This year at The VNMC Conference (Virtual National Mail Center Conference) I had the pleausre of interviewing Gene Robbins from Providence College. Gene is the Executive Director of Buisness Services for Providence College. He was instrumental in getting approved a 593 door intelligent, contactless, locker solution for his newly renovated mail center. Read our interview below for insight into how a large project like this gets approved.
Jennifer Young: Thank you for joining us for this VNMC session titled Keys to Justify Resources – Interview with Decision Maker. Now I would now like to introduce our guest today Gene Robbins from Providence College. Welcome Gene thanks for joining us today also!
Gene Robbins: Good afternoon, Jennifer. Thanks for having me here.
Jennifer Young: So, let me start by asking you Gene what is your role with your college?
Gene Robbins: My title is the Executive Director of Business Services. In my role Purchasing, Card Services, CCTV, Copy Center and Mail Center report to me. I also work closely with the Dining Services and the Bookstore.
Jennifer Young: With a Title like yours does that mean the buck stops with you when the school implements something new? Or who else needs to be involved with a new project?
Gene Robbins: No, I still need to get approval. I report to the Asst. VP for Business Services who reports to the CFO.
Jennifer Young: Ok that is a good tip I think for our listeners to think about all who are involved in a decision-making process all the way up the chain of command instead of just thinking about presenting to the person you directly report to. Now let me ask you, I know firsthand of a big change your school made in the mail center this past year. You implement a 593-door intelligent contactless locker solution with Brynka. So, what started those initial conversations about a solution of that magnitude for your school?
Gene Robbins: So, in this instance, the Mailroom started to report about 3.5 years ago. I was familiar with the Mailroom, but not their processes. I started to spend more time viewing the Mailroom in action and started asking many, many, many questions. Usually they begin with, Why do this, Why do you do it this way? How do they do it? So, we tinkered with some process changes, to make incremental improvements, but it needed major changes. In this instance, I was the one pushing for the changes in the Mailroom. Around this time my Mailroom supervisor was also getting ready to retire.
Jennifer Young: Ok interesting so I think that is a really great point you bring up Gene, to take the time to get the person you report to interested in what your department is doing. You basically did that on your own but it might be valuable for people to think about getting their boss the knowledge of what is or isn’t working within your department so they can get invested in making changes with you instead of maybe fighting the changes you want that might seem not necessary to someone without that knowledge. Now once you are on board with considering a new idea like this what do you need to put together for your bosses to consider the new project or idea?
Gene Robbins: So, I began talking to other local schools, watching webinars, about changes in the Mailroom. I reached out to various professional organizations in higher education, like NACUMS and NACAS and see what others were doing. From there I started to form my ideas what I wanted it to look like.
Jennifer Young: Ok great another excellent reminder to do your research and you gave us a lot of good ideas about the types of research that can be done. Look to what your competition is doing, any free information that is available online like webinars and I love that you mentioned looking to professional organizations like you mentioned NACUMS And NACAS. I know there are even more organizations like that in fact on NACUMS website NACUMS.org they have a tab called resources and then Regional Associations listed there which even contain local chapters that are all over the country. So, Gene, If you could give one piece of advice to manager’s that are trying to get procurement to consider implementing any new ideas they have, what would that be?
Gene Robbins: Share the research you find with others. I had shared my thoughts and visions about what I thought was possible and why I thought it was necessary. People on campus had been in our Mailroom and knew what we had, but what I think what really helped was going for a ride and showing my AVP what was out there, to see what was possible. I think there is a wow factor when you can see it action and compare it and talk to actual end users.
Jennifer Young: Love that tip it sounds like you were educating people within the chain of command along the way not just continuing to ask for money for a project. I always think the more time and energy people allocate to a project the more they want to take ownership of seeing it to fruition, I know that is the case even with myself. So, what do you think is the biggest mistake you see manager’s make when they are proposing a new idea?
Gene Robbins: I think it could be not taking a chance. If we do not change with the times and take calculated risks, chances we are falling behind. It is easy to keep doing the same thing over and over, because we know the process.
Jennifer Young: I like that calculated risk, because let’s face it anytime change is involved there is risk involved but by doing your research like you did, covering all your bases and partnering with the companies that will be a good fit for you, you can really make that risk minimal. And we all know the saying No Risk, No Reward so there is something to be said about needing to take calculated risk for the greater good sometimes. So, in your opinion Gene would it help or hinder a manager to communicate to you their level of commitment to a new idea by taking more control of the project?
Gene Robbins: I think it would be a huge help. The more the managers and staff are vested in a project or an idea the better. I think if they show their passion, desire, and commitment for a project like this, they will do everything in their power to make it a success. I become more confident they will figure out the bumps and obstacles that come up during the project.
Jennifer Young: Yes, I agree, you know me Gene, I can be a passionate person by nature, and I know not everyone is, maybe that is the Philly in me, but I really do believe that passion and taking ownership for an idea is critical when pitching a new project to your boss. For those of you that know my boss Brenda Fick the President of Brynka, you can ask her when I have a new idea about something she never hears the end of it. But I imagine it is harder for some personality types to speak up about something they feel passionate about, so that is a great reminder. Now being in procurement Gene, you know about budgets and what money if any is available at any given time. And I assume with a school your size there is probably always a list of needs and wants at any given moment. So, what is it that will fast track an idea to the top of a list like that?
Gene Robbins: I think the biggest thing is, how it’s going to benefit our students. How their student experience is better, because of this project. In our case, the lines do not exist anymore. We used to have line out the door maybe 40 people or more at times. Students standing the in the snow or rain. They might have to come back because we could not find a package. Now, the students can come into our Mail Center 24/7 to pick up their package. It spreads the pickup times out over the course of the day. They really do enjoy the new system
Jennifer Young: That is awesome so happy to hear the students are loving your new solution there at Providence College. And so thankful to you Gene for sharing all your insights with us today. I really hope this inspires some to consider new ways to pitch new ideas, aspirations, or dreams for your mail center to those within your chain command. If you would like more info watch Providence College video case study to see this awesome transformation Gene got approved for his school.