Josh Feinberg is Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer of ABM. He is responsible for all strategy and transformation for the company, including strategy and innovation, transformation management, and operational excellence with a focus on driving long-term profitable growth.
John Shegerian: At the latest Impact Podcast right into your inbox each week. Subscribe by entering your email address at impactpodcast.com to make sure you never miss an interview. This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com. This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Closed Loops’ platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so excited and honored to have with us today, Josh Feinberg. He’s the Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at ABM. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Josh.
Josh Feinberg: Thank you so much, John. Really appreciate you having me today.
John: It’s really an honor. Before we get talking about all the important stuff you’re doing with regards to strategy and transformation at ABM, I want you first to share a little bit of your background. Where’d you grow up, and how’d you even make your way over to ABM during your career?
Josh: No, I appreciate it, John. It’s fun to think back that far. I grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania, home of the chocolate bar.
Josh: In a little small town in the middle of Pennsylvania. At 18, went off to college in Philadelphia, still staying within the confines of Pennsylvania. Then work took me to Philadelphia down to Washington DC, so I kind of never physically left the mid-Atlantic of the US area. Honestly, before ABM, really, my 20 years before ABM was spent in management consulting, like many of those out there that are due, I really cut my teeth on, Man, how do I solve a problem? How do I solve what is the most important problem for any particular industry or company or function? How do I use the scientific method to break it down, use data, hypothesize about X, Y, and Z, prove or disprove? I just loved it. I absolutely loved it. I met just through that process when I was at the Boston Consulting Group, which I was there for almost 13 years prior to ABM, met the CEO Scott Salmirs of ABM just happened to be sitting in a mutual friend’s office. I was helping that mutual friend, who was a CEO of another services company, devise a strategy for the next three years.
The phone rang. It was Scott’s first day as CEO of ABM, back now, about eight years ago. The individual who’s our mutual friend handed me the phone and said, “Scott needs a strategy.” That’s how I got introduced to the ABM team, Scott, and what a wonderful group of people, what a wonderful culture. It took about five years, and it finally convinced me to make the leap out of consulting and into, again, a corporate environment and a corporate leadership role that you were mentioning—one that I felt, boy, what a potential to really have an impact. ABM, we’ll get into it, I’m sure, John, but ABM, 140,000 people working with 45,000 clients that are out there doing all sorts of things that impact the experiences, be it sustainability and energy, or just everybody’s daily experience through a non-residential asset. It’s a real opportunity to have an impact. 2019, I popped over.
John: Well, let’s get into that a little bit. First of all, for our listeners and viewers who are not familiar with ABM, they can find Josh and all of his great colleagues, 140,000 plus of them over www.abm.com. Talk a little bit about, first, the core mission and the macro of what ABM does, we’re going to go specifically into your great work and what you’re doing with your team.
Josh: Absolutely, John. ABM was founded over 110 years ago where New York Stock Exchange traded. It started with a guy in San Francisco with a mop in a bucket knocking on doors and saying, “Hey, you want to have a little cleaner environment that you’re working in?” That’s how it got started back then. Since then, it’s evolved. Our core mission is to make a difference in the lives of the individuals who are outside of their home every day. We do services to provide that experience across the gamut of things that could be done. I’ll articulate it in this way. We do three primary categories of work. Number one, we do all what we call “Soft Services.” When you go to a school or an airport, or you go to work, I would call non-technical work that keeps that building up and that environment in good shape, cleaning, light engineering, window washing, you name it all, but just keeping it in sanitary. During COVID, you can imagine soft services was very, very important.
Keeping all the buildings open, in fact, we are the first line that allowed a hospital to be open because it had to be cleaned before it was in. That’s the soft services. But then, we also do work, we’ll talk about it in a bit, on the actual infrastructure of the building. We call them “Hard Services.” This is things like the HVAC and the energy usage, but a lot of it is around sustainability and the energy of a building. Energy and infrastructure, that’s really what the focus of that second piece is. Then, the third one, outside the building. Outside the building, we park about a million cars a day. We transport about 4.5 million passengers on shuttles every single day as well. We’re the largest installer of EV charging, which I know we’ll talk about in a bit. When you think about what ABM does, we really take this holistic view and this holistic approach to impacting the experience. Everything from inside the building to on the building, to outside the building, and making sure that students in schools have a better experience, patients and hospitals have a better experience, fans, and stadiums have a better experience, that’s really what it translates to. We work across all non-residential markets.
John: Now, Scott convinces you to come over in 2019 after five years, and you and I know Mike Tyson’s old adage, “Everybody has a plan until you get hit in the head,” and then it all goes. Now, you come in in ’19, and I can’t think of getting hit in the head more than COVID hitting in 2020 and all sorts of other things happening. When you came in, what was your call to action between you and Scott? Then what did it become when 2020 hit, and things have evolved since then?
Josh: John, it’s such a fantastic question. I started five months prior to the March 2020 COVID start, so that was my first corporate job in my life. I’d come from a management consulting environment. It was project by projects, client to client. I move into this environment, and I’m getting all ready and orienting myself now. I had the fortune of having worked with the team for a while, but on the outside looking in, not on the inside. We start day one. We’re going through all the priorities. Basically, the first mission was to go ahead and define what is our three-year strategy. We need a new refresh strategy. How do we approach it for ABM? How are we going to evolve? That started on November 11th, 2019, the first day that I started at ABM. It was all fine and good until March 2020 comes around. Again, we have 140,000 people that are all working out there. When you remember, every building was shut down. For the most part, of course, the hospitals and some of the essential work, but you can imagine we went from 140,000 to 30,000. We had to furlough or pause or lay off because the doors weren’t open.
People weren’t there. Imagine that operational challenge. It went from, let’s look across what three years looked like and how we’re going to really be a differentiated competitor in this market, but how we’re also going to generate the value, yes, for our stakeholders, but also to the consumers and to the customers that are out there. That changed to “What are we going to do tomorrow?” Really, for the next, I’ll call it nine months, 10 months. Fortunately, it was probably the best orientation to any new job that anybody could possibly have, especially in a distributed business like ABM, which is much like our industry. These industries that have really what we’re providing all over the place are these distributed services. Well, we’re all over the place, too. Imagine how quickly you bombed. When even if you’re doing it on Zoom, you’re still like that executive team where we’re together four hours a day every day, not once a week. Four hours a day, every day, we’re going through the checklist of how do we make sure that we have enough cash. How do we make sure the clients are communicating with every single one of them? Meanwhile, they’re 45,000? You’re having to go through and work with it, and we became the trusted advisor.
It was a very interesting time for me to migrate into ABM and get oriented with the culture, but boy, fast track on the bonding with the team. Then, secondarily, boy, did we change from a commodity provider. Someone who was overnight, we’re going to do some cleaning, you don’t really see us to, “Hey, can you come to the front? Can you actually not clean at night? Can you come at the front door at 9:00 AM so people know it’s safe here?” The value of our business, which again, was leaning commoditized, and this gets the strategy a little bit, all of a sudden becomes a lot more value-oriented. We learned a lot from the COVID experience, not only personally I and the team, but also just that transition into, okay, there was some more value-added services here than maybe we gave credit for.
John: Walk me through your mindset personally. I can imagine someone like you that had so many great years at Boston Consulting is coming in ’19 to ABM and thinking, “Okay, I got this. I’ve done so many various interesting projects,” as you say, “Both consulting is project-based over the years that there’s not much that’s going to happen at ABM that I haven’t seen before.” As we know, the great ones, just for fun’s sake, throw out Brady or throw out Jordan and all the others. They talk about being great because of two words, “Pattern Recognition.” Now, it’s March 2020, all of your long history at Boston Consulting with lots of success and lots of projects that you’ve done. There’s no pattern recognition for any great leader, any leader. Now you’re in a leadership position at this huge company with Scott and other leaders, was that a whole new learning curve besides the ABM culture, DNA, and everything else? Was that a whole new learning process for you as a business leader and looking for new skills to navigate ABM through that very interesting and tough period?
Josh: Absolutely, John. It’s a fantastic question. If you think about at least what my experience had been at the Boston Consulting Group prior, while I worked in some of the restructuring, I led our restructuring practice in North America, and then I led our services practice more on the strategic, but nothing was, I’ll call it super time sensitive to this point. What I learned, when you come into the environment like COVID, where it really, truly is an emergency in a business like ours, where, gosh, again, 140,000 people that are working, and all of a sudden you have to figure out how you’re going to pare down in accordance with which of the 45,000 buildings are closed or not closed, how I’m going to have, what am I going to do with my inventory of supplies that I typically would use, and that’s going to cost it, and how about my cash? Of course, you have this whole issue where essential workers was defined very early on with that long list of all the people who were able to be out there and about, and cleaners, which is, again, about 70,000 of our folks not on the list. We had the government component to it where we had to figure out how do we quickly have… All these things, I would say the biggest muscle that was built during that time, for me personally, was the speed by which you had to do all the same, take all the same learnings and capability skills that built over the 20 prior years, but accelerate the heck out of them.
You can only analyze so quick, so much. You have to analyze quickly. Not going to be perfect information. Let’s go ahead and make a decision now. Let’s move and on and on. As opposed, if you think about the consulting world where you spend, at least in my experience, 70% of my time figuring out what the answer is and 30% of my time figuring out how in the world you make this happen, this one was the opposite. This was probably less than 30% figuring out. It was like, “No, we have about 5% of the time to figure out what we need to do.” It’s really much more on the execution of it. For me, what was great as someone who had been more of, again, a problem solver as opposed to necessarily the operationalization of it, boy, was this a rapid 101 class, and how in the world can you deploy something, some action over 140,000 people in 375 branch offices in 45,000 buildings like that? You have to do it consistently and in a rhythm. It was much more about change management, it’s much more about the organization of the operation, but I’ll call it the execution side, where all of a sudden, that’s where a lot of this industry and a lot of ABM really makes its impact. I think for me, in particular, I love the intellectual challenge of trying to figure out something. But boy, is it fun also to work through the challenges of the human element of trying to get someone to go because, you know what? That change management, challenging. Really, really challenging. That’s what I would say was the biggest transition and change going into COVID.
John: Well, gosh, we’re in the middle of 2023 now, and we’ve seem like we’ve cleared the COVID crisis. But now, taking back the narrative in terms of where the world is going, ESG, circular economy, sustainability, decarbonization, the electrification of our grid is all here to stay in the biggest way ever that we’ve seen it, at least in North America, let’s just start there. What does that mean to you now that COVID is, thankfully, hopefully in the rearview mirror? How do you go back to strategy and transformation vis-a-vis what’s happening with regard to all of those trends that I just mentioned?
Josh: It’s another great question, John. The first thing is, even throughout COVID, and I think one of the most important things is to keep your pulse on the trend. Keep your pulse and really understand what’s going on in the market at all times because it changes. From the strategy that we started prior to COVID to the COVID piece of it, then coming out of COVID, having a modified view, like I mentioned, the value that we could provide and again, decommoditize our strategy becoming a little bit more of a de-commoditization and a prioritization of really where we could provide the most value, and that’s where we want to spend our time. That’s how the strategy shifted, but it’s the trends. It’s keeping track of the trends. I’ll mention one that you didn’t mention, like the return to work. What’s interesting there is a third of our business is in the commercial real estate world. Well, think about energy, think about sustainability, think about all the services that we provide, again, inside the building, on the building, and outside the building, well, if only half the people are coming back to work.
Josh: How many buildings are going to be handed back, and we’re not going to need us at all? How many tenants that we serve are going to… and we work with about 50% of the Fortune 500. How many are going to say, “I don’t need seven floors. I need three”? Okay, well, what do we do about that? What about the parking? How about the parking outside the building? If there are fewer people coming into work and coming into the city, what’s the impact on all the real estate and all the stalls that are out there for parking? It’s just interesting. As you keep track of all the trends that are happening, each little micro market has an interesting change. Commercial real estate is one on the aviation side, just to give one other example on trends that is going hog wild. I don’t know if you read recently, but the Americans traveling over to Europe is well exceeded prior to COVID.
John: If I’m also not mistaken this July 4th weekend that we just came through was more travel than anything prior to COVID in terms of aviation, not just in North America, like you said, too.
Josh: Exactly. We’re seeing a change in the traveler. The traveler, whereas I guess when you and I years ago, well, I leave Monday, I come back Friday, or I leave Monday. The business traveler is during the week, and the leisure traveler is on the weekend, that’s not happening. It’s now mixed. It’s now the bleisure traveler, so we see the difference. What’s interesting as it pertains that I’m leaning, getting into the ESG and sustainability part, is that it has a much different impact. All these changes have a much different impact than what we need out of our infrastructure and how we use energy and manage it appropriately such that we are lowering our carbon footprint. We’re being more sustainable, but we also have to make sure that we’re getting what we need to provide that experience, to make sure that the chargers are up and running. But how many chargers do you need? Are you using your energy inside of a building efficiently?
Well, what if the tenant who was occupying 50% of that building hands in their keys and says, “I’m out because my people aren’t coming back to work”? Well, how do you adjust? How do you change the consumption so that, again, you don’t need to consume that much? Again, all these different trends are moving around, and you have to make sure you keep your eye on the ball. But at the center of it, there’s no question of what you just said prior, which is that this focus on sustainability, on using our energy more effectively, of lower air carbon footprint is here to stay. The question is like, at what parts of the market does it happen and, when, at what rate? How quickly is this going to take over? Obviously, California is one of the leading indicators of some of that, but essentially on the cars and on the EVs, which is that leading piece that then requires others to act, especially in the parking environment. That’s where we’re starting to see things shift and pick up some momentum and speed. We have to be prepared for all of that.
John: Talk a little bit about the EV charging marketplace and all the operations that you manage across the United States and even the world with regard to parking. What is the new EV charging mandate look like? Where are you evolving the business and transforming it with regard to EV charging?
Josh: It’s a really interesting time right now because, as you can imagine, John, the demand for the chargers is very, very high, but the demand is very unknown. We know we need more because there are more electric vehicles, not just vehicles that we, as consumers, drive. But think of all the fleet that’s out there that is probably going to convert at a faster rate than what the consumers are converting at. You have companies that are out there that are saying, “Hey, all of my fleet is converting over the next three years,” that’s a big deal for some of these companies that have very large fleets.
Josh: Those needs are going to come pretty quickly. While there’s a high demand, and we know the demands coming, the unknown is just how much consumers who have an electric car and charge at home are going to charge outside the home. It still remains to be seen how much you’re going to drive into the grocery store and plugin versus “You know what? I already plugged in. I don’t need to.” Then you have to weigh in the demand coming from rental cars because the rental cars are really shifting over to the electric, and they’re going to need a place to go because if someone’s renting a car for a week in a city, well, where are they going to charge? There’s this very interesting dynamic of you have people driving someone else’s car, like a rental car. You have those driving their own car in their own city, and then you have the fleet that’s coming around. The demand is going to go up.
The question becomes, how many charges do you need? How do we make sure to get them out there? Very importantly, how do you maintain them? One of the biggest challenges right now is not as much availability, although availability, as demand increases, you have to have more of them out there depending on what source you look at. 35%, 40% of charges today are not working. Think about that for a minute. It’s like, I’m going to drive up, it’s going to be down, the software is broken, and so therefore, it says “Can’t use,” or there’s some problem where the energy microgrid behind it wasn’t enough. Someone didn’t prepare the engineering such that they knew how much energy it was going to take, and they made sure that their facility could support that because sometimes it doesn’t. There are all these different pieces. From an ABM perspective, what we’re seeing in the market just to get back to your prime question.
Josh: Number one is we’ve installed more commercial port chargers than anyone ever, about 30,000. We have about 30,000 chargers that are across there. Again, we’re being asked by customers over and over and over to just pick that pace up, pick that pace up. But what we also do, and I think what is as important, if not more important, like I said, is making sure that you have a team that can manage the maintenance of it. That is keeping it up and running that is collecting the data that’s coming from the chargers so that you can preventatively maintain it so that it doesn’t go down. We have a specialized team on another podcast that you had. You had Mark Hawkinson, who leads our ABM team with this.
John: That’s right.
Josh: He’s put together this incredible electrification center in Atlanta where we have our team of individuals who are certified on all the different chargers that are out there and whatnot. But really, not just to install, but to maintain. We’re working across cities, across clients. Again, it depends on whichever end market it is helping our clients go through. How many chargers do I need? Which charger do I need? Where do I put it in my footprint? I have all these different spaces. Do I put it next to the elevator? Do I put it next to the front? Why? Why would I do that? Do I charge the customer to charge it, or do I provide that as an amenity?
Then, importantly, what do I do with the information that I have with preventative maintenance? How do I make sure to keep it up and running? The last thing I’ll say, John, and then I’ll pause, is that this is just one part of the end-to-end experience that each of those individuals are going through. Parking is a really, and EV is an interesting spot in that lifecycle of an experience. If you’re going to a baseball game or a football game, like your first experience. If you’re going to park, that’s your first experience and your last experience. [crosstalk] As it pertains to EV, well, do I have enough or do I not have enough? Do I have enough spaces? Really, the EV and the parking intertwine, and they really play an integral role in that first and last experience of someone doing anything outside of their home.
John: It’s like you and I both know, first and last experience can define the entire experience?
Josh: A hundred percent. In fact, when we do a lot of customer surveys and customer experience, and we keep track of the passengers who are going through the airport, inevitably, the correlation and the results come more from their experience in that parking garage than it does throughout the other parts of the experience. Now, of course, if there’s something that goes on, like a game is delayed, of course, you’re going to see some of that. But as far as the actual experience from an infrastructure standpoint, it is, like, “Oh, I couldn’t find a space.” I went to go ahead, and there were 10 levels to this parking garage. They told me how many spaces were on each level, but they didn’t tell me how many EV chargers available, nor did they show me where those spaces were available, so I just kept driving around, driving around, and almost missed my flight. Or when I come back, the signage wasn’t clear, and I forgot where I parked and this and that. Again, you’re exactly right. It’s that first experience and last experience where it either hits you. It’s like human nature, right? It hits you up front. You’re like, “Oh, this is my first experience in this environment, or this is my last leaving.” That’s what hits you more than once in the middle.
John: But just to bookend what you said about the COVID experience, you had what was considered a commoditized service, almost opaque to the consumer, to what you just mentioned. In terms of just parking management is a very sophisticated algorithm of trusted advisors, services, advisory, whatever. I know it’s too long, but that’s very different than a commoditized service or what was a commoditized opaque service offering. Now, this is front end where nobody’s ever trodden before, a very sophisticated advisory services that you’re now managing and running to basically jumpstart the new green economy.
Josh: So well-articulated.
Josh: Because I’ll paint the picture before and after. The commoditized version of that picture you still see in a lot of parking environments is a cashier and a cashier only. You’ll just simply see someone who is just collecting money, or if there’s a problem, my credit card won’t work, that’s it. But what’s now being asked is, “Well, you know what? We may not even need the cashier because we brought in the technology, whether it’s EV or the other parking technology.” To your point, we have more sophisticated understanding of how a car and a parker move from that gate, how they wayfind to get to their spot using license plate recognition using wayfinding technology, how they get to that EV, how they optimize the EV charge, how you pay for it all in one bill. It’s really based around four outcomes, and those four outcomes are not just collecting money. Those four outcomes are sustainability and making sure that I absolutely have an environment that is lessening the carbon footprint, lowering the carbon footprint each day. It comes with EV[?].
It comes with not idling or searching as long for a space, but if I can cut that time that I’m using my engine from one minute to 30 seconds or 10 minutes to five minutes, that’s a big deal when you add up all the cars that are parked every day in these large, large establishments. Sustainability is one. The experience, as I mentioned, getting off to a good experience, making sure that airport authority or the ownership of the football team or baseball team or the school president or whatever, it’s like they’re all asking their constituents to measure the experience of those students, those passengers, those fans. Well, we want to contribute to that because they’re turning to us and saying, “Hey, you better have a positive impact.” Experience is another one. Again, advising, advisory services on how we can impact experience positively. Then the financial elements are real as well in some locations where you want to get revenue up, which is, again, in larger environments like airports or like stadiums, and you want to get your cost base down, so more efficient as you go. There are ways in which you do that. Those are the four outcomes that we’re now driving that’s in a much more value-added way as opposed to previously, which was like, again, to sound very elementary but true. It’s like, “Okay, I’ll collect your money, and I’ll let you out the door.” That’s pretty much it.
John: It was transactional.
Josh: Totally transactional. Completely.
John: Our listeners and viewers have just joined us. We’ve got Josh Feinberg with us today. He’s the Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer in ABM. To find Josh and his 140,000 colleagues in all the great work, they’re doing with regard to strategy, transformation, and sustainability, please go to www.abm.com. Let’s go back to what you just said. Integrated facilities management is really what you’re doing with regard to these parking lots. It goes way beyond the chargers. In terms of sustainability and impact, what other value adds are you focused on when you’re now managing these parking structures or lots?
Josh: There are five. There are five, John, that are in particular. I’ll start with the EV that we just talked about and work outside of that. That’s number one. Number one is certainly making sure that we can promote utilization of electric vehicles as opposed to gas vehicles and making sure we have enough of that. Then, of course, we call it smart parking, but making sure that the navigation to get to that spot or any other spot minimizes the amount of time that you’re using that gas engine or using the energy. Number one, I’ll call is the EV/smart parking environment that we construct. That’s number one. Number two, and it’s all connected. Number two, when we recently put in 1200 chargers at LAX at Los Angeles Airport 1200, imagine the strain on the energy grid. Number two, if you have a strain on the energy grid, that can lead to all sorts of inefficiencies. First of all, it can break down, not providing enough energy, but it can also pull from other parts of the operation, meaning the other parts of the airport. You really have to figure out how to optimize the amount of energy you really need.
Save it for times on non-peak times. That’s number two for us, which is we recently bought a company called RavenVolt. RavenVolt is a microgrid solutions company. To put it in simple terms, it is an energy resiliency play. When we go into an environment and you want to put 1200 chargers into LAX airport, you need to figure out with engineers how much energy do I need and where and how. Putting in a microgrid allows us to grab the energy off the grid, keep it in there, and utilize backed-up energy in the most efficient and effective way. Again, therefore, lowering the energy consumption and lowering energy costs all along. Think of it as resiliency for the grid, such that it’s supporting more energy usage than it had before. That’s number two. Number three, now working into the infrastructure of the building, we have a practice, a group within our ABM technical solutions team, which we call “Bundled Energy Solutions.”
What we do there is take the infrastructure itself, and we figure out a way to redesign the infrastructure in order to consume less energy. Lots of companies out there are doing this. This is not a new thing. It’s like, “Hey, we can use a better HVAC system. We can use a better lighting system. We can do things in the infrastructure and in the usage of the actual facility,” or “We can change it over and use a lot less energy.” That contributes to sustainability as well. Then there are two more. One pretty basic, which is using green organic and better chemicals in our cleaning or in other parts of our operation, just making sure that our supplies. We’re working with suppliers who are putting their materials together and the products that they provide to us in an energy-efficient, sustainable way.
Josh: The last one is interesting. We recently invested in a company called Recycle Track Systems. Because half of our business, again, I’m going outside of the parking environment, but half of our business, 70,000 people about is traditional cleaning within a building. This is a company that we invested in that we now work together with that monitors and manages the waste from inside the building that is putting outside the building, measures all of the waste, not only the waste in terms of the magnitude of how much is contributing or not to sustainability or to the carbon footprint but also where it’s going, why it’s going there. Is it really being recycled? Is it not? Is it being put in a dump? Is it not?
Visibility into that data allows us inside the building to help our individuals inside any operation to work with the client to figure out how to consume less and dispose of it more. When you think of those five different elements, you think of, obviously, the EV and using less of your car time going into the building, if the microgrid and the energy outside the building, which is allowing for better usage of energy going into that operation, you have the energy solutions that are really making the whole building itself more energy efficient. Then you have the supplies that are coming in and making sure that is built in the right way. Lastly, with our RTS partners, making sure that we’re calculating and understanding how much waste is in the building, and then, therefore, working with our partners in order to figure out how to reduce that down.
John: You’ve really evolved the industry, the whole parking integrated management services industry, from literally a binary transaction, “$10, please. Here’s your $10,” to a highly sophisticated algorithm of services that are not only futuristic but transformational in terms of how parking services run really now. It’s totally a different industry in business than it was five or even 10 years ago.
Josh: Completely, and it’s only starting. There’s so much more that’s ahead of us. That’s the most fascinating part. The rate is almost like a log curve. If you picture a log curve, this is an acceleration we haven’t seen before. It is pretty nuts. There’s a bit of “What do we do? How quickly do we do it to have a trusted advisor like ABM, like our team, to be able to take someone through it? Look, for most of our clients, this is not their priority. At a hospital, they’re taking care of people. At a stadium, they want to make sure that product on the field is really good so the fans have a good time. You need a trusted partner to be able to walk you through that. Again, depending on what outcomes you want to drive, when sustainability is one of those primary outcomes, there’s a whole litany of things you can do from point A to point B to have an impact on that. If it’s revenue you want to generate because it’s more of an economic thing, of course, you can do that, too. But having that trusted advisor next to it five years ago, it didn’t really exist.
John: A couple things. What comes to mind is, first of all, like you said, their core business is like, just say, putting the great Dodger team on the field and winning ball games. But when they put together their impact report every year or ESG back/impact report, they’re really happy you are the trusted advisor because they’re able to have a whole section on how they handled and had a very sophisticated approach to handling the parking and integrated services that made everyone’s experience beginning and end really, really positive.
Josh: No question. Part of it, John, because I think the history of the individuals who are leading these organizations, like you mentioned, the Dodgers, whoever, they’re being hit by individual point solutions. People who come in and say, “Ooh, I can work on this one little thing, and I can have a question on an EV charger. I can do that one thing,” or “I can do this,” but it’s all point solutions, but they’re begging for is having someone alongside them to be able to look at it holistically, to look at that whole thing and be able to impact it in all the different ways you can, again, depending in sustainability and ESG outcome. But before, without that trusted partner that can look across and help you with it, it becomes this, “Oh, man. Now that person who runs a Dodgers has to talk to 32 different people.”
They’re like, “Well, you said this, but I don’t know. How’s that connect with this? What about this?” They might hire someone inside to be their sustainability, but that person inevitably needs to have the arms and legs and the guidance to be able to hook it all together, especially when it comes to technical things that get into the infrastructure. Again, I know we need to lower our energy consumption, but how? I know we need to be resilient, but how? I know we need to do this in sPARK Parking, but how? That’s where it really comes down to push comes to shove. Heck, if I was in the Dodgers president’s shoes or the Dodgers’ sustain, I’d want that trusted advisor as well.
John: Hundred percent. Because now, they’re getting inundated with all these the cousin of, the brother of, the sister-in-law of, and they’re able to just say, “Hey, go over to Josh and ABM and pitch them. They’re managing all of our services. They do it on integrated basis.” If it’s a great technology, like Recycle Track, I know the people. They’ve been on the show, and I know that’s what they’re talking about, and they’re wonderful people, and they’re doing really transformational work. But it’s great that you’re able to put that into your suite of services. You say you follow trends, which makes so much sense as a seasoned leader.
I love to just use now since the advent of your relationship and coming on board at ABM and where we are today. Let’s talk about trends and things that happen since you’ve joined. Obviously, we talked about the big elephant in the room, COVID, but when you joined in ’19, there was no Investment Recovery Act in 2019. That’s transformational, and I’m sure is a lot of wind that you’re back in terms of all the great work you’re doing. Thinking about in terms of the future electrification of the grid of the United States and the decarbonization of the United States, that has to factor in. Also, AI and robotics weren’t a thing in ’19, although they were a thing, and they were happening quietly behind the scenes. They weren’t covered of the news and lead story on Bloomberg and CNBC every day. Talk a little bit about leveraging some of these trends and wind at your back and how are you using. Obviously, you talked about Recycle Track, great company, great brand, doing great things, AI and robotics and other new technologies, and the Investment Recovery Act. How does that factor into all the decision-making and all the great work you and your colleagues are doing at ABM?
Josh: No, I love that because, John, the trends keep changing. They keep emerging. AI’s been around forever. Generative AI is really relatively new. We talk about AI, and of course, in my world, I’ll just start with AI because that’s a really good one. It’s a really fun one. We’ve been investing at ABM and AI for a long time, but the AI that we’re doing is process automation. It would be like in our back office, we have artificial intelligence, effectively algorithms that are figuring out, “Well, how can we do billing and accounts receivable and accounts, pay some of the basic financial transactions in a more efficient, in a more effective way using AI, using machine learning?” That was the extent of it, with the birth of generative AI, different ballgame. Now, it becomes, “Okay, do we use it? Don’t we use it?”
Josh: Is there a time where we decide not to use it? Because we’re not ready for 140,000 people because depending on what you’re using, the source of that information is being utilized as I’m sure your listeners and, you know, inconsistent, right? Some of those sources that are out there that they’re pulling from not necessarily a hundred percent accurate. How much are you going to rely on it to get you going and maybe cut back sometime on an idea or help you shortcut this? There is no generative AI right now that can give you the answer that you are willing to pick up and just run with. I think of it like right now where we are today, we’re in that mode of where robotics is in our business. Robotics is not something that’s going to replace individuals at this time. Robotics is a place where it has to be managed and run by a human that is able to make judgments at certain times.
There are some robots in very, very small use cases that, over the large football field, you could have a mower that is doing that kind of thing. But generally speaking, it’s going to be this human-aided, human-worked with AI tool that is emerging. When I go back to the “Do we use it or do we not use it?” I don’t know if you’ve seen this, John, but a lot of companies now have a policy that no one in the company is allowed to use generative AI. The reason is because they’re afraid about the integrity of the information that’s coming and that someone is going to use it to do their job and they can’t. While things are getting sorted out, what do we do for now? That’s why I say the first fork in the road, I think, from an AI perspective, trend-wise, I think it’s exciting that this is emerging and whatnot. I think I can see the uses.
They’re infinite in terms of how we could be using it to change and shortcut some operations. We’re just talking about experience and energy. There are a lot of things you can be doing. However, I do think it’s going to be a time where folks like we are stepping back, finding a legitimate partner who really knows AI and is doing it the right way with the right cybersecurity measures, especially for a big Fortune 500 company like us, we’re working with Microsoft on this to do a pilot program with their big product to come and say, “Okay, how are you making sure that all that information is secure, the integrity of it? Okay. We’re working through some test cases now, and by next year, we should have more of a strategy with it.”
But the way that we’re addressing the AI world, just given the generative AI in such an infancy, is a little bit of a wait and see, but not wait and see in a reactive way, wait and see in we’re going to pilot and work with the experts over here and see what we can build into our operation. That’s how we’re dealing with the AI side. On the Investment Recovery Act, I’ll just talk about funding generally and the importance of funding generally. I think the biggest thing for us that’s a big change on all this is ABM work with public entities. Our thinking through our different interaction with local municipalities, be it counties, be it cities, the mayor, state, and then federal. Because as this partnership continues and evolves and more funding is going in, and there’s more of we call it a “National trend,” a “National Push Incentive,” to go ahead and accelerate the ESG, the sustainability, and also just infrastructure improvement in general.
For us at ABM, I think taking advantage of that and really thinking through how that public-private partnership really works is something that we are, I’ll call it, less experienced with than the commercial side. The pure private side, that’s where I think from a trend perspective, how are companies like ABM or others dealing with it, and you’re seeing significantly more I’ll call involvement from government entities. How do we go ahead and partner and work with them with all the funding mechanisms that are available to, again, strive for the same outcome, but how do you do it in a collective way? It’s that trusted advisor, and how do we become more in light of some of the funding mechanisms that are out there. That’s how we’re dealing with those two particular trends.
John: Josh, speaking of trends, you have Larry Fink and BlackRock and leading the way, but other institutional investors pushing really hard to create this atmosphere, like just call it a radical transparency to not only saying that I’m going to participate with regards to new circular economy, decarbonization economy, the ESG economy, but I’m actually going to be doing it. That should also be a trend that’s pushing more folks into your arm. Instead of having 10 people at any X, Y, Z, Fortune 500, 100 company managing, like you said, 40 different vendors, it’s just smarter and easy to have someone who’s a group and of individuals who’s really great at this, able to not only manage it but also report on it. Then we can put it in our report for a radical transparency of, “Here’s what we’re really doing in ESG and circular economy and decarbonization, and here’s what we plan on doing in the years to come.” There’s a real true roadmap that’s actually not only transparent but also, frankly speaking, transactional as well.
Josh: No question, John. It’s interesting domino effect, right? Larry Finks and the BlackRocks of the world and other investors have made it. We’ve seen this over the last few years. They’ve made it a priority, and they want to see quantitative results. That message gets right into the ears of the board members, and the board members make as a top priority for them as well. Then it becomes a top priority of the management team, and you talk through it. At ABM, for instance, we hired a head of sustainability to really make sure that at ABM, we had someone that was guiding and leading this, not only as it pertains to the solutions that we work with our clients on but also for ABM itself. How are we representing to our investors and our board that we are being responsible and we are lessening the carbon footprint?
It’s one thing to sign a check for carbon offsets, and some of the companies that are saying they’re being carbon neutral or writing the carbon offsets. Believe me, donating money to that is a great, great thing. I don’t want to diminish that at all. It’s much harder, though, to actually change your operations and change your infrastructure and change the way you’re really operating within your particular facility that can have a real material impact on ESG, on sustainability. But boy, even our sustainability leader at ABM, she wouldn’t be the one to really understand how to put that report together to represent ABM. She’d be calling up our operating leaders and saying, “Hey, Mark Hawkinson, can you help me with this? I need to put this together because the rubber hits the road.” As companies out there are exploring ways that are not just financial, but ways in which to actually change their operations to lessen their carbon input, improve their ESG and sustainability, and then represent that in a report, they have to have a partner and a team member and advisor that really understands how it gets done on the ground, like how can it actually be executed because that’s really where a lot of this happens.
John: That’s so interesting. Well, talk a little bit about the ABMVantage, a smart parking solution that you have, Josh.
Josh: Yeah. Our vantage solution is a really one-of-a-kind in the industry. What it does is the first solution that’s out there that takes an approach where it captures all of the data within the parking facility. It has an algorithm built in that helps us understand and derive insights from that. Then it helps our operators and other people make suggestions and derive changes. That sounds all fluffy, but what does that really mean? What it means is the technology that is within a parking environment, and just picture yourself driving in to any parking garage. You go in. The first thing you do is you’re going into the gate. Probably a gate, but somehow you pay for it, so you take a ticket. Also, in many of our facilities, there’s a license plate recognition camera that takes a picture of your license.
Therefore, it has your license and it can identify your particular vehicle, and it now has record of that. Now, it has the record of the vehicle, and it’s tied to the payment method or the ticket that was pulled. Then you have way finding that will help you get to a particular facility. You have data coming from that way, finding to know. What we do is we tie it all together. You tie it all together to say, “I know that John’s car came in. It has this identifier. I know how long it took to get to that space. I see the patterns. What I want to do is I want to make sure, again, your experience is one that you want, an experience that whether you come back to that parking environment or not, we can improve upon that.” We look for pattern, pattern recognition we talked about before. We look for patterns within that, then we build in the algorithms into the smart parking, which is capturing all this information at an individual parker level. It synthesizes it. We work with our operators to figure out, “Okay, what does this mean? What does that mean? Oh, we need more EV chargers. We need them by the elevator. Wait a minute, these spots here, the stalls, these 17 are never used ever.
Okay, either we have to create the demand to go get some cars in there, or maybe we should repurpose those into a mini distribution center and have Amazon drop off their packages there and then have the folks on scooters pick it up because it’s more efficient for them because they spend the most of their money on the last 500 yards of a delivery.” Again, that’s the thing when you think of a vantage smart parking environment: you’re thinking about collecting all of the information that is within that entire environment, deriving insights through pattern recognition, and then making changes that, again, make the experience of the parker better, but also optimize the usage of that real estate change pricing. We might add a new product, “Hey, we really want valet here.” “Why do we want valet? Well, because of X, Y, and Z that we learned.” Again, our vantage solution is something that I think is unique. We have it, if I mentioned LAX before, Justin Erbacci, the CEO of LAX, has been a wonderful partner of ours. We talk about trusted advisor and partner. We are linked like this. If anyone’s out there in LAX, that’s a whole new smart parking that you can see vantage in action. Now, we have other places as well, but that’s one that just comes to mind.
John: I just want to understand the technology even further. I’m parking, and I use LAX as my hub all the time. I park at LAX, now you have my license plate, and now you see I go and I charge up my EV car with your EV charger, and I have a great experience, and I’m there three or four times in any given month. Now, I go to Dodger Stadium, and let’s say you had smart parking there. Does your camera and your technology and ABMVantage track that, “Oh, here’s that car again. Here’s that license plate again at another one of our facilities”?
Josh: It’s brilliant. It’s the absolute right question because that is exactly where we have the capability of doing that, now it requires the density of locations to be able to support that. On some markets, again, the parking market in the US is enormous. While we have one of the top three parking companies in the country, it’s still because of all the little mom and pops that are out there. It’s very small. We have to have the density in order to do that. But you hit the nail on the head in terms of what the possibility, I shouldn’t even say possibility, what the vision is that is occurring. In LA in particular, because you brought it up, we happen to have the density in LA to be able to support that. As we’re talking to the new LA Clippers stadium that’s going up, and we’re probably going to be the smart parking partner there as we work through. Again, as you work through the different components of it, it could be a college. That’s where this really comes in, where, again, you develop a relationship with ABM parking environments that’s beneficial to you as a parker, not just from a cost reduction standpoint but also from an experience standpoint. I’ll give you one step further. If you’re interacting in loyal to the vantage ABM parking platform as a consumer, that can translate in some locations it does to, “Well, what about when I’m inside?
When I’m at Dodger Stadium, and I’m going to buy a hotdog?” Do we have a relationship with the hotdog vendor that knows that you’re part of the ABM ecosystem, you’ve parked here, you’ve got a preferred parking space, maybe you did EV, then you want to go in and “Oh, by the way, we have a relationship with whatever the hotdog company is,” and you can get two for one. That’s how we’re integrating. We’re integrating with the fan experience and some of the apps. The Dodgers may have a Dodgers app, but again, there are different ways in which you can do it. It’s just that when you have this captive group that is loyal, and you’re sharing back-and-forth opportunities to make experiences better, that’s where the opportunities come. You mentioned the [crosstalk] [inaudible] to Dodgers.
John: You’re becoming a holistic solution and an actual brand. No longer an opaque brand behind the scenes to an upfront brand that I’m recognizing and say, “I always have a great experience with the ABMVantage smart parking at LAX. Oh, there’s another one in that office building. I’m driving it. Instead of parking on the street, I’m going to use their smart parking solution and also know but I’m also going to be able to charge up my car and have a good clean place, and it’s a safe place, and everything is that.” I assume, as the density issues are overcome, that when I drive down to San Diego where we have a home, and I go to Petco, if you manage smart parking at Petco, you’re going to continue to track me and give me a holistic solution now that I’m at Petco.
Josh: A hundred percent. Exactly. I love your branding point, too. The branding point’s a really interesting one because, as we talked about earlier and the evolution of ABM moving from a behind-the-scenes more commoditized to a more value-added present, that’s another thing that we’ve really changed in the business service since COVID, and COVID helped catapult, as I mentioned, the ABM to more of the forefront. But now, when you go to LAX, look for the ABM logo. Now, when you go to San Francisco Giants, if you happen to go north, San Francisco Giants Stadium, we do the stadium smart parking as well. We’re going to start to see more of a consumer-facing brand while we still have primarily a B2B client because, ultimately, that is where the contract is drawn as it pertains to smart parking as it pertains to other consumer-oriented experiences. That’s where the powered by ABMVantage or powered by ABM really comes into play. We’re going to see this take offer over the next couple of years as we invest more and more into the tech enable in data.
John: Well, I know you’re 400% right because after I interviewed Mark, I had never thought about ABM before. Now, I look for the logo, and two words come to mind when I think and see ABM anywhere where I’m going. First of all, obviously, I have a mom who’s still alive, a wife, and a daughter. I think of two things then when it comes to my parking experience and other experiences where I see the ABM logo: safe and trusted. That’s all I think about.
Josh: That’s awesome. I love it.
John: Yeah. But anecdotally, it’s already happened to me. I’m seeing your logo where I go when I travel now, so I know what’s working. I know what you’re saying is working. What’s next? What’s coming up next, Josh? What are you excited about? Now that you probably lived 20 years at ABM in the last four, in a very truncated hyper-focused period, what’s getting you out of bed in the morning now because, as you said, you’re not probably even in the top of the first inning with regards to all the integrated management solutions you’re going to be providing? You’re not in the top, but you’re probably on the bus on the way to the ballpark now to what the future holds.
Josh: Oh, my God. Smart buildings, smart buildings, smart buildings, smart building, smart buildings. The idea that technology and data is going to illuminate so much for us and be able to provide those exponentially better experiences, be it from a sustainability standpoint, whatever. When I was mentioning all those different touching the surface, imagine if you integrated the weather that’s coming up for the ball game and whether or not what impact that has on your experience. It could be anything. When we think about where the world is going from a richness of information and data and what that can do to help us really evolve, again, I go back to the basics, go back to the experience of someone who’s at a ball game who really wants to just enjoy it, someone who’s at the hospital and wants a better patient experience, someone’s student and a passenger.
We are scratching the surface at what we can add to that experience, but it all has to do with the enabling technology, the underlying data that has captured the algorithms and the AI that’s coming that’s being built into it, then the ability, of course, to make sure that our team members really get it and are really feel so connected to the delivery of that. That’s when the game changes. That’s when really we see a difference when we walk when we take our daughter or son. I have two daughters, my daughter will go to college in a couple years. I’m going to feel that difference because I know that those service providers around there are armed in a totally different way, and we’re just scratching the surface. For the nerdy, data, and tech junkies that are out there, there’s so much real impact that can be had. It’s going to be fun.
John: Josh, thank you for joining us today. You’re always welcome back on the Impact Podcast that continues your journey and the journey of ABMs in sustainability and impact and everything great that you’re doing there to make the world a better place. To find Josh and his colleagues at ABM, please go to www.abm.com. Josh, thank you so much for spending time with us today, and thank you for making the world a better and safer place.
Josh: Thank you, John, for everything you’re doing with the Impact Podcast. Thank you so much.
John: This edition of The Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform, revolutionizing the talent booking industry. With thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit letsengage.com. This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.