Senior Operations Manager has found success through a lifelong love of learning

Find out why David Siljee is devoted to helping the next generation of engineers

September 26, 2023

If something can be broken, it can be fixed, if you have the right training and do the right research. That simple philosophy has guided David Siljee’s career in property management, and one that he is passing on to others as a mentor and teacher.

As Senior Manager of Operations, David is responsible for monitoring all construction, implementing special projects and mentoring engineers, even as he assists property managers and engineers at other facilities for special needs. It's not unusual to see him, pad in hand, making notes on systems and reminders on what to research — because learning never ends, he says. 

“In the beginning I learned from a friend to spend 30 minutes a day reading magazines on buildings, HVAC, environmental issues, anything to enhance my knowledge of mechanical systems,” he says. “This helped broaden my knowledge.”

That knowledge has resulted in multiple successful projects at Southeast Financial Center (SEFC), including the lowering and removal of the building’s 440-ton steel roof canopy structure over the retail courtyard, a project that required three years of preparation and discussion with consultants, designers, professional engineers, JLL’s legal and risk teams, and Europe-based ownership. When potential rust was found, the plan had to be re-engineered, a learning experience for all involved. 

“Achieving all of the above is the result of a lifetime of learning that started as a child,” David says.

“My father taught me early on that things can be fixed if broken and how to properly fix them,” David says. “He also taught me the importance of listening to understand.”

David’s career began in New Jersey, where he operated residential high-rises for a family-run enterprise. After a year at the Milwaukee College of Engineering, at the young age of 19, he became midnight manager of an industrial plant. A move to Miami led David to working in a high-rise office building, where at just 23 he became the property’s Chief Engineer, repairing the HVAC system and modernizing controls. At 30, he came to SEFC as the engineer to verify the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) as-builts per plans and specifications. He eventually became a regional engineer and participated in the development of his company’s refrigerant and indoor air quality management program. Meanwhile, he was attending the University of Miami to obtain a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

“In the beginning, I wanted to be the best building engineer in the Miami market and did not feel I needed a degree to do so,” David recalls. “But experiences came, and the knowledge was not coming fast enough, or the answers were not available. A mechanical engineering degree was the way to enhance my knowledge in a wider scope.”

David Siljee

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He broadened his range, serving as a Corporate Director of Engineering, creating national maintenance standards and then overseeing the outsourcing to third-party firms and creating energy plans for an auditing company. But he kept returning to SEFC, first as Chief Engineer, then as Senior Manager of Operations for JLL. Now, he oversees multiple properties and owners, evaluating their operations, engineers and knowledge, and then providing recommendations for them to execute. 

After hours, he’s devoted to helping the next generation of engineers. Dubbed the “Godfather of Chief Engineers,” David is devoted to working with mentorship programs and academia to fill holes he saw in his early years.

“In the Miami market there was not much available in 1975 to help a person understand how to operate a high-rise building or what was the best method for energy reductions. Most were self-taught,” David says. “I always believed that training the team in our ways and safe methods was the most efficient means of developing talented engineers.”

The result is that many engineers he helped train have gone on to become Chief Engineers, or Regional Engineers for JLL and other companies — and many remain in touch to discuss concepts, new products and all aspects of building operations.

Active in organizations including The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), David has also assisted with energy analysis for Florida Power and Light and served on a committee with Miami-Dade County prior to rolling out the BE305 Challenge program. As a result of David’s efforts, the City of Miami-Dade County Mayor named SEFC a winner for the (Building Efficiency) BE305 Challenge, which focuses on improving water and energy efficiencies.

In the past he has presented seminars at the university to help freshman engineers understand expectation of engineers in the industry.  Recently he had a discussion with the university staff to create a degree in facility’s engineering management of which he would volunteer to be a presenter in classes.

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