A Decade Later: Boubacar Maiga Reflects on His Years at Facilities

"Facilities is my home. It's been my home for about 9 or 10 years," says Boubacar Maiga, director of custodial services, marveling at the amount of time he has spent working at Columbia University Facilities.

Originally from Niger, West Africa, Boubacar speaks French, English, and Spanish fluently and can read and write in those three languages. He received a law degree in 1985, and in 1987, he moved to New York, where he worked in several law firms as a paralegal. He explains, "Since I studied within the French system, I was unable to practice as a lawyer, but I was working." Still, there was something missing. Boubacar wanted to do more public service.

Although he knew he was overqualified to start again in a new field, Boubacar decided to do just that and began working in the private sector. Upon hearing from a friend about careers at Columbia, he decided to pursue a cleaning position within Facilities. It was in 1999 when Boubacar first joined the Facilities team at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), as a cleaner and member of Transport Workers Union of America (TWU). He would spend three years at that position before he was sought out to work within Facilities' Campus Operations, attending to the needs of the Morningside Campus' science buildings. It was only about a year and a half later, when he was asked to tend to other academic buildings. Nine months after that, when his skills were once again needed, he was invited to work the evening shift at Lerner Hall.

It would take just another year before Boubacar's talents were sought out for management. He was promoted to assistant manager for the evening and overnight shifts before, a year later, being promoted again to director of custodial services. "To go from an entry level cleaner position to a director of the department is a pretty significant accomplishment," Boubacar reflects objectively. "I am really appreciative and proud of this achievement."

Boubacar decided to strengthen his skills by pursuing studies at the University. In 2007, he graduated with a master's degree in public administration from the School of International Studies (SIPA), and in 2008, he received a certificate in Business Excellence, a customized version of an executive MBA, from Columbia Business School.

Naturally, juggling a 24/7 operation and a family life that includes five kids, ages 2-15, was a challenge, but Boubacar was able to successfully work through this. "It was difficult but worth it," he humbly explains. "I was given a great opportunity, so I had to align all the aspects in my life and not have each impact the other, which is tough to do." These aspects include managing a cleaning staff of almost 200 people assigned to all of the academic buildings and overseeing the planning, cleaning, and set-up of University events, including Commencement.

Together the Facilities Custodial Services team (a division within Campus Operations) keeps each academic building clean and functional, even during trying situations. Boubacar recalls a recent flooding incident in Schermerhorn Extension, in which the entire custodial team responded efficiently and professionally to help control the crisis situation. "The team's professionalism and quick response helped to make what could have been a worse situation relatively effortless," he says. The team's quick response was similarly beneficial during the city's black outs in 2003 and 2006, a time in which Boubacar notes that "the staff persevered and showed amazing dedication to this great institution."

The Custodial Services department is available around the clock, a feat that Boubacar credits to his team's hard work. He says, "I have very solid support from both my staff and management team, and I am very grateful to them for all that we have accomplished with this department." In addition to his team, Boubacar gives praise to Don Schlosser, Assistant Vice President for Campus Operations, for "how tremendous he has helped me grow as a manager and as a leader." Boubacar continues, "Don has always made his experience and leadership available to me, and I am very grateful for that. He understands my challenges and has always had the right formula for me to go through crises. I have learned a lot from him, and he keeps guiding me to take the right steps."

In looking back at the last decade, Boubacar marvels at the many personal and group milestones. He has seen Facilities evolve from a decentralized to a centralized operation, a change he believes made it more streamlined and efficient, and he looks forward to the department's continued growth. Boubacar says, "I'm a public servant in every aspect of what I do each day. That's our role in Facilities. Everyone depends heavily on us to have this place cleaned, so they can be able to do their own work. Our work is challenging, but it is exciting. We've been able to enhance the way that people work, and together, we've accomplished a lot."