Even though Danny Rodriguez, vice president of engineering for MetroNational in Houston, has worked for the same company for nearly three decades, no two days are ever the same as he manages buildings ranging in size from to one story to 33 stories.
“I cover the whole gamut in terms of building size, from high-rise and mid-rise down to low-rise and one-story buildings,” says Rodriguez. Maintaining comfort levels in MetroNational buildings is his biggest responsibility. With a background in mechanical contracting, Rodriguez was able to easily transition to the engineering side of the business. “Because of my experience, it’s easier to review new construction plans and make comments on behalf of the owner as a representative.”
During his years at MetroNational, Rodriguez has been involved in ongoing new construction and management of existing buildings. With three new facilities currently under construction (a 20-story tower, a 12-story office building, and a 13-story hotel) and 12 additional buildings to oversee, he faces new daily challenges.
Q: How did you get started in facilities operations and management?
A: I started out as a mechanical contractor that was doing work for a MetroNational development. During the construction of that project, the company I was working for went out of business. So, back in 1986, MetroNational hired me to complete the job we had started. I got my license as a mechanical contractor to be able to do that. After I finished that job, MetroNational had another job for me. And after that job, they had another one. In 1994, they asked me to serve as the chief engineer over all of their facilities excluding Memorial City Mall: commercial office, medical office, residential, hospitality, and retail. I was hired as the chief engineer for MetroNational commercial, medical, and satellite retail properties. Shortly after that, the company started on a pretty strong construction curve, and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve working for MetroNational for 28 years, and am now the vice president of engineering.
Q: What are some of your biggest career accomplishments so far?
A: Being promoted to vice president of engineering is one achievement. Prior to my promotion, there was no vice president of engineering. The position was created and I was placed in it. I’m also proud of being involved in the design and construction phase of the company. In the last 10 years, I’ve been directly involved with several types of buildings. When we build a new building, whatever size it is, I make sure on the owner’s behalf that it’s being constructed and built right for future MEP operations. MetroNational has also won BOMA International’s Outstanding Building of the Year (TOBY) Award in 2003 and 2007, which we’re very proud of.
Q: Is there advice would you share with young professionals starting out in this industry?
A: Interacting with general contractors and tenants, as well as problem-solving for new construction, offer me an array of different challenges every day. Challenges like these are placed in front of you, and how you approach them will ultimately determine the success of the final product or solution. When a situation comes up, you have to take a step back, analyze it, weigh all the options, and then make a decision and run with it. It’s also important to get involved and network with industry professionals, both locally and nationally, through BOMA, ASHRAE, and local associations for chief operating engineers. It pays off to be involved, especially if you’re the the new guy coming in to the industry. I’m in a local association called the Association of Chief Operating Engineers; I became president in 2007, and then again in 2012 and 2013. BOMA is another good example. After being on the TOBY Award committee for several years, we were able to enter two buildings in the competition and win.
Q: What is the tallest building you’ve managed?
A: MetroNational’s tallest building is a 33-story tower called Memorial Hermann Tower. The biggest challenge we had with that building hit us during the construction phase – which was occurring when Hurricane Ike hit the area. We were up about 32 floors, and there were some unique issues there as far as completing the building during that time. But on the operations side, half of Memorial Hermann Tower is medical office and the other half is hospital space regulated by the Joint Commission. In this particular facility, we have two different electrical services, two domestic water systems, two separate central plants, etc. There is two of everything in this particular building because hospital state regulation requires that the hospital operate and maintain all its own equipment. It can’t be mixed with any other facility use.
Q: In your decades of experience, how have you seen the industry change?
A: When I started out, a building engineer or chief engineer was responsible for basic fire alarm and life safety systems, hot and cold calls, changing lamps, and basic maintenance items. Facilities have evolved into very smart buildings, so the occupation of the facilities engineer has changed dramatically as well. Fire alarm systems are computerized, along with CCTV, HVAC systems, and electrical systems. The typical facilities engineer is not what he once was. You have to be a qualified individual in order to operate these systems. All of the safety aspects now rest on the shoulders of the facilities operator. And buildings are going to get smarter and smarter. But no matter how smart they get, they’re still going to need personnel to operate them. Sustainability is also huge. Every building we build now is either LEED Silver or Gold. This is not going to stop; it will only keep going to net zero. The more we continue to keep up on that now and stay educated, the better we’re going to be as buildings evolve.