FM Spotlight

Sally Fisher — American Red Cross

Published on: November 3, 2016

This month’s FM spotlight is Sally Fisher, Former Vice President of Real Estate Services for the American Red Cross.

On assignment, she transformed facilities operations across the 1300 facilities with just under 14 million square feet. With over 300 volunteers contributing to maintaining the facilities, Sally built a professional organization of 83 people to lead asset management, transactions and sourcing. She is currently on sabbatical, looking for her next opportunity in RE&F.

“Sally is a progressive and dynamic manager. She has a great ability to quickly organize and drive change through putting teams and systems together in a cohesive manner that shows fast results. Sally has great expertise across all aspects of Corporate Real Estate and Facilities. She also has a knack for quickly identifying needs, motivating teams, and leading across corporate functions. What she sets into play is poised for long term, sustainable results. Her work ethic is second to none and her passion for the job is contagious." - Linda Ambalong, Senior Director, Real Estate Services, American Red Cross

What is one thing that no one knows about you?
“After high school, I had this amazing opportunity to move to Germany. First to learn the language, which I had taken in high school, then to attend a Fachhochschule to begin my studies in social psychology. It was quite an adventure. It shaped my interest in working across cultures. That has remained a strong passion throughout my career.”

How did you get into the Facilities field?
“I came to the field later in my career and absolutely fell in love with it. After earning an MBA in finance, I went to work as a Financial Asset Manager in a family office for several wealthy and successful entrepreneurs. It was there that I was first introduced to corporate real estate holdings. I found the asset class to be of such interest that I pursued a second masters in real estate. This led me to join JLL in their corporate occupier services, where I had a chance to greatly accelerate my career by working with many large global corporations, building performance practices across strategic planning, construction management and facilities operations.”

Tell us about a favorite project highlight.
“When I first joined Pfizer, they were struggling with a number of large property dispositions. The 350 acres and nearly 2.5 million square foot property at Pearl River was just one of them. The team had proposed a sale-leaseback and had just finished an RFP process. The results, however, did not seem to align well with the business objectives and the desired length of the leaseback was an issue for the manufacturing division, that was looking to exit in five years. With my development experience, I proposed instead to sell to a developer and divide the property so the R&D division could retain ownership of the three core buildings for their exclusive use. Last November, Pfizer announced the successful execution of this plan. A financial win for Pfizer to meet the deadline for manufacturing by selling 200 acres and the 2 million square feet associated with that division, while continuing to hold the critical operations of R&D at a lower operating cost than a leaseback would have afforded. In addition, it better supports Rockland County and the economic prospects in that community.”

What is your greatest success story?
“I just spent a couple of years supporting the American Red Cross. Though the position was intended to be transitional, the transformation for the organization was meant to have lasting impact. With the help of the senior executives, I led the organization to build out a professionally organized and managed real estate and facilities function. One of the tougher aspects was attracting talent out of the private sector who were both at the right place in their careers to take on non-profit management, but also had the skills to manage a portfolio of over 1300 facilities. While we did this, we also consolidated facilities at the national headquarters in Washington D.C. Netting nearly $300 million to the organization, modernizing the infrastructure of the remaining buildings, and transitioning over 2,500 employees into open-address, neighborhood settings.”

Tell us about a challenge or obstacle that you face in the Real Estate/Facilities world.
“Agility in facilities management has always been a challenge and is only becoming even more so. The built environment will always be more rigid than the speed of business. Keeping up with the business changes is getting more challenging as the planning cycles for business are becoming shorter. It can often take additional upfront capital investments to build out facilities in anticipation of the need for agility or we end up with write-offs and having to sublet costs. The exciting part of this, however, comes from the advancements we are making in workplace practices and in the use of technology in facilities operations. Challenges bring out the best in us as we have to innovate to be successful.”

What learning experience would you pass onto future FM’s?
“If you are in corporate facilities management, then it is about the business. Take an interest in following the industry of your company and learning the business acumen that matters most to the competitive environment of the business. No matter how your career may evolve, you’ll be better equipped to respond to it. All in all, do what you enjoy most, as the passion you have for what you are doing is something most will respect.”

Interviewed by Sonya Verny of IA Interior Architects, IFMA NYC Secretary.