Expert Advice for Advancing Your Field Service Career from a Chief Services Officer

 

Recently we talked with Jay McFadyen, Chief Services Officer at Fairbanks Morse Defense and President of Fairbanks Morse Services.

Jay shared his personal career journey and advice for service managers or directors looking to move up in their field service career.

 

Jay McFadyen
Chief Services Officer, Fairbanks Morse Defense &
President, Fairbanks Morse Services

 

Listen to the full discussion here. And be sure to subscribe to the Field Focus podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts for more expert interviews.

 

Key takeaways

  • Choose a company with a mission you’re passionate about
  • Gain a deep understanding of both your customers and field service team
  • Seek open feedback from customers, even when a job hasn’t gone well

 

Tell us about your company and your role

I am the Chief Service Officer for Fairbanks Morse Defense, as well as the President of Fairbanks Morse Services. For the past 150 years, Fairbanks Morse has been a manufacturer of diesel engines. We have the largest fleet of medium speed diesel engines in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard and we provide support to both of those services. We also have equipment installed in nuclear power plants and in municipal utilities for power and water management.

We just recently rebranded the company to highlight our focus on supporting the Navy and the Coast Guard, and we created a standalone business unit to emphasize our service activities. 

Within the Fairbanks Morse Services business, we provide aftermarket support across three main value streams. And we do solutions, using our technical team to monitor asset data to understand where customers are having issues and develop solutions to those issues. I lead a team of about 225 people, including 130 service technicians who work every day to ensure our customers are able to fulfill their critical missions.

 

What has your service career journey been like?

I certainly didn’t expect to end up in the role that I am now, leading a service organization.

I started out as an engineer on a rotational program at General Electric. And I realized what really got me excited was working closely with customers and solving challenging problems. I wasn’t getting that in the engineering role. So my path led me through different roles in program management, operations, and general management.

But the assignment that really kind of created that senior leadership opportunity was a program management role. I spent a significant amount of time working alongside our field service engineers to overcome late delivery of equipment. And we commissioned the first-of-its-kind propulsion system for the littoral combat ship. It was during that time that I first realized how much of our company’s reputation relied on the customer’s perception of the field service team.

After helping to deliver that vessel, I was able to become the President of Rolls Royce’s North American Naval business, where I was responsible for many power and propulsion products. I moved into regional and eventually global leadership positions, managing all aspects of post-delivery support with teams of up to 1,000 people.

 

“It was during that time I first realized how much our company’s reputation relied on the customer’s perception of the field service team.”

 

What do you enjoy about your role in field service leadership today?

I’ll take you a little bit back in time. In high school, I had the opportunity to attend an engineering week at the U.S. Navy Academy. That experience really helped me to fall in love with engineering and with the school itself.

I applied to the Academy and then discovered that my eyesight prevented me from being accepted into the Academy. But that experience had built up this desire to work closely with the Navy. So I’ve spent 32 years in my career so far, and nearly all of it has been supporting the Navy in one way or another.

One of the most memorable experiences I had was attending the commissioning of the USS New York, which is an amphibious vessel built from the steel that was reclaimed from the World Trade Center.

Knowing we had critical equipment on board really reinforced for me the importance of holding the high standards that folks within the Navy and all the businesses that support them aspire to as protectors of the ideals of the nation.

Being able to connect to that mission through a job like leading the Fairbanks Morse Services team is extremely important to me. It really is something I think about every day when I wake up.

 

What are the key skills an aspiring field service leader must have?

There’s quite a number of skills that come into play in service leadership. Some of the more important ones have to do with supporting the team.

There’s an element of needing to be your own motivator. The nature of being a service technician is such that you’re often interacting with customers on some of their worst days. It can be very discouraging to consistently be in a situation where you’re facing the pressure of fixing somebody else’s problem.

And it’s really important as a service leader to be able to keep team spirits high. Focus on the successes, but also learn from when we weren’t as successful. Make sure the folks on the frontline feel like somebody has their back during these critical interactions.

Another element is making sure that you know how to find and keep the right team. The competition for talent is pretty severe right now. And companies must invest a lot in training to get somebody to that level of skill where they can be an expert technician.

Finding the right people who are capable of getting to the expert technician level, and then keeping them engaged and happy so they want to stay is a critical talent as a service leader.

Lastly, people will need to be comfortable with elements on the digital side and doing service remotely. At Fairbanks, we’ve been investing a lot in augmented reality and virtual reality assistance for service technicians. It’s important to develop those skills and always look out for the next thing that’s going to revolutionize the service world.

 

“Finding the right people who are capable of getting to the expert technician level, and then keeping them engaged and happy so they want to stay is a critical talent as a service leader.”

 

What are a few practical ways a director of service could prepare themselves to keep advancing in their career?

As a leader in a service business, there are really two key constituencies that you have to cater to: your customer and the field service technicians. Being supportive and connected to those two key constituencies is critical.

One suggestion that I would make would be to go and seek open feedback from customers. Don’t just go when the job has gone well and you can get an attaboy. Be proactive and engage with the customer when the job hasn’t gone as well, too.

We’ve come through a situation just recently, where we didn’t deliver to our usual high standards. The customer was upset that we caused some delays because we had to go in and do some rework. But going and talking to them with an open approach, admitting our role in the delays, and then asking for their help and assistance in creating the corrective actions to put in place for the future, all kind of help to rebuild that trust in the customer relationship.

The more that you can interact with the customers and get close to them, and understand how their business works, and how your equipment impacts impacts them, the better you’ll understand them. And the better you’ll be able to create commercial offerings that align value for our business with value for their business.

It’s also important to demonstrate that you can lead people in projects. When I think about all of the service directors that we have in place today at Fairbanks, they all spent time either as senior field service technicians or project leads. They have all been leaders of the field service boats that are executing the work.

 

“One suggestion I would make is to seek open feedback from customers. Don’t just go when the job has gone well, and you can get an attaboy. Be proactive and engage with the customer when the job hasn’t gone as well, too.”

 

What words of advice do you have for someone aspiring to a field service leadership role today?

The field service technicians are the ones that people call when they’re in trouble. There’s not a more important role to me in the company than the person who shows up to solve your problem when you’re feeling the worst. The ability to consistently do that has such an impact on the customer and on the business.

And there’s the reward of having that experience and seeing firsthand what the products can do for the customer. More importantly, what the people who are providing the service to those products do for the customer.

It’s something that leaders of the business need to keep in mind, and appreciate and recognize consistently. And I have grown over the years to really understand and appreciate the impact that the field service team has. I’m really excited to be part of an organization that is delivering that level of service every day.

 


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