great team and leadership here at Sam’s have given me the opportunity to expand and grow in the field.
What’s your best mistake, and what did you learn from it?
I have made all kinds of mistakes. The single biggest thing I’ve learned is it’s all about perspective. Perspective is all that separates mistakes from opportunities. Resilience allows you to choose your perspective and determine outcomes.
What are some of the biggest facilities management issues at your organization? Are there any unique FM challenges compared to some other organizations?
As a warehouse model retailer, we face some issues that are unique. Two-thirds of the facility is centered around refrigeration and HVAC. We are a high-volume warehouse, pushing to continuously make gains in efficiency and sustainability. We are continuously working to improve and maintain the customer experience, while simultaneously working toward the sustainability goals, ensuring provider optimization, and driving cost-control measures.
We have faced the same issues seen across the country: supply chain, manufacturing delays, and resource shortages. Education and wage disparity has created scarcity in many of the skilled trades, and our buildings encompass not only the standard MEPs, but we also have specialized equipment in food service equipment, tire and battery center equipment, data, front end/scan and go, alarms, fire prevention, automatic/bi-parting doors, etc. We manage about 100 specialized trades.
In comparison to some other facilities management organizations, the scope and scale of what my team and I manage is larger.
What are some of the main compliance issues you as an FM pro have to deal with? And just how important is staying compliant in your role?
For Sam’s Club, like many other large corporations, compliance is a multi-layered, multi-directional challenge. This organization has multiple branches designed to support the variety of compliance requirements.
Because I serve as the direct interface between the club operators, service providers, and home office teams, many compliance issues are filtered through my team. For example, the fire suppression safety and compliance team created the scope, frequency, and contract for back flow preventers, pumps and inspections, and systems. It is handed off through the CMMS to my team to ensure execution, repairs, and follow-up.
My team and I are more directly involved in day-to-day compliance—for example, OSHA in club compliance, food safety standards, refrigerant, stormwater, jurisdictional landscaping/water conservation, grease interceptors, and other electrical and plumbing safety standards.
Any state of non-compliance can immediately impact the club’s ability to do business. As an FM organization, we are very closely aligned with the operational mission. Any potential to disrupt or damage the member experience is closely monitored. As a team, we are diligent in responding to compliance-driven work orders and escalations.
For example, in many jurisdictions the clubs will incur fines for falling out of compliance with landscaping standards. Non-compliance in other areas could potentially close the building or revoke the certificate of occupancy. Hot water and hood vent violations could result in losing board of health certificates, and this would effectively shut down all the fresh areas and café.
A long-term unresolved failure could result in unrecoverable losses and potentially end in a permanent closure of the location. Every location is significant to the overall business.
What’s your favorite part about working in the industry?
I enjoy the diversity of the work; every day is something new. A new puzzle and a new solution. New people to meet, work with, partner with, and grow with.
What changes would you like to see in the FM industry?
I would like to see improved diversity. There is a general under-representation of minority groups.
I would also like to see the industry be more forward facing, less reactive, and more proactive and predictive. I think the industry gets there through data and creating trade pipelines for training and education.
How can company leaders make facilities management a value within their organization?
Tying our work as facilities managers to the core business and their needs is how I picture facilities bringing value to an organization. Facilities needs to move out of the background and into the forefront of every conversation. Facilities managers should be tackling conversations daily with operations or occupants to provide the insight and view of how facilities management impacts and improves their business.
Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Are you noticing any major trends?
Data is becoming an essential part of every organization, allowing us to not only make better, more informed decisions, but faster, more accurate, and even predictive decisions.
Trades and resource scarcity will continue to get worse, until true learning and development programs, apprenticeships, and growth-driven career paths are developed.
What are you most proud of?
Being a relatively new organization, Sam’s was previously under the Walmart Facility Maintenance umbrella. We built and grew the Sam’s facility team into a great organization. My team has been integral to that growth.
Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
Never stop pushing to learn new things. Growth mindset and collaboration are essential skills for this industry.
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.