Member Spotlight

My Journey to the CFM

My Journey to the CFM

By Jim Rizzi, CFM 

Hello, I am Jim Rizzi, fellow IFMA member, and recently earned the coveted CFM designation (I passed my test last August). For the past two years, I have been serving as the Head of Facilities at the prestigious Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience in Jupiter, Florida. But today, I am looking forward to a new chapter that will begin soon. Before I discuss this new opportunity, I would like to tell you a little about myself and my career over the past 30 years.

As a young child, I always dreamed of traveling around the US and to foreign lands. I guess that is why in 1984, I became a Construction Electrician in the United States Navy Seabees. Based out of Gulfport, Mississippi, I made six to nine-month deployments to beautiful places, including Hawaii, Midway Island, Panama, and Puerto Rico. The Navy satisfied my desire to travel and taught me well-deserved lessons such as personal responsibility and discipline. I also learned the importance of a good work ethic (the Seabee motto is “Can Do”). Not sure who the Seabees are? please visit:

After a five-year enlistment, I moved back to Michigan and worked as a maintenance electrician for a large county government in the Detroit area. I enjoyed my work, but one day, with the urging of a couple of “older” coworkers and listening to their complaints about climbing ladders, their aches, and pains (they were my age now), I decided to take college courses in hopes of moving into a supervisory role. At the time, there weren’t many (if any) universities offering a Facilities Management degree program, so I chose business management. After taking several courses, I eventually moved around the country (going on my fifth state) and into multiple leadership positions in the semiconductor, test lab, healthcare, and life-sciences industries.

Fortunately, I got the opportunity to work with some really good project teams as each of these organizations was embarking on capital construction projects. This is where I realized the value of operational input. Another way of putting it is by working with the project teams by giving operational input related to facilities operations, thus keeping the project focus on organizational missions, especially during value-engineering exercises. I liken it to airplane manufacturing. The people building airplanes don’t necessarily know how to fly them. Likewise, the people building your facilities don’t necessarily know how to run them. Project teams need and want your input, and who better to provide that information than you? After all, nobody better understands how your organization operates and which standards or requirements you will need to meet.

At one hospital, I was responsible for a large construction project while managing facilities operations with about 50 union employees. We finished on time, on budget, and met the expectations of all stakeholders. This project was so successful that it won the 2005 Build Michigan Award. What a great team! My education and experience helped me in many ways. But, I had to learn on-the-fly to make strategic decisions associated with capital projects and facilities management. This is where my CFM training would have helped.

I now look forward to new challenges and responsibilities in a global facility and engineering role for a pharmaceutical manufacturer with sites in the US and UK. This is a strategic role in managing facilities and construction projects as this company continues to grow in the booming pharma industry rapidly. As stated, this is a strategic position responsible for long-term planning and assisting the C-Suite in steering the company. While being interviewed for this position, I was asked if my experience would be useful in the United Kingdom to which I replied that my certification as a CFM is international and that most municipalities in Florida have adopted the International Building Code. His reply, “good answer.”

Will I be able to adapt and be successful in this role? The answer is yes. Yes, because I have the experience, education, and certifications needed to be successful. Not only have I been forced to think strategically in past and current positions.

How did I get here? I prepared for this day when signing up last spring for the CFM exam preparatory course (CFM Boot Camp). This is where I learned to truly consider facilities related decisions and scenarios from a strategic standpoint. Or, as we discussed in class, looking at decisions from 30,000 feet in the air where most C-suite managers sit.

The message of my story is: Through hard work, training, and education, one can move up the ladder into facilities management leadership roles. However, earning the CFM designation has led to the next level, a strategic role in executive management for a global organization.

Not bad for a kid from Detroit who joined the Navy to travel.

Best Regards,

Jim Rizzi, CFM

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