Faces of Facilities, FMA Featured

Faces of Facilities: Linda Besetzny from R.J. O’Brien & Associates

Linda Besetzny oversees facilities management on a global scale, which poses unique challenges but offers rewarding opportunities. And with over 25 years of industry experience, she has a long list of achievements and interesting stories to share.

Besetzny is the director of global facilities at R.J. O’Brien & Associates (RJO), the oldest and largest independent futures brokerage and clearing firm in the U.S. Founded in 1914 and headquartered in Chicago, RJO has six locations in the U.S. and four offices in Canada, as well as offices in London, Paris, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Singapore. In her role, Besetzny helps manage all of these facilities regarding their equipment and build-out needs.

Prior to joining RJO in 2016, Besetzny held positions at law firms as the facilities administrator and senior manager. She also served as the national facilities and administrative services manager at an engineering firm.

Besetzny is on the board of the International Facility Management Association’s (IFMA) Corporate Facilities Council, an active board member and past president of the Chicago Chapter of IFMA, and a board member for the Chicago Catholic Kolping Society. She has earned IFMA’s Certified Facilities Manager (CFM) designation and is certified in CPR, AED rescue training, and ergonomics, having overseen hundreds of workstation evaluations.

In her previous roles, Besetzny won a firm-wide Above and Beyond Award for a $10 million renovation she helped implement and the Chicago Chapter of IFMA’s Facility of the Year Award for a headquarters project she oversaw. She also recently won the Distinguished Leader Award and Outstanding Achievement Award from the Chicago Chapter of IFMA, which recognized her for many years of dedication, mentorship, and leadership as president during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To learn more about Besetzny and her take on industry issues, please read the “Faces of Facilities” interview below:

How did you get your start in the field?

I got my start while attending Robert Morris University in Chicago, and I interned at a law firm.

The view from the Sears Tower (now known as Willis Tower) was breathtaking, including views of the Chicago skyline, looking into Soldiers Field stadium, and even seeing across the lake to Michigan on a clear day. There I also oversaw the emergency response team of over 100 team members. This plan was put into action on 9/11, when Sears Tower had to evacuate immediately that morning. After 9/11, an “all the way down” drill was offered, walking down 80 stories, which took well over 30 minutes to complete.

I have experienced many not-so-traditional things in my tenure while working in that high rise, including when the windows were blown out of the 78th floor during a bad storm. It looked like “Poltergeist” with the china dishes being blown around the conference room. One of the attorney’s briefcases blew out of the 78th floor of Sears Tower and landed six blocks away. Thank goodness no one was hurt, although I can’t say the same for the briefcase! 

Other memorable events included assisting a woman who had gone into labor at the office, helping an unconscious employee who was having a seizure, and evacuating the firm during the Great Chicago Flood of 1992 that stopped businesses in their tracks in the downtown Chicago loop. A construction crew accidentally caused a crack in an old freight tunnel beneath the Chicago River, and millions of gallons of water poured into a network of underground tunnels and then into the basements of downtown high rises, threatening generators. It also flooded underground parking facilities and subways. The city was forced to evacuate much of the downtown area. 

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

I credit my former boss and lifelong mentor, Raymond Kroll, who was the senior director of real estate planning and development for the law firm where I worked for 22 years. I started out as a legal assistant and learned so much from him. I wanted to be like him and be the one managing the work and driving the projects. I learned from his example of kindness, empathy, and follow-through. He believed in me and promoted me from within. I try to continue to pay that forward by mentoring others in their careers.

In 2008, I joined IFMA. Through the organization, I have grown, served on many committees, received my CFM designation, and taken on leadership roles, including president of the Chicago chapter.

What’s your biggest mistake, and what did you learn from it?

I would say that my biggest mistake was waiting too long to push myself out of my comfort zone. I have spoken in public, at IFMA conferences, and served on the executive board of directors for the Chicago Chapter of IFMA. All of these experiences have opened other doors for me. In hindsight, I should have done this sooner.

What are some of the biggest facilities management issues at your organization? Are there any unique FM challenges (or benefits) compared to some other organizations?

Facilities management is “like a box of chocolates—you never know what you’re going to get!”  Every day has different requests. One of the biggest challenges would be dealing with the time difference of our international offices that are ahead of our time zone, especially Singapore and Hong Kong (13-14 hours), Dubai (10 hours), Paris (seven hours), and London (six hours).

RJO’s “follow the sun” model offers the advantage of providing uninterrupted customer support and service. I find that by checking my e-mail first thing every morning around 4:45 a.m., I can still catch the international offices. Also, checking and replying to e-mail before I go to bed at night works well, especially with Singapore and Hong Kong, as they start their day and are responding.

We have a group called WIN (Women’s Initiative Network) at our firm that is well received and allows women to network, collaborate, and get together for meetings and events throughout the year. It is really a nice bonus. We are also working on a mentor program.

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

My favorite part about working in this industry is getting to work with so many different people.  Being a facilities manager, you deal with all internal customers and a wide range of external vendors.

What changes would you like to see in the FM industry?

I would like to see more education and awareness directed toward the facilities management profession. As facilities managers retire, there will be a gap in qualified applicants to fill these roles.

How can company leaders make facilities management a value within their organization?

Communication among leadership is key in informing the firm about what is happening and how facilities management is contributing to and handling the day-to-day operations.

Just to name a few examples, facilities managers can work closely with the C-suite in showing their value by keeping them informed of office life safety, leading evacuation drills with their emergency response team, providing AED and CPR training, managing lease renewals, leading build-outs, and implementing ergonomics awareness and workstation evaluations, which save the company money from injuries.

Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Are you noticing any major trends?

I see facilities managers continuing to grow through education and degree programs and certifications: CFM, FMP (Facility Management Professional), and SFP (Sustainability Facility Professional).

I envision flexibility in the workplace post-pandemic through the hybrid work model and applying creativity to work spaces, such as additional collaborative focus space.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of paying it forward, including mentoring others, my leadership role in IFMA, and the impact I’ve made in the facilities management world, including opening international offices in Paris, Singapore, and Dubai and relocating offices in London.

I enjoy the professional relationships that I maintain, including a team I used to work with in India. I enjoy learning the way other countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Singapore manage and operate their facilities.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

I would highly recommend joining IFMA. You will meet other FMs and have a lifelong network of peers dealing with similar challenges. It is so nice to call a fellow member and bounce ideas off each other, including collaborating on things like how they’ve handled a build-out and what vendors they’ve used.

Begin to build a broad network and seek out a mentor. Although everyone is responsible for their own career path, continuing to learn from others will definitely make a difference. Take notes and reread them on how others have handled certain issues. This way, you build your own library of solutions. 

My mantra is, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.” 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Continue to learn, grow, and read. Educate yourself about the profession. Seek out subject matter experts, and eventually you can become one yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. 

But most of all, learn to pay it forward. Through your experience, share with others what you’ve learned so they, too, can grow.

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.

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