Chapter 05: University of Rochester and a First Experience with Health Care Institutions


Chapter 05: University of Rochester and a First Experience with Health Care Institutions



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Mr. Daigneau explains that he found himself at a crossroads at Greeley College when he realized that he did not want to advance to Vice President of Administration. He was approached by the University of Rochester to become Director of University Facilities, though the medical school and Strong Memorial Hospital were at the time administratively divorced from the rest of the University. He comments on how organizations can create silos, with negative consequences for efficiency. He recalls receiving an invitation from Strong Memorial to evaluate its facilities. Within six months of submitting his report, he was given true responsibility for directing all university facilities and merged all systems to create an integrated system with good efficiency. [The recorder is paused for about 7 minutes] Next Mr. Daigneau notes that executive management wants a physical plant manager to deliver results and solve problems, and over the course of his career he was successful in making problems disappear. He also observes that the main mission of a university is "not to build buildings, but to create and transfer knowledge." Facilities management can dovetail with administration and create opportunities for people and for income generation that can serve other purposes.



Publication Date



The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Professional PathProfessional Path; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Evolution of Career; The Administrator; Overview; Professional Practice; The Professional at Work; The Leader; On the Nature of Institutions; Fiscal Realities in Healthcare

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History


William Daigneau, MBA


So we spent eight years there, and then I got to another crossroads in my career, and that was the guy I reported to was the vice president for administration, and he was a good mentor. His name was Al Barnhart. He’s since passed away. And Al said, “I’m going to retire in a couple of years, and I think you could be a very solid candidate for the vice president for Administration.” I thought about that for a while, and said, “Do I want to run Information Technology, HR, residence halls?” I’m still basically an engineer by training. I like to build things. I tell people that I like to build things. I don’t care what it is. If it’s an organization, I like to build it. If it’s a building, I like to build it. If it’s a new process in maintenance, I like to build it. Anything, I like to do that. So do I want to run this stuff? Nah.

So at the time, I’d just come back from a World Bank tour of China, which the university supported me going to, and I got a job offer. An executive recruiter contacted me, and I got a job offer from the University of Rochester.

Now, this was a turning point for me because the University of Rochester not only had a university, but it has a big medical school and a hospital. So this was my first foray into the health side of things.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD


And what was the job you were assuming?

William Daigneau, MBA


I was the director of University Facilities. I held that title—the University of Rochester, very conservative. Nobody gets a vice president title. There are not assistant vice—at the time, there were none. You were either director, or you were a vice president, and there are only six vice presidents. (laughs) Everybody else is directors. So I went from assistant vice—some people say, “You took a step down,”—I really didn’t—“in title,” but my income—I always gauge my progress by income. My income went up dramatically, and my responsibilities went up dramatically. I went to a campus that was almost three times the square footage of the size I was leaving.

So I went to the University of Rochester. There, I continued to experiment with my management style, but I knew what worked by then in terms of—what happened was the medical school and the hospital, even though it was part of the university, had kind of divorced themselves from the rest of the university in terms of their facilities management, which is not uncommon. Even to this day, at most, you go to Duke University, you go to any of them, the medical school has its own facilities operation, and the university has another one. Well, that’s the way it was when I went to the University of Rochester.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD


What were the pros and cons of that, or was it, it just was?

William Daigneau, MBA


Well—which will lead into the MD Anderson story. The problem is that organizations—you’ve heard the terms silos—organizations create barriers by their existence—the boundaries of that organization. Sometimes the boundary is pretty impermeable. Most of the time, it is not. I mean, pretty permeable, but most of them, it’s impermeable. So organizationally it creates difficulties in information flow, coordination. That leads then to productivity problems, sometimes legal problems like unions. For example, the merger of Continental and United—they’re still not fully merged because they can’t get the union agreements. See? That’s an example of where the barrier is pretty impermeable.

So in the university setting, having these different facilities groups means that there’s competition, there’s lack of cooperation, there’s inefficiency, etc. And for higher management—for the executive level—it means that you don’t often get to a full solution of a problem because you get the partial solutions, you get the suboptimization. All these things start occurring because of those organizational boundaries.

So I went to the University of Rochester, and they had these—well, next thing I know—I mean—I’d only been there a year. Pretty soon reports coming back from the main campus—the academic campus—this new guy is solving problems, taking care of things here. Breath of fresh air. (laughs) It started filtering over into the medical school. The next thing I know, I get this invitation from the head of the hospital—Strong Memorial Hospital. He said, “Will you come over here and evaluate our facilities organization for us? No discussion about merger or anything like that. Just evaluate it for us.” So I wrote this thick report. At the time, I didn’t understand the value of executive summaries. (laughs) I figured if I had written it, it was worth reading. So I delivered it to them. Within six months of that report, I’m now truly the director of all university facilities.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD


Oh, wow.

William Daigneau, MBA


Yeah. I was basically given the task of addressing my recommendations. That’s the part—you make a recommendation—that’s why I love consultants, but I don’t want to be—even though I do consulting work, I really don’t want—I never wanted to be a consultant because it’s easy to make that recommendation because you’re not the one who had to implement it. So you get a bunch of these consultants that say, “Well, you should do this.” Well, that’s obvious, but how do you do that? “Well, that’s your problem.”

So I was given the job to implement those recommendations, which I did. I eventually merged everything. It took me probably a good four years to complete the complete integration, but it was achieved, and everybody was happy.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD


Wow. How long were you at Rochester?

William Daigneau, MBA


I was there seven years, until I went to MD Anderson.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD


Okay. Do you mind if we take a quick break?

William Daigneau, MBA



Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD


Okay, just want to pause here.

1:04:44.6 (end of audio)

[The recorder is paused for about seven minutes.]

(begin audio)

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD


Ready to roll again?

William Daigneau, MBA



Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD


All right. We’re back after a quick break, about seven, ten minutes, something like that. So you were talking about your experiences at the University of Rochester. I guess one of the questions I wanted to ask you—kind of a more global question related to a comment I made earlier about realizing that you could have an impact you larger institutional policies or directions through working with Physical Plant—I’m wondering about some ways in which you saw that happening at U of R, for example? You obviously were having connections with people who were very high up. They were in executive administration and were starting to rely on you very heavily. How did you see yourself having impact on some of those larger institutional issues?

William Daigneau, MBA


Well, you’ve probably heard this before, but management is looking for people, no matter what the business is, that can get results. So they don’t really want to hear about all the problems. Why they hired you is because somehow you can give them the results they need, and the people who do that routinely then are exposed—are included. They’re included into other things because people all of a sudden realize, well, if they could have fixed this for me—I kind of like their insights on things, so I think I’ll involve them in things other than what I brought them here to do because they’re good at seeing—they have good perspective on things. They see things I don’t see. So you find yourself being drawn in because you can show that you can apply sound solutions and get results. It’s no longer a problem for them.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt—which I found out—to point that out occasionally to folks. “Remember when nothing came in on budget?” “Oh, yeah, I remember those days.” “Have you seen that happen since?” “No.” So it doesn’t hurt to occasionally—it’s not blowing your own horn, but it is, in some ways, of subtly reminding people that this thing’s problem has disappeared. So that doesn’t hurt to do that.

I think what happened to me at almost all the places I ever worked is all of a sudden complaints and criticisms started disappearing. And for a lot of people, that means an executive you’re working with, or for, doesn’t have to spend their energy or time dealing with your stuff. “Just give it to Bill. It will be taken care of.” And they like that. They appreciate it. And also, when you look at, like, the university center, what’s the main mission here? It’s not to build buildings. Fundamentally, the whole business of higher education is to create and transfer knowledge. That’s the primary mission. So you’d like to think your president, your senior vice presidents, those people are focused on how best to accomplish that, not worrying if they’re going to have electricity tomorrow. (laughs) So in my business, if you can remove that concern from them, they’re very appreciative because they don’t have to worry about it.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD


Right. Well, and also, for example, in the case of cogeneration, you probably freed up some funds because of innovative uses of your knowledge.

William Daigneau, MBA


Also, you create money—money stream.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD


You create money that helps go toward the main mission.

William Daigneau, MBA


That’s right. And it’s part and parcel. That’s why—you know—when we were talking before a little bit about the components of facilities management, there’s the hardware side of things. There’s the plant operations. There’s the building process. There’s the utility. But there’s a whole aspect of administration, and administration covers those things like finance and people, so you get into training programs, etc. So administration, there’s a whole side of the business that has nothing really to do with the hardware side other than creating opportunities for people, for income, to avoid expense, etc. And truly, you’re right, especially chief financial officers. They love it when you walk in the office with—“You mean we can make money on this?” Or, “We won’t have to pay that expense anymore?”—I mean—its equivalent—any time you create an opportunity where you solve those kinds of problems.

Chapter 05: University of Rochester and a First Experience with Health Care Institutions