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Who’s in charge of the Chief?

If you own or manage a laundry and rely on a maintenance manager to put his arms around the functioning integrity of the equipment then you probably already know where the manager fits on the “organization chart”.

Where this key manager fits can determine the pool of candidates and compensation level needed to attract and keep a competent manager. Most of us appreciate the technological advances our industry has made which translate into less labor, utility and chemical costs. The catch is this same technology requires skilled technicians and a qualified manager, both of which are in diminishing supply.

In general terms there are three laundry environments a maintenance manager can find himself in. One is a standalone linen plant processing with conventional and / or tunnel washers and finishing with flatwork ironers. Most plants processing over 15 mm lbs annually, especially healthcare linen, will have one or more tunnel washers. A uniform rental plant, on the other hand, will typically process with conventional washers only and finish with steam tunnels and / or press equipment. The third environment is the OPL, and often the maintenance manager has dual responsibility over both the laundry and other areas of the institutional facility (hospital, hotel, resort, etc).

The trend for linen plants has been for the manager (referred to as the “Chief Engineer”) to report to the General Manager, instead of the Plant Manager. This allows the GM to better control repair and replacement cost decisions, sometimes for the sake of profit performance, but at the risk of short term “band-aids”. On the other hand if the Chief Engineer reports to the Plant Manager then there can be a unified front to the GM for equipment issues.

Good communication and teamwork can make or break the Chief reporting to the GM. For example, if the GM spends much time out in the field visiting clients, etc, then critical decisions may rely on cell phone conversations. Meanwhile, if the Plant Manager and Chief Engineer are left to protecting their own turf, then polarization can lead to infighting when priorities clash.

However, in terms of the Human Resource asset and potential talent search, if the Chief reports to the GM, there can be more flexibility with compensation. Instead of having to fit the salary cap under the Plant Manager, it allows the GM to put the Chief’s salary at or above the Plant Manager. Although there have been a few instances where companies have gone against “the book” and had a subordinate earning more than their respective manager, in most cases it causes heartburn with the respective manager. In the supply and demand of chief engineers, especially those with high volume tunnel washer expertise, the best strategy seems to be the Chief reporting to the GM.

Angelica Textile Services reconfigured their organization chart a year ago, creating a “super” GM to manage 2 to 4 plants as a Market VP. They in turn manage an Operations (facilities) Manager at each plant who is directly in charge of the production and maintenance departments. Most of these Managers were successful plant managers promoted to a higher level of responsibility.

Leon Johnson, a regional director of operations with Angelica, see the success of the reconfiguration based on the domain knowledge of the Operations Manager. Admittedly, if an operations manager is short on equipment knowledge they could unknowingly be outmaneuvered by a Chief Engineer. Leon encourages his managers to surround themselves with good sources of knowledge, including picking up the phone and calling him for advice and counsel.

Uniform rental plants tend to have head of maintenance set up as a maintenance supervisor, reporting to the plant manager. This type of plant has less equipment (e.g. no flatwork ironers) to contend with and typically less bottleneck issues which can be exasperated by sudden downtime periods. The plant manager in this environment needs to have a good understanding of equipment and repair issues, including electrical, mechanical and high pressure (boiler).

One educational option for plant managers, operations managers and even GMs to consider is TRSA / UTSA’s Maintenance Management Institute (MMI), a five day workshop held annually at the University of Maryland. Though largely attended by maintenance professionals, it can provide a basis for preventive and predictive maintenance management .

Often the most challenging equipment maintenance environment is the OPL, especially if there is not a fulltime chief engineer assigned to the laundry. It can be a constant struggle with the intuitional facility management to schedule a qualified technician to repair equipment in a timely manner. If prolonged downtime continues to be an exasperating issue, senior management from both the laundry side and the facility side need to have formal discussions regarding commitment to maintenance response time and, if necessary, to budget a fulltime maintenance tech assigned to the OPL.

No matter what the plant setting or where the chief fits in, make sure the maintenance head has a seat at the table when production and / or equipment topics are on the agenda, it will help everyone to make more informed decisions.

Craig Lloyd represents LaundryCareers.com, a management search firm specializing in the industrial / institutional laundry industry.  He holds a degree in Industrial Relations from Rider University and has been a Certified Personnel Consultant since 1979.

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

Textile Services Industry Gets National Spotlight

WILIMGTON, Mass. — Textile service executive Ronald Croatti recently appeared on the CBS-TV show “Undercover Boss.” Croatti is CEO of UniFirst Corp., in Wilmington, Mass. For most Americans watching “Undercover Boss” it was their first view inside a commercial laundry, which typically process between 10 million and 25 million pounds of uniforms, table linens, bed sheets, towels and more every year “The reusable textile services business is the original green industry,” said Ricci. “Commercial laundries reuse linen instead of filing landfills with disposable alternatives and continually discover new, innovative means to reduce energy consumption and recycle water. Our huge economies of scale allow laundries to use about two-thirds less water, energy and detergent than alternatives, such as washing at home, while hygienically cleaning textile products, improving disease control and reducing contamination.”