You're somehow bonded together: Venu J. Gupta

Editor's Note: This month's Member Profile features Venu J. Gupta, Superintendent of Buildings & Fleet, Department of Public Works, City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and member of APWA's Facilities & Grounds Committee.

Tell us about your background: I was born in India, and came to this country when I was 16. I spent my first 20 years working in the heavy metals industry and manufacturing. During my initial years I spent time on the factory floor doing a variety of work in heavy metals, anything from grinding, welding, torching and operating machines. And along with working in industry, I did most of my education on a part-time basis.

After about five years on the shop floor I moved into management, where I held positions such as industrial engineer, shop supervisor, superintendent, and plant manager. I also worked in the highly automated manufacturing environment, managing plant operations and supervising various modernization projects.

My last involvement in manufacturing was with Emerson Electric, a conglomerate. When they decided to close the plant in the Midwest and move it to Mississippi, I did not move along with the plant. So that became my transition from manufacturing. I spent about two and a half years as the director of physical operations for a local college called Alverno College. In 1987 I joined the City of Milwaukee. I started with the city as the maintenance manager for Milwaukee Public Library System, and soon thereafter I took over as the business operations manager for the library system.

In 1991 I took a position in the Department of Public Works as operations manager for what was then called Buildings and Bridges. I've been with the department since that time.

Education: I picked up a mechanical technician certification, and with that I worked in industry at that time. Later on as the education progressed, I got bachelor's degrees in civil engineering from Marquette University and business administration from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. I also have a master's degree in science from Milwaukee School of Engineering.

Favorite Book: I don't have one favorite book, but I do have a few that I keep on my shelf. I read a lot of magazines and books to stay up-to-date on what's happening in my field. A few years ago someone suggested to not only read books in your own field, but to read everything else so that you have an idea of what's going on around you driving these changes. So it's not uncommon for me to read even a Good Housekeeping or People magazine.

One of the things I strongly believe in is having a positive attitude. Here are a few books that are classic for me. One is He Can Who Thinks He Can. It's a very old publication by Orison Swett Marden. Another one of my favorites is Norman Vincent Peale's The Amazing Results of Positive Thinking. A more recent book that I picked up from the APWA bookstore is Lightning in a Bottle by David Baum. I found that to be a very good book, and enjoyed that very much.

I also like Confucius sayings. I believe they are time-tested, and every now and then I will pull one of those sayings and I'll hang it on my board for the week.

Hobbies/Interests: I like reading about what goes on in the stock market. I regularly play tennis. And I enjoy spending time with the family and doing small odd jobs around the house.

Role Model: I take a look at my superiors and wherever I happen to be working, like right now I'm working for the Department of Public Works and I report to the Commissioner of Public Works and Director of Operations. So to me, my superiors become my role models. I try to pay attention to their vision for the department, because I believe they actually have a good pulse of what's going on in city government. So my role models are my superiors, and I try to align my management thinking so that I can support their vision. I also learn a lot by listening to the people working for me.

Career Accomplishments: Earlier, before coming to the city, I took a very active part in the quality control movement; I always participated in various quality circles and training on quality movements as they came about. In industry I helped construct a manufacturing facility in northern Wisconsin. It was a 400,000 square foot heavy metals manufacturing facility with a foundry operation, and that was a nice project. I initiated a Management Resource Planning program when I worked for Barclay Industries. Also, with the city, I reinstated an old remote control operation for movable bridges in downtown Milwaukee with upgraded technology, and initiated a digital control system for DPW facilities, changing from a pneumatic system. Little by little we are going completely to digital systems. I initiated certain gap analyses in our maintenance groups, and right-sized staff there which I believe is saving us about $200,000 a year for my department. I'm currently involved in modernizing my fleet garages using a lean process.

One thing that I would like to mention is a personal goal. I would like to bring the lean process to the attention of our government sector. This is a wonderful process, and in fact is a process that made Toyota what it is today. They call it the Toyota Production System, but it is all based on a lean process using Kaizen philosophy. I believe that government should embrace a similar movement so that we can take advantage of what some manufacturers have done, for example streamlining their processes and reducing costs. For that reason, through the APWA Facilities & Grounds Committee, I will be presenting a session on the lean process at this year's Congress in Atlanta.

Tell us more about the Buildings & Fleet Department: The Buildings and Facilities Group is responsible for 221 city-owned buildings. The total square footage of the buildings is about 6.4 million square feet. We put a value of a little over $1 billion in current replacement value for the buildings. We provide maintenance, repair services, remodeling, and reconstruction of all the buildings, and we also provide architectural and mechanical engineering services to other departments and, of course, for DPW sections. We're also responsible for the city's recreational facilities, about 300 acres of recreational land, 38 playfields and playgrounds, and 45 neighborhood play areas. So all that is on the buildings and facilities side of things.

On our fleet side, we provide a diverse fleet of light and heavy-duty equipment to the Department of Public Works and other agencies. We maintain and repair about 4,100 units. Of this, 2,400 are major pieces of equipment. We operate three garages, and our centralized fleet is valued at about $110 million.

I have a staff of about 380 dedicated and highly skilled employees who take pride in providing public service. We have a $31 million operations and maintenance budget for facilities and fleet operations. And for 2004, my capital budget is about $26 million.

Why do you like being a member of APWA? Well, it offers so many opportunities to get information, which is just wonderful. By getting your magazine, participating in infoNOW, coming to the conferences, and talking to the others, there's an ongoing  connection here. Once you are part of an association, you feel like you're somehow bonded together. So when I pick up a phone and call someone, I have a much higher comfort level when I ask, "Hey, I've got such-and-such issue, what do you think about it?" So it gives you this collective intelligence. I enjoy it.

It also offers me the same opportunities to give back. By that I mean when other people call me in return, then I love to help them also. It's a two-way communication link here.