How I Got Here: St Mary’s College maintenance manager Greg on having pride for a job

by Helena Morgan
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Some people think facilities and operations managers just make sure the lifts are running and the lights are on. In reality, an FM wears many hats. From space management to sustainability and security in the built environment, responsibilities can vary from FM to FM. It’s a career full of opportunity that takes people down many different paths.

Facility Management’s ‘How I Got Here’ series chats to impressive people who have worked in the field to map out some of the paths taken and demystify this essential profession.

If there’s one thing that irks St Mary’s College maintenance manager Greg, it’s the tendency for people to label facility and maintenance managers as “handymen”. It is a somewhat denigrating and reductionist stereotype that conjures images of a Groundskeeper Willie-esque character – although a humorous association, it’s far from the truth.

The term ‘handyman’ not only dismisses the years Greg spent studying as an apprentice and his subsequent qualification as a certified tradesman, but it ignores the fact that a maintenance manager’s role requires attentiveness and empathy and is complex, sophisticated and integral to the operations of a facility. For Greg, this facility is St Mary’s College, a co-educational academic residential college at the University of Melbourne. 

Greg is a warm and disciplined man, brimming with love, pride and respect for a satisfying role that he has enjoyed more than any other job in his life. 

“I feel like I’ve got ownership over the job and I care about it – it’s the best workplace I’ve ever worked in,” he says. 

Greg has been with St Mary’s College for nearly twenty years.

A resourceful one-man band 

Greg had an industry start as an electrician apprentice, before working as a maintenance electrician for a rubber manufacturing factory that operated 24/7. He remembers this gig as a tough and relentless job, as he was tasked with ensuring the machines and plant functioned seamlessly. 

A move to the Queen Victoria Hospital – eventually becoming the Monash Medical Centre – saw Greg continue in the electrical maintenance field. He stayed at the centre for 10 years. 

Following a brief – and no doubt illustrious – stint as a house husband after the birth of his youngest son, Greg wired houses, which he found to be challenging and unfulfilling. Almost 20 years ago now, he spotted an advertisement in the newspaper for an electrician, plumber and carpenter role at St Mary’s College and jumped at the opportunity. 

“I’m a one-man band here, so if something breaks, I fix it or I organise someone to come and fix it,” says Greg. 

St Mary’s courtyard is renowned on the college crescent.

He reports to the college’s operations manager Lindsay, a former air traffic controller at Tullamarine and the object of immense praise and respect in Greg’s eyes. The friendly and warm working relationship between the two results in an alert and proactive dynamic duo. 

“Lindsay is one of the best managers I’ve ever worked with because he knows how to talk to people,” says Greg. “He really listens to people and runs the operations beautifully.”

The pair embrace an enjoyable and albeit difficult task, attending to the maintenance of a residential campus home to 160 students, which offers no shortage of heartwarming and often funny interactions. The need for knock-off drinks and nourishing winter comfort food reigns supreme, alongside the need for an adequately warm or chilled dorm room. 

“Between him and I, we just try to keep ahead of the curve and do preventative maintenance,” says Greg. 

Preventative maintenance at a multi-purpose site

Preventative maintenance is a term thrown around in the wonderful world of facility management and it entails different things for different facilities, yet for Greg’s small but mighty one-man show, it mainly involves attending to the instantaneous water heaters. 

This form of preventative maintenance was of topical concern the day Greg spoke to Facility Management, as the boiler was faulty, which scarily means no heating. 

The college dining room.

A blocked filter at a residential college with more than 100 bodies attempting to balance bouts of furious studying with letting one’s hair down is less than ideal, so this necessitates constant check-ins and maintenance. “Once a week I clean the filters and make sure they’re running,” says Greg.

Pest control, fire system and kitchen inspections are additional preventative maintenance tasks that Greg completes monthly. The kitchen is dense with plant equipment such as machinery and ovens.

Understanding limits in maintenance management 

Greg says it is perilous to rely on an ‘all-rounder’ in the maintenance management of a large site such as St Mary’s College as the creation of this role assumes that someone possesses the knowledge and expertise of plumbing, electric and mechanical work.

Creating a homogenised ‘all-rounder’ role risks eclipsing the discipline, specificity and complexity of the plumbing and electrical specialities.

“Unless you’re a plumber, you shouldn’t really be plumbing and the same goes with electricity – you shouldn’t be messing around,” he says. “I’ll do basic plumbing here, but anything major, I get a contractor in.”

Greg and Lindsay believe in leveraging off external help and assistance, and not being apprehensive and stubborn to call in “the experts”.

Comforted by the routine 

As discovered in Facility Management’s ‘How I Got Here’ and ‘Meet Your Local FM’ series,  the notion of an average day as a facility manager is a fallacy, yet not for Greg at St Mary’s.

“I love the routine, because I’ve had jobs where you don’t know what your day holds,” he says.

The routine and structure of the facility speaks to the multi-purpose nature of St Mary’s – it functions as a residency, industrial kitchen, a garden and an office space. 

“It’s a weird little place. We’re not like industry – we have very little plant in terms of air conditioning,” says Greg.

His morning routine features laps around the premises and cleaning up rubbish before seeing to any tasks in the maintenance request book, which is where students log in jobs such as broken bedroom doors and faulty heating systems.

A cherished daily tradition demonstrates the warmth and intimacy that unites the maintenance, cleaning and reception team – the eight-person team shares morning tea and lunch together every day. 

The college common room.

Avoiding reliance on band-aid solutions 

Greg recalls the renovations that transformed the college from a tired and lifeless facility into a vibrant and lively space that offers students a sense of comfort as a home away from home. These renovations also made him realise the futility of employing band-aid solutions in maintenance. 

“When we pulled all the building apart, you saw the pipes that had had rubber things wrapped around and were leaking,” says Greg.“If something breaks, we don’t band-aid it, we fix it properly, or you might do a band-aid for a week until you can get a contractor in.” 

He surmises that maintenance teams opt for short-term solutions due to the fear of spending money. Facilities is widely recognised as the only department in a company that doesn’t make any money, yet merely requests money, prompting Greg to admit truth in the characterisation of facilities being a “necessary evil”.

“They’ve got to have us, but we don’t make any money. We cost them,” he says. 

Greg effectively manages 160 separate ‘homes’.

A one-man band managing 160 homes 

There’s no shortage of humorous anecdotes when you mix maintenance and people in their early twenties. Greg tells a story from a few months ago when a student was using a fire sprinkler in their room in a curious and somewhat nifty way.

“The student was routinely hanging his clothes on the fire sprinkler and he went to get his shirt and yanked it, so water was going everywhere!”

He speaks of the peculiarity of managing 160 different homes, as each student has their own room that comes with a unique set of maintenance issues. The majority of the time Greg attends to maintenance issues in people’s rooms in their absence, as he is cautious and mindful of being in someone’s personal space. 

“I’m working virtually in people’s homes. It always puts me at ease when someone is willing to have a chat,” he says. 

Exploitation in hotel maintenance management 

Greg’s background in attending to electrical maintenance in hotels and hospitals left him frankly startled and disheartened by the business philosophy and working conditions of particular hotels. The industry’s lack of award standards meant corner-cutting, exploitation and crippling pressure was commonplace.

“Hotels were a totally different beast – nearly every hospitality worker was working odd hours with no extra pay,” he remembers. “There’s really no care factor. Management wants their blood.”

The allure of profit coupled with a lazy adherence to work standards meant guests were often slotted into rooms at the expense of safety and presentation standards. 

“I found that it was just all about getting a client into the room,” says Greg. 

“If there’s a leak, they would put a bucket in the roof – you’re trying to do the right thing, but they want to put people in rooms. We would be sending people into rooms with paint still wet.”

Greg is grateful for the warmth and intimacy of the St Mary’s community in comparison to other workplaces and salutes the leadership and management of Lindsay. 

Landscape maintenance is involved in Greg’s job.

Engagement with compliance and sustainability in maintenance 

Greg says an evolution of compliance standards has been a noticeable and necessary change to maintenance over the past 20 years and has resulted in greater responsibility and accountability. 

“When I was doing this 20 or 30 years ago, there weren’t as many standards,” he says. “Now by law you have to do so many things fortnightly and monthly.”

The practice of testing and tagging is now commonplace, which 20 years ago was virtually non-existent. “If you’ve got anything with a plug on it, any kitchen equipment, you’ve got to have someone come in and test everything in the building,” says Greg. 

Sustainable maintenance practices are predictably another noticeable change – a new Dean to St Mary’s has spearheaded environmentally responsible habits, such as waste management, into action.

The power of a renovation 

When reflecting on his career, Greg cites a key highlight as the interim year between Queen Victoria Hospital closing and Monash Medical Centre opening. He remembers an extensive learning process, wherein, donned in ‘civvies’ and sans work gear, he absorbed the inner mechanics and operational efficiency of a site.

“We were going out with the contractor and seeing how the place was put together and how to operate everything,” says Greg. “We were getting handed over to a brand new modern hospital.”

Greg recalls being delighted and inspired by the business management system for preventative maintenance – a modern technology marvel – alongside acquiring a high voltage licence as a young electrician. 

St Mary’s has a resident pooch, Henry the golden retriever.

“My highlight sounds boring, but I had to complete a big training course to get a high voltage licence and operate the high voltage,” he says. “And just realising that as a young electrician, that you’re working on high voltage and it’s dangerous, is exciting.”

He also revels in the aforementioned renovation periods at St Mary’s that began in 2010 and effectively provided a richer living and working experience for students and staff. “It was just great watching us go from an old tired building to a modern building,” says Greg.

A job with longevity and growth 

Greg is forever grateful for the warm atmosphere of St Mary’s and defines it as a job with longevity and growth. It keeps him young and alert and he feels nurtured from interacting with a compassionate team. He applies meticulous care and attention to his work and is chuffed to say he has a best friend in the college chef, John.

“It’s the only job I’ve ever really liked. And when I got here, I thought, I hope this sees me out, and it will,” says Greg.  

Photography supplied by St Mary’s College. 

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