MOVE-IN 2015: Executive Director of Facilities ‘good to the core’

Steve Hultin with his Facilities Management staff. August 13, 2015
Steve Hultin with Facilities Management staff.

It doesn’t take a long conversation with Steve Hultin, executive director of Facilities Management for Colorado State University, to realize he has a plan for just about everything, including his retirement in about a year.

If, during that conversation, you ask him what he likes, his response may be something like this: “I like to ski. One of the reasons I’m retiring now is because I’m still in good enough health to enjoy what I want to do. I want to ski some areas of the northern Canadian Rockies. And I like mountain biking, windsurfing and hiking. And spreadsheets. I like spreadsheets.”

He loves to work on things that aren’t defined, to organize the information, find the patterns, think of strategies. And then create a plan.

Hultin leading building boom

Hultin is at the helm of construction planning and execution for the university, and retiring after 30 years of service smack in the middle of an epic three-year building boom on campus. That timing is part of his plan. He’s known he would retire in 2016 for years, and built a personal and professional strategy to do so – long before he knew the university would be undergoing transformational change this year. How will Facilities Management succeed with so many construction projects without him? Well, he has a plan for that, too.

Like many good leaders, Hultin is quick to point out that, if he has done his job well, the plan for the university will go on without him when he retires. He strives to empower his staff with skills, tools and confidence to do what is asked of them, while creating organization and strategy in which to succeed.

Facilities Management’s commitment to seeing the university through $700 million of construction in three years – the equivalent of the last 10 years of construction on campus – is possible in part because of this leadership philosophy. Hultin is described as “good to the core” by members of his staff, many of whom are willing to go above and beyond, putting in long, difficult hours, whether it is fixing a frozen water pipe in the middle of a March night, or orchestrating huge construction projects, because he’s empowered them to do so, and he believes that they can.

Hultin has loved the look, views and green spaces of campus since he studied here as an undergraduate student in 1972. He moved to Colorado State University after graduating from high school in California, in part because he wanted to play water polo, an under-recognized, underfunded but nationally known sport at CSU at the time.

In the years since, Hultin’s life story keeps interweaving with CSU, leaving for a job or two, but always coming back. After graduation, he worked in Peoria, Ill., for a startup energy and solar company, then lived the life of a ski bum in Steamboat Springs for a few years before returning to Fort Collins for a graduate degree and to work at the university’s solar village. It was there that he met his wife, Jill, an assistant to a professor. They have two sons, and just celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary.

After leaving the solar village to work at a solar startup and then an engineering consulting firm in Denver, he applied for CSU, and started working in Facilities in 1986 as a design engineer. Since then, he’s been a part of everything that makes the physical side of campus tick – utilities, buildings, sidewalks, alarms, plumbing, wiring and sustainability — and the people who make it happen, from custodians to parking enforcement staff, engineers to architects.

Contributing to campus change

When Hultin leaves, he will have left an indelible mark on Colorado State University. His office walls are papered with the story of his career. Maps, Post-it Notes from employees, dollar bills traded in bets that his staff could fix the impossible in the middle of the night, and words that drive and define his management style: empowerment, respect, compassion, integrity and commitment. Most important, Hultin will tell you, is compassion, because people are the most important asset.

“We’re a family, more than a team,” he says of Facilities Management. “We care for each other, and you cannot let that go. It can be difficult to maintain compassion at all times, but it is key.”

This belief is demonstrated by the wallpaper, too: photos of his family and beloved vacation spots, newspaper articles about employees who have been recognized as CSU Everyday Heroes, and obituaries of Facilities Management colleagues he still remembers daily.

Last year, Facilities Management went through a branding exercise, and chose words and phrases that the unit wanted to embody. Many of those are also the personal values that Steve has always embraced — to collaborate, care, think progressively, be an expert, and take care of the university’s resources.

“Steve is a man of great character, and he leads by example,” said Fred Haberecht, assistant director at Facilities Management and university planner. “He has specific expectations about how we treat each other, and he is the example of the core values of facilities. He exhibits daily what he expects of others.”

While much of his contribution will be left in the bricks and mortar of university buildings, he is always quick to deflect recognition and credit for the success of Facilities Management to the team and not take it for himself. He enjoys the seasons of CSU, defined by the work of his unit: the quiet time of summer, reserved for building and planning; the excitement of fall and seeing the buildings and grounds spiffed up for move-in; Homecoming and the President’s fall address, when the campus community comes together under the Oval’s trees; and the smooth transition to snowy days, when hundreds of Facilities staff come out in force to clear snow from campus so university life can go on uninterrupted.

As a leader, Hultin rejects the idea that he will leave a legacy.

“I’m a contributor. We all have a great responsibility: to develop projects and programs, to get things done and do the right thing, even when no one is looking. I have had the opportunity to foster ideas, but it takes a team of us to get things done,” he says. “It’s a lot behind the scenes, behind the walls, under the ground, that helps build this great campus.”