Faces of Facilities

Faces of Facilities: Nelson Peña from Sam’s Club

Nelson Peña, Facilities Manager for the Southeast Region at Sam’s Club, is passionate about maintenance and proud of the work his team and employers are doing for sustainability.

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 his role, Peña oversees 105 locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Puerto Rico, and parts of Georgia and Alabama. He provides facilities support, asset management, and vendor management across the business.

Peña joined parent company Walmart in 2013 as a Building Controls Analyst analyzing and providing technical support to field technicians for all Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs in the U.S. At the end of 2019, after a couple of different roles, he accepted a position at Sam’s Club as a Facilities Maintenance Coordinator. In 2021, he was promoted to Facilities Manager for HVAC and Refrigeration, and at the start of 2022, the roles changed to a regional position to cover all FM trades.

In Facilities Management Advisor‘s latest “Faces of Facilities” interview below, Peña discusses the value of maintenance and his support for Walmart’s major sustainability initiatives, which include achieving zero emissions across the retail giant’s global operations by 2040.

How did you get your start in the field?

When I started my professional career search, I did not know what I wanted to do or where to start.

Fortunately, I was introduced to a corporate recruiter who supported the real estate division for Walmart. Like many others starting off in a professional career, I did not have a lot of experience or a proven track record. I only had a strong work ethic and excitement to start. I accepted a position with Walmart at the home office, where I provided technical support in refrigeration, HVAC, and EMS systems.

After a few years of continuous education provided by the company and networking, I grew in my career mostly within facilities maintenance, eventually ending up at Sam’s Club.

What are some of the biggest facilities management issues at your organization?

I believe some of the biggest issues in our field are in logistics, material shortages, skilled labor, and demand.

Ever since the COVID pandemic and lockdowns, we have all experienced logistical nightmares like longer wait times on parts to arrive at a location, affecting our uptime. Material shortages have caused backorders in manufacturing, making it hard for all to get parts or fully built units. Skilled labor was becoming an issue before the pandemic, but this accelerated the issue in a lot of our specialty trades. All of this, combined with the business, has increased volume and equipment usage—so it is important that facilities maintenance is at the top of the conversation so we can continue moving forward.

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

My favorite parts of facilities management is providing exceptional support to our customers and all the amazing people that I have been blessed to work with! I enjoy doing what I do and the various challenges that present themselves. We don’t say no, we provide options. Our motto is, “We take care of the clubs so they can focus on the members,” and we do this through ownership and communication. We have goals to make Sam’s Club one of the most reliable and sustainable organizations on Earth. I believe we can accomplish this through a series of implementing processes.

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

It is important for company leaders to understand the significance of facilities maintenance because of the exposure it creates to the bottom line. If the company does not invest in maintenance today, it will cost more in the future to maintain an asset and expect it to produce a similar return as when it was new.

Leaders in facilities management need to engage with company leaders to show the importance of our programs and showcase initiatives that will make the program more efficient and the potential ROI it could produce.

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

In the next five years, I see facilities management continuously evolving and adapting to the needs of the business and customers. There have been so many changes in this industry—the use of historical data to make decisions on equipment replacements and predict the needs of preventative maintenance; technology such as telemetry on equipment to prevent damage towards our assets and provide safety to our people; and greater investments towards sustainability like renewable energy and a smaller carbon footprint.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of Walmart’s commitment to sustainability and our journey to being a regenerative company. We have goals to eliminate waste and decarbonize our operations—a lot of this will happen through the product chain, but we all play a part in this movement.

I focus on where facilities management plays a part in this, from being at the forefront of moving towards low-impact refrigerants, to making sure all our equipment is operating efficiently and maintaining equipment that supports our sustainability efforts, such as balers for baling carboard and sending it off for recycling, or used cooking oil equipment to support biofuels.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

My advice for people entering this profession would be to have fun and learn, because in this profession you are a problem solver. You will have the opportunity to meet so many interesting people with so much knowledge.

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