News Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Eric English

This summer, the Operational Excellence website is featuring a series of staff spotlights: stories about staff members who’ve taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations. Read more SMU staff spotlights

Few departments at SMU have undergone more change in the past eight years than Facilities. Eric English’s career reflects that change.

English started working at SMU in 1996 as a painter. He was promoted to facilities building inspector in 2003 and then, in 2006, became environmental services manager, overseeing the custodial and sustainability departments. In 2010, a large portion of Facilities was outsourced to Aramark, and he became Aramark’s operational excellence and sustainability manager. Eighteen months later, he left to take a position as the building and grounds manager at Parkland Hospital. After five years away, he returned to SMU’s Facilities Department in April to become director of maintenance and grounds.

It’s a big job, encompassing landscaping, pools and fountains, fleet management, office moves, trash and recycling collection, sports turf, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, locksmiths, building maintenance repairs and more. English oversees more than 50 managers, supervisors and staff members as well as outsourced custodial and landscape personnel.

Four months into his new role, English says he has noticed a positive transformation in Facilities’ business model. “How we did business in the past is certainly different from how we do it today,” he says. “We are much more focused on customers – students, faculty and staff – to make sure they have the best possible educational/work environment.”

One significant change that English and his team have implemented in the past several months is expansion of maintenance coverage. “Whereas before we had two people who worked weekdays only, we now have four people and shifts that handle weekends as well,” he says. “We can now provide coverage seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to midnight every day. We can respond to most emergency requests much faster because staff is now on site instead of having to be called to come to campus. That’s particularly important for calls regarding leaks and flooding, which are actually our most common emergencies.”

English says one of the chief advantages of the new structure is the leadership. “I have great leaders to lean on, along with fellow peers,” he says.

With leadership support, English says he and his team are working to make improvements in a number of areas. “For example, we are focusing on reducing the number of call-backs, making sure the work is done right the first time,” he says. “We are also responding to work orders more quickly, and making sure we have clear communication with our customers so they understand the status of their work requests.”

The biggest challenge, he says, has been changing the mindset and culture of how tasks should be performed. “It is difficult to get people to change, especially when they have been doing things a certain way for a long time. However, I am encouraged with the way we are moving toward being more proactive and more productive.”

As an example, he says, his department is creating a strong preventive maintenance program. “We will be able to extend the life of equipment and reduce repair calls by setting up regularly scheduled maintenance checks on a variety of items,” he says. “It’s like taking your car in for scheduled service – do that and your car will run more efficiently and have fewer problems.”

As his department continues to evolve, English says he is setting a number of goals for himself and his team. “My immediate goals range from building a strong recycling program and improving our floor care program to teaching staff to be good stewards of University funds (which will allow us to reduce costs), streamlining processes and developing training programs for staff. All of these things will take time, but we are focused on making steady progress to keep improving our service.”

And he is happy to be at SMU once again. “I love the SMU community and the people here – it’s what brought me back,” he says. “SMU has a real family atmosphere. It’s why people stay so long, and, like me, want to return!”

News Staff Spotlight

SMU Staff Spotlight – Vali Dicus

This summer, the Operational Excellence website is featuring a series of staff spotlights: stories about staff members who’ve taken on new leadership roles since the implementation of OE2C and are helping bring more innovation and efficiency to campus operations.

SMU is a family affair for Vali Dicus (’84). “Both of my twins, Beau and Cady, my husband, father, brother, two nephews, and one niece are also alumni of SMU,” said Dicus. “SMU is more than just a job to me. It has been a part of my life as long as I can remember.”

After finishing her B.B.A. at SMU, Dicus went to work for Arthur Andersen and completed her CPA, allowing her to audit many types of businesses. She later held posts with Greyhound and Allied Pilots Association and then spent years doing contract work for numerous companies while raising her family. In 2004, after serving as co-chair for her 30th SMU reunion, she got to know some of the Development and External Affairs (DEA) staff. “The next year, DEA needed temporary staff to help with homecoming and asked me if I would be interested,” said Dicus. “This led me to doing temporary work for SMU in various areas of DEA until I took a full-time position as the coordinator for the DEA Integrated Marketing department in July 2009.”

Her roles at SMU continued to evolve and change. “In 2014, I had just moved from being an accounting specialist for DEA to serving as the assistant financial officer for Residence Life and Student Housing (RLSH),” said Dicus. “Within a couple weeks, my position was pulled into Shared Services, where my additional duties included Benefits accounting and implementing the new TouchNet eCommerce system. It was a challenge taking on those new responsibilities! I worked hard to learn everything and stay focused and organized.”

“She is a true unsung heroine,” said colleague Bobbie Watson, financial reporting accountant in the Controller’s Office. “She almost single-handedly helped many areas on campus convert to TouchNet credit card processing over a very short period of time, while juggling two or three other demanding jobs simultaneously, including RLSH support and an assignment in Benefits.”

Then, last fall, several positions opened up for financial business managers in the Academic Support unit of Budget and Finance. “Although I hated to leave the work I was doing, I had always hoped that one day I would have the opportunity to take on a higher level role for a school or division, and I decided to apply for one of the positions,” said Dicus. “My new position as financial business manager for Simmons School of Education and Development allows me to handle financial reporting and budget management for the entire Simmons school rather than smaller pieces as I have done in the past.”

Dicus said she has learned a great deal in the reorganization. “The Shared Services initiative gave me an opportunity to use and improve my skills,” she said. “I appreciate the fact that the Business and Finance leadership took the time to look at my background as a whole when the Shared Services initiative started. This change gave me the chance to learn and do things I would have never been able to do under the old structure. I was able to do multiple jobs that had totally different subject matter. Since I love to multitask, this was good for me. In my newest role, I am looking forward to handling more analytical issues.”

On her experiences working with various departments across campus, Dicus said, “I had been working in DEA for around 10 years and loved the people. I was really sad to leave that group and thought I would never be able to create those kinds of relationships in a work environment again. However, each area I have been in during the transition has been great. I was only in RLSH for a short time but made some wonderful friendships. The group in Shared Services proved that accountants can have a sense of humor! Although I haven’t gotten to know the people in Simmons very well yet, I have come to the conclusion that SMU is full of fantastic people.”

Dicus believes having all the financial staff work under the same umbrella is a good thing. “We now have a peer network and can develop procedures to do things in a standardized manner across campus,” said Dicus. “When I was in DEA, I was hesitant to approach Business and Finance staff. Now that I am part of the same unit, I feel more comfortable asking questions and have a better understanding of the bigger financial picture. As financial business manager of Simmons, I want the Simmons faculty/staff to feel that I am ‘serving’ them and am a part of their team, too. Also, I think the new structure could give the leadership of Business and Finance the ability to create more opportunities for a career path for financial staff.”

In her new role, Dicus will become intimately acquainted with the financial matters at Simmons. “We have a new dean, Stephanie Knight, starting in August,” she said. “I want to understand her expectations from Shared Services and do my best to provide her, and the entire school, with what they need.”