Industry veteran and long-time IAVM member John Robertson, CVE, will retire from his position as general manager of the Charleston (WV) Coliseum & Convention Center on October 23. IAVM invited this industry legend and friend to share thoughts about his career and relationships built within IAVM.
By John D. Robertson, CVE
I started working in the public facility management industry in 1978. I can still remember my interview for the job as assistant manager. I was 26-years-old and it would be my second job out of college. I drove up to the circle in front of the building only to be followed by the police, who cited me for driving with an expired inspection sticker. The office staff were all gathered at the large windows watching my embarrassing experience.
I thought that it was the end of that opportunity. The general manager put me at ease and laughed it off.
General Manager Chuck Kinder immediately exposed me to IAVM. I clearly remember him instructing me that if we ever received telephone calls from another building to return the call ASAP because they may need information or assistance. He went on to say that we may find ourselves in the same position. I carried this through my entire career.
My first annual conference was to Houston, Texas, in 1979, and I have attended every other convention except for two years. One of the things that struck me was at the business meeting the “principal” members were seated at the front of the room and other subordinate members were seated theater style in the back. We could not speak. The industry was controlled by the good old boy network and in many locales the positions of leadership in facilities was based on who you knew and not what you knew. The organization was much smaller.
I have watched the evolution of our industry which has been so dramatically influenced by IAVM. IAVM is member-driven and has been so responsible for making this work a professional occupation. The organization has provided so much opportunity for continuing education and networking which has impacted the members. These valued opportunities have only multiplied and have contributed to our expanded membership.
In the early days we operated with a contracted association management firm on a part-time basis. We moved to the employment of a full-time executive basically working by himself. Now we have a large full-time staff capable of delivering the services that allow us to adequately respond to the needs of our membership.
We have added incentive to our membership by allowing for professional certifications. In 1990 I received the designation of CFE. At that time less than 200 members had received it. Since that time we have improved the program and encouraged public assembly facility managers to seek this career milestone. Additionally, we now offer the CVP designed to encourage and recognize up and coming industry professionals. This achievement was a crowning achievement in my career.
I was selected by my peers in District 2 to serve on the International Board in 1996-1998. During this time the Board made the decision to build our own headquarters – a significant stretch at the time. I also served under our first female Chair of the modern era, Doris Stovall. I again served as a member of the Board from 2015-2018. Doug Booher selected me to serve on the Executive Committee in 2018 and I shall forever be grateful for that experience. During those years we established a new governance process for the Association, changed the name, and hired Brad Mayne.
During my time in the industry I hosted three district/region meetings. We were able to bring together Regions 1, 2, 3, and 5 for the first time in a “Super Region” meeting which I believe has proven beneficial in providing the critical mass necessary to deliver a good educational opportunity.
Yes, I have seen an evolution in our industry and Association. This evolution has provided diversity in membership and leadership. All members now have a vote, including our valued Allied members. IAVM now is recognized as a leader among all professional associations and is a respected spokesperson for our industry.
Most of all I cherish the lasting friendships I have developed over the years from fellow members. If I needed something I knew they had my back. I met my wife Kim in 1981 while working on the Inaugural Ball we hosted for Governor Jay Rockefeller. The lives of our children have been profoundly enriched by being exposed to activities and events in “Dad’s Building.” We invested more than $140 million dollars in capital improvements during my tenure.
But probably the most satisfaction was in a letter I received from a young professional that worked in our facility. It said in part: “A boss is just one word to describe our professional relationship but you were much more to me than just a boss. You were a mentor, a leader, and a friend. I believe that when I first met you in the lobby you saw something in me that I did not know I could accomplish at the time. I hope one day I can give someone the same opportunities that you gave me.”
I cried. This is the biggest tribute we can receive. Each member probably does this each day. Be a mentor to a young professional and it will forever impact our Association.