Changing jobs can be tough on anyone, particularly if you have 32 years in one profession and are moved to similar responsibilities, but in another area.

They say change is good, it keeps you on your toes. Ralph Graham, left, and Al Moradi have changed jobs responsibilities in a big way. Graham has assumed the role of director of campus maintenance — once held by Moradi — while Moradi now is the director of hospital maintenance, Graham’s previous position.
Ralph Graham was lucky. He had two people ready to lend a hand.

One was Al Moradi. After all, he was in the same predicament as Graham. The duo recently swapped job responsibilities, with Graham assuming the role as director of campus maintenance and Moradi the director of hospital maintenance. Graham spent his previous 27 years as director of facilities for eight hospitals and has worked in hospital maintenance since 1977. Moradi spent 20 years with U.S. Steel and the previous two years as director of UAB’s campus maintenance.
The directors exchanged responsibilities to enable them to use their unique experiences and skill sets to strengthen each department and enhance services to customers.

“We’re both learning areas we’ve never been involved with,” Moradi says, “and it’s a fairly steep learning curve. But Ralph and I work closely together and help one another daily, which has made the transition significantly easier for both of us.”

Graham also had someone else on the inside to ease him into his new role — his daughter Sarah, a sophomore working toward her goal of entering nursing school. Father and daughter were riding to campus together one morning when he was explaining his new responsibilities to her.

“She wanted to know which campus buildings were mine, and I told her all of them,” he says. “She asked if I could check on the chemistry building because it was cold in her classroom, so I sent somebody over there, and we found that there was an issue with the heat in the building. From the first day, I had an extra set of eyes in that building because my daughter was sitting in the classroom.”

In fact, Graham and Moradi have support from many areas, including Brooks Baker, associate vice president of Facilities, and Olen Pruitt, executive director of Facilities. They understand the unique challenges Graham and Moradi face because they, too, have been there, done this.

The responsibility for the maintenance and operations of the physical facilities of UAB are divided between Hospital Maintenance, Campus Maintenance and the Utilities departments, each having a director. Baker and Pruitt served in those capacities in the past and swapped positions with other directors — a practice Facilities has embraced for 40 years.

“Since UAB became an autonomous campus, the directors have been moved between departments with the goal of having high-level managers with complementary skills and knowledge who can support each other when needed, fill in during absences and enable smooth transitions in times of leadership change,” says Baker. “This cross-training provides a fresh set of eyes and ideas for each area of campus and reflects the university’s diversity and multi-disciplinary approach to problem-solving.

“The bottom line result is a more thoroughly trained and experienced management team who can share their unique talents and skills across the entire campus, thus enhancing our service to customers,” Baker says.

Switching gears
Changing areas of responsibility has sent Graham and Moradi back to school.

Moradi is learning about hospital regulations and guidelines for the first time. He’s constantly scribbling notes in meetings, reminding him to locate and read materials on subjects unfamiliar to him, or to call Graham to ask for guidance on handling sensitive hospital issues.

“The knowledge Ralph has about hospital operation and all of the things that go into maintaining the hospital is not something I’m going to learn in a year or two,” says Moradi, a 1987 UAB graduate. “Ralph has been directing hospital maintenance staffs for 32 years. Learning the regulations and guidelines is very hard, but it also puts you on a very rapid learning curve. You better be able to study hard and learn the regulations.”

The campus buildings may have fewer regulations, but the challenges still are numerous.

For instance, campus maintenance workers often are more visible due to the nature of their work. When something goes wrong at an athletic event, at the Alys Stephens Center or at graduation, it will be noticed. Temperature settings are crucial to those events being successful, and fire alarms have to be inspected for the thousands of campus residents and visitors attending the event.

“You have to make sure everything is right — from the temperatures in all of our buildings to the lighting at night,” says Graham, a graduate of Purdue and Xavier.

“We have people who audit the campus twice per week and make sure any lights that aren’t working are marked, for example. The other hard part about campus is that it’s spread out. From the academic side, to research, to athletics, to performing arts — there’s so much out there and you’ve really got to know what’s going on. And every one of them is totally different.

“It’s nothing like the hospital, but then again it’s not easy,” Graham says. “They’re both challenging jobs. You have to have tennis shoes on all day long.”

The open communication between Moradi and Graham is vital to their success, they say.
Maintenance personnel in the hospital that Graham has worked closely with still contact him at times with issues. The same thing is true for Moradi and campus maintenance personnel.

When that happens, they typically handle the questions or issues and inform each other about the issue and its resolution. It’s their way of helping each other and continuing the workflow on campus with minimal or no interruption.

“It’s much easier to learn these new responsibilities when you’ve got some ropes in place that you can grab on to if you have a problem,” Graham says. “That’s kind of what we do. We stay in contact every day.”

“There are many nuances to our jobs, and we have to take care of each other,” Moradi says. “We both have very open types of personalities, which I think helps us work together and learn from one another.”