Two weeks ago I found out that we were about to lose both our morning and afternoon security guards, who have worked for many years at our five story, 114,000 square foot downtown Boston office building. The new owners authorized the management company to bid out all support contracts, including security, resulting in a different firm winning the right to protect us, for less money, of course. Our investment company represents only 9% of the space, not nearly enough, unfortunately, for me, as CEO, to exert any major influence. Since I learned about the changing of the guards, so to speak, I’ve donned the mantle of tenant activist in an effort to keep Jack and Philippe at their posts.
Why is this important to me or to any manager? The first and last person we see every workday is our security guard, who sits just inside the stately entrance of our building, which originally housed one of the daily newspapers in Boston. Every morning, sometimes as early as 6:30, Jack greets me enthusiastically, inquiring about my commute or weekend, commenting on the weather, sports, events and building updates. As I enter the elevator, almost always, I feel more positive because of that exchange; I assume Jack has that effect on the few hundred people who walk through that doorway, including my colleagues. Philippe, in the afternoon, is equally friendly, but very calm, with a big dimpled smile for everyone, many of whom stop and chat for a minute, before they exit for the night.
I appreciate how both men raise a mundane, low paying job into an uplifting, multi-tasking, goodwill ambassador-like position. They boost morale at my and several other companies every day, and I am grateful for their help. Not only is it logical to assume, but many studies have shown that happy workers are more productive. In addition to their positive impact on my colleagues, I also believe that Jack and Philippe add value through their friendly and professional approach with our clients and guests coming through the lobby. .
At the risk of sounding like a 1950’s comic book female character, they make me feel safe. Just this morning, as I started to tell Jack that there was a car parked precariously in the street outside the building, he told me that he had tried to get the woman to move her car but she was asleep, or passed out, the doors were locked, and he had called the police. Safety, in today’s anxiety-filled world, is among our top priorities, and these men are very alert to potential incidents.
My biggest surprise has been the attitude of the building management and new owners, who just paid $30 million for the asset. Although trade publications strongly advocate creating positive relationships with tenants, early signs suggest that our new owners may not be following their colleagues’ advice.
Perhaps they only care about cutting operating expenses wherever possible, padding the bottom line, and flipping the building, as the prior owner did after just 3 years. Are the economics of this decision compelling? The operating costs will likely exceed $1,100,000 this year, which means that saving $5,000 a year on security guard salaries (my estimate) would be worth under half of a percent to net income. In contrast, our company alone, occupying half a floor, pays rent of over eight times the average annual salary for a unionized security guard in Boston (and our rent isn’t particularly high)!
The owners and managers don’t work in the building. They visit. My colleagues and I work here, as do close to 300 other people, so I turned to them to help influence the decision makers. I talked to Jack, who maintained that he would like to stay but thought he only had a few more days at our site. I contacted the presidents of two of the larger firms in the building who agreed to take part in my activist campaign. We all wrote to or spoke with our building manager, and I requested a call with one of the owners, pitching him on the potential cost benefit and tenant goodwill.
Every day we continued to press our case, which began to pay off – the management offered Jack a contract that he accepted. We are all very happy to have him in place. According to Philippe, who took a position with the former security firm, no one from the new firm or the management company has called him directly to offer him his old job back. Why should a dignified man who earns $15 an hour, and you can do that math, have to beg for his job? His replacement, who might be a black belt in karate, (although he certainly doesn’t look it) is dour and totally disinterested in any of us as we leave the building at the end of the day. Instead of ending my workday with a Philippe’s big smile and “see you tomorrow” I feel slightly letdown. We’ll see what happens next.