This article is written by Clive Couldwell and appeared in AV Magazine – for the original article, visit here.
As Global Head of IT Operations, Bloomberg LP and an AV Award 2017 winner, Lt Robert Jeffrey Fairbanks III tells Clive Couldwell how his early years, education and a visionary manager has helped him build a quality AV team into the business.
Since joining the global information provider Bloomberg in 2013 Fairbanks has overseen the design, budget and commission of 61 AV projects in 21 countries totalling more than £27 million, all delivered on time, under budget, and saving some £5.3 million in the process.
He also serves as a signal/cyber warfare officer for the US Army National Guard. While on active duty assignments, he’s used his AV background and expertise to support tactical US military exercises.
Bloomberg has gone from an essentially non-existent AV team to the 2016 AV Service Team of the Year that exceeded all expectations internally and externally, with Fairbanks himself voted as AV Professional of the Year in 2017.
That’s some achievement. Fairbanks’ early influences may have had something to do with it. Born in Houston, Texas his mother was also the first African American in the US to receive her first class FCC licence, the first able to operate in a radio broadcast television suite as an engineer, before becoming established as a DJ on the most popular morning radio show at the time.
Fairbanks’ older sister – Kimberly S Fairbanks – is a successful actress in her own right. “My sister’s 11 years older than me and has been acting since she was about five or so. So growing up, I had my sister and mother who were in the broadcast space, commentator, entertainer, and a DJ. We had this massive collection of music. All the old records she would give to me. So at the age of five, I’m playing Earth, Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, I’m listening to all this music,” recalls Fairbanks.
A year later the young Fairbanks had built himself a radio station in the basement. “I didn’t really broadcast anywhere. But I would go down there, and over the microphone I’d say: “This is Jeff Fairbanks, and you’re listening to the Drive at Five.” I would record on reel-to-reel.”
Fast forward to the age of nine, and Fairbanks’ parents bought him a Fisher-Price tape recorder. “I would walk around, record everything and play it back, splice together the recordings to make soundtracks.”
So this was Fairbank’s entry into AV. “I didn’t know it at that point, but what I’ve found was magical was the ability to create new environments using technology. Using sound and light, you could transform yourself into these other worlds.”
Aged 14, Fairbanks started a DJ company, growing it up to become the largest in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. “We call this the tri-state area. When I was 18 years old, in high school, I had 22 guys working for me.”
Eventually he started setting up medium scale productions, providing sound reinforcement for bands and live events. Other production ventures followed.
“Education started with electrical engineering, but halfway through I transferred to business. And then halfway through this, I transferred to the music stream so my bachelor’s degree is in the music industry with concentrations in business administration and electrical engineering,” says Fairbanks.
After graduation he got a job at Boston’s Ritz Carlton, as director of AV where Fairbanks learned about the world of corporate AV.
“One of our core values at the Ritz, which I loved, was – answer the expressed and unexpressed needs of the customers. And that’s the one value that stuck with me. So when you checked in, and you sneezed and coughed, say – had a red nose and you looked like you were sick, we would put some hot tea in your room. You didn’t ask for it, didn’t expect it, didn’t have to pay for it. When you got to your room after a long day’s travel, you’re tired, and you just want to get into bed, there’s a nice hot cup of tea sitting there with cream and sugar and honey. We recognised you weren’t feeling well and we answered that unexpressed need.”
Moving to integrator KVL Audio Visual for two years, and then its client State Street Fairbanks handled global events for VIPs. “Later at private equity and venture capital firm Bain Capital, I got to see a lot of different companies through the various stages of growth, focusing on their technologies and how they communicated with their employees across disparate business verticals,” he says.
An incident at the 2013 Boston Marathon became a life changer as Fairbanks and his wife, then expecting his now four-year-old daughter narrowly avoided the bomb. Following a reassessment of his life an opportunity at Bloomberg beckoned.
“My starting role was global head of AV and media technologies, but the team didn’t exist. It was the global head of information systems, my boss who created a global head of AV,” says Fairbanks.
“Having been with the company for almost 30 years she was new to her role, looking at the landscape with a fresh pair of eyes as a process improvement expert. She has been our biggest advocate, our champion, our supporter.”
Fairbanks refers to the relationship as a form of insightful parenting where two people see mutual benefit in making technology work. His background in hospitality, live sound production, and corporate now came to the fore as he focused on the end user experience.
“At a very high level, our goal is to facilitate collaboration, to deploy technologies and infrastructure that support collaboration around the business. But the technology isn’t the collaboration on its own. Collaboration is two or more people coming together. You need someone focused on curating the experience – understanding what it is that the end user needs.”
Standard operating procedure
“Every year, twice a year, we look at our standard operating procedure and make fundamental changes. We publish it once, so whatever we publish in January, that is our standard for the year,” he says.
“This is when all of our design build teams, our facilities, want to know about acoustic treatments, the nature of the technology we’re buying, and then, we line that up with procurement, so we’ll get the best deals on the best pieces of kit that we’ve specked and priced out. If we build a new standard for the London building, then that new standard becomes our standard everywhere else in the world.”
Fairbanks knew that if the AV team wanted to be treated professionally, it also needed to communicate effectively with the business. “We have a team of CTS-certified professionals, but I did go and get my MBA so that I could present in a way that was meaningful to the overall business. Then I went and got a masters degree in information technology management, so I could communicate succinctly in the language of the IT landscape.”
Clearly, being effective is being armed with the right technical and business tools, but it’s also about user focus.
“It stands to reason that if I can make the audio and video great, I can make the experience great. In our current spaces the more senses we can engage, the higher value client communication is.”
This article is written by Clive Couldwell and appeared in AV Magazine, for original article, visit here.