Faces of Facilities

Faces of Facilities: Nick Straka from Heartland Dental

With six years of industry experience, Nick Straka is already making waves and has a promising career ahead of him.

Straka was recently named the 2023 Young Professional of the Year by ConnexFM, the multi-site FM group formerly known as the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association. He also won his employer’s Discretionary Presidential Award for his role in disaster preparedness, prevention, and response during Hurricane Ian.

Straka serves as the senior facilities manager for Heartland Dental, a major dental support organization with over 1,700 locations in 38 states. He currently oversees the Southeast region of 272 offices, handling all trades and requests from those areas.

Prior to kickstarting his FM career at Heartland, Straka was the general manager of a medium-scale fitness center and worked his way up in the oil and gas industry. To learn more about Straka and his take on FM issues, please read the “Faces of Facilities” interview below:

How did you get your start in the field?

Heartland was looking to build a facilities team. I interviewed for the role but was ultimately not chosen. A year later I received a message through Facebook from one of the project managers that interviewed me, and he asked if I would be interested in re-interviewing. I told them, “Of course.”

One of the biggest factors behind my interest in it was that it was something completely different than what I have done for most of my life, but I felt it could be very rewarding to come in on the ground floor of something and help build it up with the right systems and processes.

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

There are a lot of great influencers—so many talented professionals in this field—that I am unsure if I can name just one.

If I had to say one, I would say Pete Trahanas with Local One FM. Super great guy and extremely knowledgeable. I can always count on Pete to challenge me or pick me up when necessary. He really took the time to help me understand the ins and outs of certain trades, and I truly appreciated that. Not a lot of people are taking the time to help educate or build the confidence of those they work with daily. Not to mention, Pete likes to stay in the shadows, never wanting to receive recognition for the great things team members do.

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

For me, my biggest mistake was involving my pride in a lot of my work. When things go wrong, and things are going to go wrong, you cannot take it personally or take the blame solely. I did, and ultimately, I would try my best to ensure it did not happen. That meant working tirelessly to ensure all t’s were crossed and i’s were dotted.

Over time I got severely burnt out because I refused to take time off, pass things off, or accept the fact that mistakes will happen even if we do our best to prevent them. If I could go back, I definitely would have ensured there was a little more give and take when it came to my work.

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

Two-part answer. I would say the first is a lack of understanding. For us, we are told to be the subject matter experts in all things facilities, but often we are overruled by others that do not see the same world. After the pandemic, prices shot up. This was not our doing or the doing of our providers; it was the economy. As much as we tried to explain it, we were met with much resistance. Resistance slows progress, and I believe most facilities teams will agree one log in the river can start a log jam.

Secondly, the thought that I can find someone to do it cheaper. We have all heard the saying about if the work is done cheap, it may be good but not fast, etc. There is always someone out there that knows someone that would do the work for half the cost, but then you are following up weekly to see if the work is completed. Or, the work gets done and then you are calling the guy back because the facility was unhappy with the final product.

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

The collaboration is great. Having the ability to meet total strangers whether it be on LinkedIn or at facility conferences and they become your best friends. Not because you work together, but because you share common interests. Our team consistently says it is the networking with other people who do what we do that changes how we view things from our lenses.

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

There are not a whole lot of changes I would make. If there was one thing, I would say educational opportunities. Find ways to help first-timers learn, grow, and become adaptive in this new environment.

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

Put a greater emphasis on the work they do and how they are essentially the lifeblood of the industry. A facility-related emergency can shut down an office in an instant. Most look at the role as being a cost center: “All you do is cost us money.” If an office is not in great condition due to poor upkeep or an office is down due to a facility-related emergency, it too costs.

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

Technology is already playing a large role in the industry, but I can see that growing over time. With all the changes taking place with ESG, facilities teams will be looking for more ways to conserve on energy and cash.

What are you most proud of?

Just being a part of something that has an impact. I work with a small team, but you would never know it due to everyone’s work ethic and intelligence. It is rewarding to talk to other FMs in the industry and share with them the number of locations we have vs. the number of people we must support. It really is an elite group. One I am very proud to be a part of.

Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?

Be a sponge. Take in anything and everything. Something deemed unimportant now may be useful down the road.

Find a mentor. Allow yourself to be corrected and educated by someone who has been around the industry for a while (5+ years).

Anything else you’d like to add?

Looking back on my high school years, I wish there was an opportunity to explore facility or trade roles. Even in the small town I am from, the education system never really aided kids in exploring alternative roles outside of accounting, teaching, and farming. I have seen other great facility- or trade-specific seminars, but I have not seen anything like that around. I feel it is doing us a disservice that this is not discussed more openly at the high school level. I may need to start my own introduction class here!

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *